For a great adventure in an out of the way place, take a drive on the Seward Highway. It comprises 125 miles of Alaska scenery, between Anchorage and Seward. Started in 1923, completed in 1951, the route takes you through the Kenai Peninsula, the Chugach National Forest, Turnagain Arm, and Kenai Mountains. It is a National Forest Scenic Byway and is also one of 15 roads in the United States designated as an “All-American Road.”
Begin at Anchorage, or follow this article in reverse if you start in Seward. Take AK-1 southward and be sure to stop at the Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary; it has raised boardwalks allowing you amazing wildlife sightings, including salmon in the water and eagles flying overhead. Bear and moose can sometimes be spotted. Early morning or early evening offer the most interesting light for photography, and the best wildlife sightings. Your drive continues through the marshy area with the waters of Turnagain Arm on your right and the towering mountains ahead of you. Beluga Point Scenic Overlook offers a chance to look for Beluga and to look up on the steep slopes for Dall sheep or mountain goats. This is also a good place to view the famous Bore Tide rolling in, if you get there at the right time.
Just past Beluga Point on the left is a Freshwater Spring where you may stop to fill up water bottles with the best tasting water around. There’s a turn out on the right, so be careful and watch for people crossing the road. At Windy Corner Scenic Overlook you can often spot Dall sheep on the hills to the left of the road. At Bird Point Scenic Overlook you have views of Bird Creek, where you can watch people fishing for salmon. Early in the morning bears have been seen at the mouth of the creek catching salmon. Most of the pull offs along this route offer hiking trails. If you decide to hike, be sure to be prepared with the proper shoes, gear and bear spray and noisemakers to ward off the bears. Also, as pretty as they may look, do not eat the baneberries, they are poisonous.
Girdwood is home to the northernmost rain forest in the world. The town was incorporated in 1970, a relocated town (the original town sank in the 1964 earthquake). Stop in Girdwood for a meal at Jack Sprat, the Double Muskey or Seven Glaciers. The Bake Shop offers some amazing cinnamon rolls. Or sample the raspberry fritters at the Alpine Diner & Bakery. Take the Aleyska Road back to the Aleyska Resort for the largest ski area in Alaska. There’s a great view of Turnagain Arm, the Chugach Mountain Range and the Seven Hanging Glaciers when you ride the Aleyska Aerial Tram to the top of the mountain.
As you continue along the Seward Highway you will see the Toothpick Forest, the remnants of trees that sank due to the earthquake. You will then drive through the section called Twelvemile Flats with the broad stretches of mudflats. Please do not attempt[t to go out on to the mudflats; they are like quicksand about 1500′ deep. Fatalities occur every because people who do not know wander out, get stuck, and never return.
Portage was all but destroyed in the 1964 earthquake when the whole area sank and was flooded. You can still see signs of the devastation. At Portage, be sure to visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, on the shores of Turnagain Arm, amid the mountains and glaciers. It is the ideal place to learn about Alaskan wildlife and view the animals close up. At any given time you will see moose, bison, musk, bear, eagle and more. The walkway over the bear exhibit is a fantastic opportunity to see the bears safely. Take Portage Highway at the junction to see Portage Glacier. Stop at the fish viewing platform to see if the salmon are running. The visitor center offers views of the glacier from the lake. Drive through the tunnel to the viewpoint on the other side.
At 900 feet in elevation, Turnagain Pass is the highest point on the drive, and is at mile 70. Soon after, for another enjoyable side trip, take the Hope Road to the Hope community to see an old gold mining town, with some cute shops, a cluster of nice restaurants, including Discovery Café, Seaview Café and Bowman’s Bearcreek Dinnerhouse. Be sure to take time to learn how to pan for gold at Gold Rush Peck’s. As you travel to and from Hope, you will pass the ruins of the Sunrise community, another gold rush town. Remnants of the town on either side of Six Mile Creek have been designated an archaeological historic site.
Back on the Seward Highway, the Six Mile Creek Scenic Overlook offer views of the creek which is a high difficulty whitewater venue. At Lower Summit Lake Overlook you can get a good view of the lake, below. Tern Lake Overlook offers yet another gorgeous array of water and mountain views. At Tern Lake, Seward Highway becomes AK-9, as you continue toward Seward. You may choose to have lunch at Moose Pass, on the shores of Trail Lake in the heart of the Kenai Peninsula. There are several dining options, including the restaurants at Summit Lake Lodge and Trail Lake Lodge; the Estes Brothers Grocery is also a popular spot for meals and provisions, as well as historic photos in the visitor’s center in the back room of this country store. While in Moose Pass, be sure to see the water wheel with its clever sign that reads: “Moose Pass is a peaceful little town, if you have an axe to grind, do it here.”
Continuing on toward Seward you will pass through Crown Point, but don’t blink or you will miss it. Thereafter you have a long lovely stretch of road alongside Kenai Lake, and a chance to stop to see it better at the Kenai Lake Overlook. The view as you cross the Snow River is gorgeous. You will come to Bear Creek Weir before you enter Seward. When the salmon are running this is a good place to watch them going upstream. To visit, make a left at Bear Lake Road and follow it to the hatchery on the left.
In Seward you have another chance to see a glacier: Exit Glacier. To reach it turn on to Herman Leirer Road, commonly called “Exit Glacier Road,” at mile 3 of the Seward Highway. Proceed 8.4 miles. The road will end at the parking lot for the nature center. You have a 30 minute hike to the glacier from the
parking lot area. Explore Kenai Fjords National Park with a day cruise. Visit Resurrection Bay. Be sure to enjoy the harbor filled with boats. Seward restaurants to consider include The Cookery where you must save room for the cream cheese ice cream with bacon topping, and Le Barn Appétit for delicious crepes. Visit their reindeer farm and pet and feed them. Seward inns include the vintage Sauerdough Lodging and the Jack London Cabin, as well as the Holiday Inn Express Seward Harbor, and the Best Western Edgewater Hotel.
All along this route there are many hiking, fishing, water sports and off trail options for exploring the natural heart of the peninsula. Be sure to plan ahead if you want to take advantage of them. Or simply stay on the Seward Highway as it offers a full measure of beauty and wonder at every turn.