Camping in the national park, whale watching, hikes to glacier fields. Alaska, “the last frontier” in the great, unknown north of America, stands for unbelievable landscapes and pure adventure. Here our blogger Kathrin shows her highlights from her road trip through Alaska and the Yukon.
Few travel destinations are as synonymous with adventure and pure wilderness as the great, unknown north of the American continent. Statistically, there is less than half a person per square kilometer in Alaska and even less in the Canadian Yukon. America’s “last frontier” is wide, wild, empty and therefore ideal for an extended road trip through the almost endless landscapes.
And that’s exactly what I did! 4,500 km road trip alone with a rental car through Alaska and the Yukon, always looking for the most beautiful nature experiences and the very special fascination that a journey through one of the last great wilderness regions on earth brings with it. Here are some of my highlights.
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Road trip through Alaska: High peaks and wild animals in Denali National Park
The park, which houses the mountain of the same name (formerly Mount McKinley), is one of THE highlights of every trip to Alaska and should not be missing from the route planning. Even if it is not a matter of course to actually see the 6,190 meter high, snow-covered giant there with your own eyes! On most days of the year it hides under a dense cloud cover and you can only guess at it from the signs.
If you really don’t want to miss out on the sights, like me, you should pack a tent and rent a room for two or three nights at the Wonderlake Campground deep inside the park. In the early morning hours, you still have the best chance of catching a glimpse of the summit from here.
But even without a mountain view, a trip to the park is worthwhile: the rest of the landscape can certainly keep up with the beauty of Mount Denali and there is also a relatively high density of bears, caribou, moose, Dall sheep and other representatives of Alaskan fauna.
Get a taste of gold mining in Dawson City
At the time of the legendary Klondike gold rush, Dawson in the Yukon Territory could only be reached with great difficulty via the White Pass or the notorious Chilkoot Trail and a subsequent, no less difficult trip on a dog sled or canoe. But even for me, the day-long drive from Whitehorse to Dawson didn’t exactly feel like a stone’s throw.
On the way I passed the Five Finger Rapids, a rock formation on the Yukon River where many prospectors have lost their belongings, if not their lives. Even today, gold is still mined and found around the second largest city in the Yukon with around 1,400 inhabitants. However, the business with the tourists who make it to this remote place, which looks like a natural open-air museum, is now more lucrative: Unasphalted streets, authentically restored house facades, an anchored paddle steamer and, of course, sidewalks made of wood!
Whale Watching on the South Coast Alaskan Road Trip
Humpback whales, killer whales, gray whales – they all come all the way up north in summer to feed. And you can watch them on whale watching tours, such as those offered from the towns of Juneau, Valdez, Homer or Whittier.
I boarded a small excursion boat from Seward on the Kenai Peninsula, which is well developed for tourism, and signed up directly for an eight-hour full-day tour. In addition to whales, there is much more to see here in the Kenai Fjords National Park: Impressive glaciers, a beautiful coastal landscape and of course many other animals such as otters, eagles, puffins and seals. The highlight of the tour were of course the humpback whales, of which I was able to see a whole group, which first appeared further away and then right next to our boat in search of fish.
By the way, I was traveling with Major Marine Tours and can warmly recommend the provider.
Hiking the Kenai Peninsula
Atypical for the USA, there is relatively little infrastructure for hikers in Alaska. The country is simply too big, too sparsely populated and the hiking season is also very short. Not so on the Kenai Peninsula, however, where there are numerous hiking trails and routes to choose from and for which there is also the hiking guide 50 Hikes in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula .
One of the highlights for me was definitely the hike to the Harding Icefield, one of the largest glacial fields in the USA. After a relatively strenuous, but otherwise not very difficult 1,000 meters of climbing, I was able to stand right on the edge and look out over 780 square kilometers of ice and snow – only interrupted here and there by the nunataks, the rocky peaks of the Kenai Mountains. An incredible sight best enjoyed with a good pair of sunglasses.
Road trip romance on the most beautiful highways
Even if the number of highways in Alaska and the Yukon is manageable – the number 1 means of transport for longer distances here is the bush plane – the roads that exist are real highlights for road trip fans. Such as the Top of the World Highway, which meanders 127 kilometers from Dawson City after a ferry crossing through the Yukon and ends up back in Alaska after passing the northernmost border station in the USA. However, the highway is not paved, so caution is advised in bad weather or with rental cars that are not approved for dirt roads.
Also great is the Richardson Highway, which connects Fairbanks in the Interior region with the city of Valdez on Prince William Sound for 583 kilometers. Past three mountain ranges in Alaska, the Wrangell Mountains, Chugach Mountains and the Alaska Range, to raging rivers, accessible glaciers and of course through a lot of endless expanses. And in between you can always catch a glimpse of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which runs from Prudhoe Bay in the far north to the south coast.
However, driving on Alaska’s roads shouldn’t be imagined as a firework of exciting experiences: often for hours you see nothing at all except endless taiga forest, which monotonously passes by the car window. Patience and a good playlist are definitely a must when driving in Alaska.
Road trip through Alaska and the Yukon – travel tips
Best time to travel: “In Alaska there are also four seasons: June, July, August and winter” – this is a saying that answers the question of the best travel time for a road trip. The first half of September is also a good time. Then it is a bit cooler again, but that also means fewer forest fires, hardly any mosquitoes and a good chance of the Indian Summer.
Renting a car: In Anchorage and Fairbanks there are the usual providers of rental cars and mobile homes, but with their vehicles you usually have no insurance cover on unpaved roads. The landlords in Whitehorse, Canada, are said to be a little more accommodating. If you intend to do a lot of off-tarmac driving (which is true for almost any off-the-beaten-track road), you should look into a provider like GoNorth .
Itinerary: The choice of itineraries in Alaska is limited due to the few highways. The classic is the figure eight, which leads past all accessible and worth seeing places in Alaska and the Yukon. With a few detours, you have to estimate at least 4,000 kilometers and three to four weeks travel time. If you have less time for a road trip, you should skip half of the eight in the Yukon and concentrate entirely on Alaska.
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