How to Spend One Week in Alaska

A mama bear and her two cubs wander the wilderness

Johnny Johnson / Getty Images

Covering more than 660,000 square miles, Alaska is by far the largest state in the U.S. In fact, the next three largest states—Texas, California, and Montana—can all fit comfortably within its borders, with room to spare. Because of the state's massive size, much of which is covered in remote wilderness, spending a week in Alaska gives travelers only a small taste of what ithas to offer. Still, with the right itinerary, and an adventurous spirit, you can make the most of your visit to see some of the most stunning landscapes on the planet and experience this amazing destination in all of its glory. 

For an optimal visit to Alaska, plan on going between May and September. Temperatures are warmer and more stable, and the weather is a bit more predictable in general during the summer months. On top of that, summer brings longer days, often with more than 20 hours of daylight, which allows for plenty of time for exploration in a state known as "the Last Frontier." 

With all of that in mind, this is what you should have on a list of things to with just one week in Alaska. 

01 of 07

Day 1: Arrive in Anchorage

An exhibit in the Anchorage Museum

TripSavvy / Alisha McDarris

Thanks to its geographic location, and being home to the state's largest commercial airport, Anchorage is a great starting and ending point for any Alaskan adventure. In fact, the city—which boasts a population of 285,000—has a lot to offer, giving visitors plenty to keep themselves busy for their first full day in the region.

Depending on where you're located, there is a good chance that you'll arrive a bit later in the day. That often means there isn't much time left to get out and explore the city. Still, it is possible to take advantage of the longer daylight hours and hit the ground running.

Two options for your first day in Alaska include dropping by the Anchorage Museum or paying a visit to the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Both locations will introduce travelers to the rich history of the indigenous people who have inhabited Alaska for thousands of years, revealing the culture, art, and mythology of the region.

Before calling it a day, grab dinner in one of Anchorage's numerous outstanding restaurants. Orso offers some of the best fresh seafood in the entire city, while the Moose Tooth Pub and Pizzeria offers a fun, casual setting with fantastic fare. You'll also find plenty of places to stay, with the Alyeska Resort and Historic Anchorage Hotel as two particular standouts.

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02 of 07

Day 2: Head to Seward

Shops line the harbor of an Alaskan town

John Elk / Getty Images

Get your day started in Anchorage with a hardy breakfast at Snow City Cafe before hitting the road for Seward. As with most road trips in Alaska, expect the drive to take a little longer than you would normally expect, but the journey is usually worth it. In this case, the 126-mile route rolls along the coast, providing spectacular views at nearly ever turn. If landscape photography is one of your passions, you'll want to budget more than the 2.5-hour travel time for this trip, as you'll be making frequent stops on the route.

Once in Seward, you'll find a quaint little seaside town that has a lot to offer visitors. Just strolling the streets is an enjoyable experience, revealing shops and restaurants to explore. But if you're coming to Seward, you'll want to do more than just wander through town.

Active travelers will find great hiking and sea kayaking just outside of town, while anglers can hit the water for a half- or full-day fishing trip. Fans of wildlife can take day cruises to spot whales, sea otters, and numerous other creatures, while soaking up Alaska's southern coastline. Dropping by the Alaska SeaLife Center is also a fun way to spend part of the day and experience plenty of Alaskan wildlife as well.

Once you've completed your busy day in Seward, grab dinner in town at Ray's Waterfront, the Lighthouse Cafe & Bakery, or Apollo Restaurant. Then spend the night at a local hotel such as the A Swan Nest Inn or the Arctic Wold Lodge.

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03 of 07

Day 3: Pay a Visit to Kenai Fjords National Park

A humpback whale leaps out of the water with mountains in the background.

Alexandre Claude / 500px / Getty Images

Spending an active, yet relaxing day, in Seward is a good way to ease into your Alaskan experience, but by Day 3 you'll be ready to take it up a notch. In this case, that means experiencing one of the state's most iconic wilderness locations in the form of the Kenai Fjords National Park.

Heading back out of Seward and onto the Kenai Peninsula, you'll find a unique landscape of jagged peaks, sprawling glaciers, and a rugged seashore. Inside the park, you'll discover plenty of things to do, including the chance to walk in the shadow of an active glacier. Few areas inside Kenai Fjords are accessible by road, but Exit Glacier is one of them. If you want to wander on foot, you'll find some wonderful trails that offer sweeping views of the surrounding area, while demonstrating the size and scope of the ice that is found there.

The national park is home to more than 40 glaciers, most of which can only be approached by sea. To truly experience this place, book a day trip aboard one of the fjord boat tours. Not only will you get the chance to spot whales and other wildlife, you'll also get a spectacular view of the Alaskan shoreline while you're at it. There are few places in the world where the topography rises from sea level to thousands of feet in the air so quickly, putting the immense size of the place truly in perspective. You'll also get a sense of the power and the majesty of the glaciers themselves, which have shaped the landscape there for millennia.

After you've spent the day in the park, jump in the car and head back to Anchorage for the evening.

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04 of 07

Day 4: Head North to Talkeetna

A wooden sign welcomes visitors to downtown Talkeetna

RobsonAbott / Getty Images

On your fourth day in Alaska, head north to Talkeetna, another fun and colorful town. The drive from Anchorage takes about two hours, and you'll once again experience plenty of great scenery along the way. With lush forests, an abundance of rivers and lakes, and snowcapped peaks, this is the norm across much of the Last Frontier.

Once in Talkeetna, the options for active adventure expand dramatically. In addition to excellent hiking, visitors can go whitewater rafting or kayaking, salmon fishing, or even panning for gold. Those who prefer to explore by motorized vehicle will find several options for backcountry ATV tours too.

After a busy day of outdoor adventures, head back to Talkeetna to grab dinner at Shirley's Burger Barn, the Kahiltna Bistro, or the High Expedition Company. Plan on spending the night in town, as it will serve as a good launching point for your Day 4 excursions. There are a number of wonderful lodges and hotels to book a stay, including the North Country B & B and the Talkeetna Trailside Cabins.

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05 of 07

Day 5: Spend the Day in Denali National Park

The massive Denali peak looms over the landscape

Judd Patterson

One of the highlights of any visit to Alaska is Denali National Park. There, visitors will not only get another chance to spot amazing wildlife—including bears and moose—in their natural habitat, they're also likely to catch a glimpse of the park's namesake mountain too. Formerly known as Mount McKinley, the 20,308-foot mountain is the highest in all of North America, luring hundreds of climbers from around the world on an annual basis. But while they come to test their skill and resolve on peak's formidable slopes, we'll only have time to admire it from afar.

The drive to the Denali National Park visitor center from Talkeetna takes about 2.5 hours, so get up early and grab breakfast at the Talkeetna Road House before setting out. You'll want as much time in the park as possible so you can soak up the landscapes and wilderness at your leisure. Hiking and biking are popular activities for those who prefer to explore under their own power, but first-time visitors should plan on joining a bus tour to take advantage of their limited time there.

The national park is so remote and wild that there is only one road to be found inside its borders. The 92-mile Denali Park Road provides access to some impressive views of the surrounding mountain range, including Denali itself, which often shrouded in clouds. During the summer, the first 15 miles of the road are open to private vehicles, but anything past that point requires a bus. Some of those buses offer free transit to other parts of the park, where backpackers and campers can gain access to one of the numerous trails. However, tour buses also depart on a regular basis, offering a narrated ride that provides an abundance of information about the surrounding countryside. Those buses also take visitors deeper into the park then they can travel on their own, increasing their chances of spotting wildlife and offering views of the Alaskan tundra.

After a full day in the park, hit the road to Fairbanks, which is about a two-hour drive. As usual, it will be a scenic trip with lots to see while driving, so be sure to budget a little extra time for stops along the way.

Book a stay in one of the local hotels or lodges, such as the Grizzly Lodge or the Bridgewater Hotel.

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06 of 07

Day 6: Relax in Fairbanks

Houses and shops line the side of a river in Fairbanks, Alaska

Artie Photography (Artie Ng)/Getty 

After a busy schedule of hiking, paddling, and traveling, Fairbanks can offer a more relaxing schedule. The town has plenty of things to do for those who want to remain active, including fishing excursions, rafting, and trekking. But if you'd prefer something a bit more laid back, Fairbanks can accommodate your needs too.

Head downtown for some shopping and dining or take in one of the local attractions, such as the Ice Museum or the Museum of Science & Nature. The Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum is also a lot of fun, as is the Santa Claus House, where it is Christmas all year round. But for a truly relaxing experience, visit the Chena Hot Springs Resort for a soak in the geothermally heated waters and for a full spa treatment.

In the unlikely event that you have an early morning flight out of Anchorage, you'll want to hit the road by mid-afternoon to return to that city and spend the night there. If not, you can spend another night in Fairbanks and enjoy dinner at The Turtle Club or The Pump House.

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07 of 07

Day 7: Back to Anchorage

A sky tram hangs in the air with mountains in the background.

suraark / Getty Images

The drive from Fairbanks back to Anchorage is about 6 to 7 hours long, so once again you'll be hitting the road early. Fortunately, most of the flights out are in the evening, so you should have plenty of time for the return trip. If you get moving early, you may even have some time in the afternoon to take in more of Anchorage.

Suggestions for your last day in Alaska include riding the Alyeska Aerial Tram, visit the Eklutna Historical Park, or Crow Creek Gold Mine. Grabbing a late lunch or an early dinner in town will serve you well on your late flight too, with places like the Fancy Moose Lounge, Spenard Roadhouse, and Ginger all offering outstanding cuisine.

Later, head to the airport for your flight home, with lots of lasting memories from your visit to the Last Frontier.

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