Are guests visiting you in Alaska? Here are a few easy options for quick journeys or easy day trips.

Ever since moving to Alaska decades ago, friends and relatives call or write to have me help them plan their trip. That often includes crashing on our couch and picking them up from their midnight flight.

Start planning now for your guests’ arrival. There are hundreds of options for your visitors, but here are a few plug-and-play day trips or quick journeys to get started.

On the first day, get your visitors up early and drive them up to Flat Top. Depending on their energy level and the snowpack, you can take a short stroll from the parking lot to the overlook, head up to the top of the mountain, or hike up Powerline Pass for some stunning alpine views.

Then, take them to some of Anchorage’s coolest places, rain or shine. That includes the Anchorage Museum, the Alaska Native Heritage Center, the Alaska Botanical Gardens and the Alaska Zoo. Let them buy you lunch!

For day two, consider a trip south to Girdwood for a ride on the tram at Alyeska Resort. It’s always a hit. Long-time Girdwood enthusiasts will insist on a stop at the Bake Shop for a big sweet roll.

After your tram ride, continue heading down the highway to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Check out the bears, the Musk Oxen, the elk, the porcupines, the bison and all the other critters.

Finally, take the cutoff to Whittier. Don’t go through the tunnel, though. That’s another full-day excursion to go on the 26 Glacier Cruise. Instead, head for the Portage Glacier Cruise for a journey on the MV Ptarmigan to the face of the glacier.


For day three, head north to Talkeetna. I was there yesterday for lunch at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, and Denali is still there — bigger than ever. A couple of flightseeing planes landed as I munched on a sandwich with some friends in the visitor industry. The flight up and around Denali is a fun thing to do, especially if your pilot lands on a glacier.

If you’re more comfortable at ground level, go for a jetboat ride with Mahay’s Jetboat Adventures. Just after launching from the dock on the Talkeetna River, there’s a great photo opportunity of Denali when they turn the boat and head up the Susitna River.

My favorite pizza in town is at Denali Brewing’s location close to the Parks Highway. Of course, there’s also a great selection of their beer.

The flightseeing trips are weather-dependent. If you can’t fly, head back to town, but take the cutoff to Palmer over Hatcher Pass. This is a fabulous drive through some incredible alpine country. The last time I saw a bear ... from a comfortable distance. Once you’re over the summit, you’ll see the Independence Mine historical site on the left. Make a stop. Stretch your legs and check out the old mine buildings. In fact, they’re still mining in the valley.

For day number four you can head back down the Seward Highway to either Seward or Whittier for a glacier and wildlife cruise.

Trips further afield include overnight accommodations, which require a little more advance planning.

A trip to Homer is fun. The Homer Spit is one of our family’s favorite beaches in Alaska. Be sure and make plans to head across the bay. Ride with Mako’s Water Taxi and take a trip to hike to Grewingk Glacier. Pack a lunch from La Baleine Cafe, located near Mako’s office at Homer’s small boat harbor.

Take the Seldovia Bay Ferry from Homer over to Seldovia for the day. The town is walkable — and you can hike the Otter Bahn trail to Outside Beach for some beautiful views.

The Danny J sails each day from Homer’s small boat harbor to Halibut Cove, where guests can enjoy lunch or dinner at the Saltry restaurant. The restaurant looks over the cove — and it’s a great way to spend a day on the water.

Combine a trip to Fairbanks with a ride on the Alaska Railroad. The train leaves each morning headed north. It’s an all-day excursion. But it’s a fun ride. The train slows down going over the Hurricane Bridge, where you can look down into the gulch, nearly 300 feet below. This is the railroad’s 101st season.

You’ll need a car to get around Fairbanks. Don’t miss a visit to the Museum of the North on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. On the drive over, you might see some migrating waterfowl at Creamer’s Field.

Check out Explore Fairbanks’ website for a list of great things to see and do. Then fly back home to Anchorage on Alaska Airlines. One way on the train is enough!

Look east for one of my favorite adventures: to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Take the scenic drive up the Glenn Highway from Anchorage through the Matanuska River Valley. Once you get to Glennallen, take a right and head down the Richardson Highway to Valdez. Take the cutoff to Chitina past Copper Center. After you cross the Copper River, you’re officially inside the nation’s largest national park. The McCarthy Road is one of Alaska’s classic 35-miles-per-hour highways, along with the Denali Highway and the Taylor Highway. Most of it is gravel.

Be sure and let your hosts know when you expect to arrive in McCarthy. Some lodges are before the bridge over the Kennicott River — and they can give you directions. Otherwise, park at the bridge, walk across and get a shuttle on the other side. You can stay up at the historic mining district at Kennecott, about five miles north of McCarthy. Or, there are several options right in McCarthy.

Be sure and check out options to tour the old mill buildings and hike on the Root Glacier with St. Elias Alpine Guides.

You also can skip the drive on the gravel McCarthy Road and fly back with Wrangell Mountain Air from Chitina. The 60-mile flight is one of the best flightseeing tours around. The pilot often will fly up through Fourth of July Pass and come out over the Kennicott Glacier for million-dollar views of the whole valley, including the historic Kennecott Mining District. The word “Kennecott” is alternatively spelled with an “e” or an “i.” There’s a whole story behind the various spellings.

After spending a couple of days in the McCarthy area, head back to the Richardson Highway and drive south to Valdez. The drive up over Thompson Pass and then down past the waterfalls in Keystone Canyon is spectacular! Plan on spending the night in Valdez to be on time for the early-morning departure of the Alaska State Ferry. Be sure and confirm the schedule well in advance.


Roll your car onto the ferry and sail away to Whittier. This is the ultimate shortcut for your return to Anchorage! Once you arrive in Whittier, it’s just a one-hour drive back to Anchorage. Plus, there’s no fee to drive out through the tunnel!

These are just a few itineraries to get started. Stitch together your own plan using these guides, available online or through the mail:

a. The Visit Anchorage guide offers lots of options in and around our city.

b. The Travel Alaska guide features options all over the state, from Ketchikan to the Arctic.

c. The Mat-Su Valley’s guide includes options from Talkeetna to Lake Louise to Knik Glacier.

d. The Homer Chamber of Commerce offers tips on fishing, bear viewing and sightseeing.

So get some rest and fill up your tank. Company’s coming.

Scott McMurren

Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at Subscribe to his e-newsletter at For more information, visit