5 of the Best Excursions from Anchorage, Alaska

Glacier viewing boat trip Alaska

Spencer Glacier icebergs Alaska

Few cities anywhere in the world have such spectacular scenery within a few hours’ drive or train ride as Anchorage, Alaska. Some visitors make the journey here a road trip to start it all, driving up the Alaska Highway—open all year—from the USA or western Canada. There are plenty of flights here though and the state hosts Alaska Airlines, so it’s easy to just rent a car upon arrival.

There’s seldom a lot of traffic in Anchorage and roads leaving the city are well-marked. All of the excursions here are off of two routes. One heads south down the Kenai Peninsula, the other heads north toward Denali National Park.

See the Glaciers from the Water

Glacier viewing boat trip Alaska

Receding glaciers from the last Ice Age carved up the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska with gorges and fjords. The best way to see the awesome force of the ice is to go on a day cruise that explores the waterways and passes glaciers that are sometimes still dropping into the sea. The calmest option is to go on a Prince William Sound Glacier Cruise from the port of Whittier.

The scenery is more dramatic on a Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise that weaves in and out of various fjords from the port of Seward, but you do have to cross some open water that can get rough at times. In both cases you’re likely to see some wildlife, such as bald eagles, sea lions, otters, and even whales. The cute white beluga whales like to play in the waters you’ll pass on the Seward Highway—a national scenic byway—on the way to either port in a car.

Get Close to Alaska’s Animals

Moose in Alaska conservation park

Close to Whittier and accessible by car in an hour from the city is the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. This non-profit center cares for rescued animals that cannot return to the wild, plus a herd of bison that are raised here first than released. You will see huge grizzly bears and brown bears, perhaps a rescued black bear cub. There’s a resident porcupine that lost a leg, a herd of moose, wolves, and some elk with giant antlers. Naturalists give guided tours and some of the animals you can touch.

You can connect this with a trip to Spencer Lake (seen in the very top photo) for hiking near a glacier, paddling around icebergs, and rafting down the Placer river with Chugach Adventures.

Heading North From Anchorage to Denali

Denali National Park Alaska

Denali Mountain—also known as Mt. McKinley—is the highest peak in North America at 6,190 meters. You’ll have to get an early start to visit it on a day trip as it’s approximately a five-hour drive from Anchorage to Denali National Park. It would be better to spend the night in the area to be able to explore the wilderness on hiking trails or by biking on the road going through the park. (The park has more than 2.4 million hectares of protected land.) You can also get there via Alaska Railroad and It’s also possible to purchase seats on a sightseeing plane to view the snowy peaks from the air.

Sled Dogs and Fishing in Wasilla

Alaska’s main sporting event is the annual Iditarod Dogsled Race, which takes place each March. The course covers 1,000 miles (1609 kms) from Anchorage. You can visit the headquarters visitor center in Wasila any time of year though and learn more about this unique event. Some sled dogs stay at the headquarters and in the summer they lead visitors on dog cart rides instead of through the snow.

fishing trip in Alaska

Less than two hours by car from Anchorage, Wasilla is also a favorite fishing area for visitors. There are several spots where you can go on guided fishing trips to hook your own king salmon or go fly fishing for trout.

Ski Alaska in Girdwood

ski Alaska close to Anchorage

If arriving outside of the peak summer season, it’s quick 42 miles (68 kms) to Alaska’s premier ski area, Alyeska Resort. This self-contained area is anchored by a fine hotel that connects to the aerial tram traveling to the top of the mountain and there are 76 total ski runs. You can use the area as a heli-skiing base to explore fresh powder in the backcountry, or for the less adventurous the town of Girdwood also has ice skating and snow shoeing areas.

Find the best Anchorage hotel deals at Bonwi.com and earn more points back than with any other reward program.

Article by Tim Leffel, who also wrote Gawking at Glaciers in Wild Alaska as editor of Perceptive Travel. All photos by Leffel except fishing photo courtesy of Valley River Charters and Denali photo via Wikipedia Creative Commons. Trail map from Alyeska Resort.

Hit These 5 National Parks on a Road Trip From Las Vegas

Las Vegas to Bryce Canyon

road tripfrom Las Vegas

Las Vegas is North America’s center for glitz, glamor, and gambling. Unlike other casino centers such as Macau or Monte Carlo, however, Vegas is a gateway to some of the world’s most spectacular natural scenery. If you’ve ever seen movies that take place among expanses of the wild west with canyon walls as high as a skyscraper, you’ve seen places you can drive to from Las Vegas.

You can rent a car in Las Vegas and after a few hours crossing the desert be standing next to the Grand Canyon in Arizona or exploring the rock formations of southern Utah. This road trip is best done over a week to really soak it all in from some of America’s most scenic highways, but it would be possible to cover it all in a few days since the sites are just one to six hours apart.

Las Vegas to Zion National Park

To begin the journey, leave Las Vegas and head to Lake Mead to see this man-made lake created by the gigantic Hoover Dam. Continue on Northshore Road along the lake until you connect with I-4 heading Northeast to St. George. Stop for lunch or take a hike in St. George, then continue on I-4 all the way to Zion National Park.

Las Vegas to Zion National Park road trip

Zion is known for its variety of landscapes and extensive hiking trails that lead past granite cliffs, meadows, and waterfalls. It’s common to spot mule deer, foxes, and bighorn sheep in the mountain terrain. You’re less likely to see the nocturnal creatures such as the ringtail cat and mountain lion, though you’ll probably spot their tracks in the mud.

The Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon

Las Vegas to Bryce Canyon

It only takes an hour and a half to drive from Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park, but you will probably be tempted to stop off for photos several times along the way. Once at Bryce, spend some time viewing the incredible rock formations from different angles via the easy trails at the bottom or the more challenging ones that lead into the surrounding hills. Some of the lodging and camping areas are close enough to walk but lights are kept low to see the constellations at night.

To Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

The next two stops on this road trip from Las Vegas are close together, so these would be the best to combine in one day’s visit. Get an early start to get there though as it takes around five hours by the slow and scenic route or four hours by the I-70 interstate highway route to reach Arches National Park. The name is a strong clue of what to expect here, as erosion over many thousands of years has left giant standing arches that glow red as the sun is sinking close to the horizon.

Arches National Park

In Canyonlands, bike paths and trails go through rugged dry canyons and formations with descriptive names such as Needles, Candlestick Tower, Chocolate Drops, and Monument Basin. This Moab Region of Utah is anchored by the town of the same name and this is one of the world’s great playgrounds for adventure activities. Make this your base and you can find dozens of activities to sign up for such as extreme mountain biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, boating, river rafting, and stargazing.

The Awesome Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon from Las Vegas

No matter how many times you’ve seen photos of the Grand Canyon, it’s hard to imagine the immense size and wonder of this great natural geological site. Spread over hundreds of miles, it would take a lifetime to explore it all, but by coming from Utah you’ll visit the less crowded North Rim and have more of it to yourself. It takes six hours or so to get here from Canyonlands, so plan to spend the night at one of the many lodges or camping areas along the highway. By visiting it late in the day and then again in the morning, you’ll see it in a whole different light. If you can do a hike down inside, you’ll get another perspective again. Just bring plenty of water.

The next day, drive back to Las Vegas and complete the road trip loop. You’ll trade in starry skies and open landscapes for the bright lights and noises that never stop, but you should have hundreds of great photos to share from your great American road trip.

For information on all these regions, see the U.S. National Park Service website. To find a great deal and earn valuable points on your stay, see our Las Vegas Hotels section on Bonwi.com.