An August 2004 trip
to Anchorage by ssullivan
Quote: The first day of my week in Alaska was spent traveling the entire Seward Highway, from Anchorage to Seward, and back. This is one of the most scenic drives in all of the US, with countless incredible views of mountains, glaciers, water, and wildlife.
Hotel | "Homewood Suites by Hilton Anchorage"
I mainly chose the Homewood Suites because I was wanting to use some of my Hilton HHonors points to pay for my accommodations the two nights I would be staying in Anchorage. The hotel is like any other Homewood Suites. All rooms are in a one or two bedroom configuration, with a full kitchen, living room with sofa bed, and bedroom. I was booked into a one bedroom suite.
This location opened in spring 2004. The hotel is basically the standard Homewood Suites layout, with a few modifications. For one, the lobby has been re-designated as the "lodge" at this location and features lots of craftsman style furniture, a large stone fireplace, stained glass lamps and chandeliers, and stuffed bears and caribou. In addition to the check in desk and several seating areas around the fireplace, the lodge features the hotel's breakfast area. As with all Homewood Suites locations, a full hot breakfast buffet is included with your room each morning and a light dinner meal is served Monday-Thursday evenings. The breakfast buffet was good with the standard scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage links, cereals, fruit, bagels, danishes, toast, coffee, and juices. Additionally, there is a do-it-yourself Belgian waffle bar with pre-measured cups of waffle batter and foolproof waffle irons available. Unfortunately I was not at the hotel early enough for the complimentary evening meal. Each suite has a monthly menu on the refrigerator door for this meal.
As for my suite, this hotel had the only bed on my trip that I would classify as very comfortable. While the living room and kitchen areas would be nice for a longer stay or if I was traveling with more people (I was alone), for my stay they were just extra unused space. I mainly chose this location because given the other options for redeeming HHonors points in Anchorage, this was the best value, because of the included breakfast. Overall, I would highly recommend this property for its convenience to the airport, Seward Highway, and overall value.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on August 17, 2004
Homewood Suites Anchorage
140 WEST TUDOR RD
Anchorage, Alaska 99503
Restaurant | "Tito's Discovery Cafe"
Tito's is considered to be one of the better restaurants in Hope, not that there are that many choices. Still, this simple diner serves up very good burgers, sandwiches, and a variety of other down-home favorites. All of the soups, chili, and pies are homemade daily. The restaurant is a true landmark in Hope, and one of this friendly little town's favorite gathering places. Discovery Cafe is so well loved by the area residents that after a fire completely destroyed the uninsured restaurant on January 31, 1999, residents donated their time, money, and building skills to rebuild the place from the ground up, allowing it to reopen a couple of years later.
I stopped in at Tito's for lunch and found the quaint little restaurant to be a great choice. The employees are very friendly, and know the regular customers well enough that when several walked through the door and sat down, the waitress just said "The usual?" and after the party responded "yes" she wrote out an order and turned it into the kitchen. Another regular customer walked in, and seeing the lone waitress busy, walked behind the counter to help himself to a large glass of iced tea. We out-of-towners still get great service too, although the only people using the menu to order while I was having lunch were the tourists (myself included). Tito's is unbelievably affordable for Alaska, especially considering the large portions. My cheeseburger was quite large, and served with a fresh slices of lettuce, tomato, and red onion. A side of fries or onion rings was included, and I opted for the onion rings, which were quite good. The very filling meal, including a glass of iced tea and tip for the waitress, set me back only $11. Not bad, especially considering the much higher prices I paid the rest of the trip.
When you visit Hope (which you must certainly do!), if it's meal time, don't miss Tito's Discovery Cafe. It's a great experience, and will be a very enjoyable meal.
Hours of Operation:
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 12, 2004
411 West Fourth Ave
Anchorage, Alaska 99501
+1 907 279 9322
Summit Lake Lodge is the only business along the Seward Highway between Portage and Moose Pass. This roadhouse is set on the banks of scenic Summit Lake and surrounded by mountains. In addition to the restaurant, the lodge offers six guestrooms, available for about $80 per night, a bar, and a gift shop with an espresso bar and ice cream.
I stopped at Summit Lake Lodge for dinner on my way back to Anchorage. Service was friendly, although a little slow. The hostess was a little annoyed by my request for a larger water glass and said "we can only serve water in the small glasses" but did bring me a pitcher of water. Having just finished several hours of hiking, I was a little dry, and a small six-ounce glass wasn't going to cut it! Shortly my waitress arrived and I ordered the stuffed halibut, which was served with a salad, potatoes, and steamed vegetables. The salad (as I've mentioned in other Alaska dining entries) was not spoiled or browned but not at the peak of freshness either. I found this to be the norm in Alaska though, mainly because of the long distance vegetables are shipped to get here. My entree was a large filet of halibut, folded over a stuffing of shrimp and crab. The whole thing was topped with a mushroom sauce and was pretty tasty. The vegetables left a lot to be desired. The broccoli was bland and limp; I suspect it was frozen and just heated up. The potatoes were slices of cooked potatoes and were a little bland as well, but the flavorful halibut made up for these shortcomings. For dessert I had a slice of cherry pie topped with a little whipped cream and a cup of coffee.
Price-wise, the Summit Lake Lodge restaurant has a wide variety of selections at different price points. Burgers and sandwiches are under $10, while most dinner entrees are $15-25. My dinner, including entree, dessert, coffee, and gratuity, came in right at $30, but I could have eaten for half that price.
Overall, Summit Lake Lodge is not a bad choice for dinner. The restaurant's food has a few shortcomings, but I suspect these are mainly due to the remote location. The view of the lake from the dining room is very nice, and the small gift shop across the parking lot has a nice selection of Alaskan gifts. Inside the gift shop there is also an espresso bar and ice cream shop, making this a good stop for a snack and to get out of the car and stretch your legs. Also, be sure to check out the intricate carvings all around the lodge buildings and grounds. The door of the gift shop is especially impressive, with a scene of a bear and the lake and mountains carved into it.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 17, 2004
Summit Lake Lodge
Restaurant | "Gwennie's Old Alaska Restaurant"
Gwennie's is something of an Anchorage institution, as it has been a part of the city just about as long as anyone can remember. Dining at Gwennie's can be quite a unique experience and that's part of why it's so popular. The decor, while dated, has everything from a waterfall that flows from the second floor dining room down to the first to a small pond with a bridge over it to stuffed animals. There's also the usual stuffed animals, and lots of interesting historic photographs. And on top of that the walls have an odd assortment of old mining tolls, dogsleds, and other Alaskan items. While somewhat "junky" and dimly lit, Gwennie's has a lot of charm that you just don't find in the big chain restaurants that have started popping up in Anchorage.
As for the food, Gwennie's is probably most famous for its huge breakfasts, which are served all day. Probably the most famous breakfast item is the huge omelets, especially the reindeer sausage omelets. Because my hotel included a complimentary full breakfast buffet, I opted to visit Gwennie's for lunch after a visit to nearby Earthquake Park and the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. The lunch and dinner menus are typical diner type food, with a pretty wide selection of entrees. All of the food is homemade, and portions are huge, especially considering the reasonable prices. I ordered the fish and chips, which came with a cup of soup or a side salad. Because I was there on a Friday, the soup was clam chowder, which came out in a large mug and was full of thick, creamy soup, large chunks of potatoes, and pieces of clam meat. The fish and chips soon followed. Now, I'm a big guy who can eat a lot when I'm really hungry, but this was almost too much. Five large pieces of fish were accompanied by a monster-size portion of French fries. The battered fish tasted like it was probably halibut, although it was not advertised as such on the menu. All of it was quite good, although not absolutely the best fish and chips I've ever had, but certainly far from the worst. Total bill, including gratuity and a soft drink, came to right at $20. While that may seem a little on the high side for a lunch of fried fish and French fries, don't forget that this is Alaska, and that there was almost too much food for me to finish.
Service at Gwennie's was good. The employees tend to be native Alaskans or long-time residents, and the restaurant is as popular with the locals as it is with the tourists, making Gwennie's a good place to go to mingle with some of the locals.
So if you're looking for something truly local in Anchorage, check out Gwennie's. It's definitely the quirky kind of place you'll always remember.
Gwennie's Old Alaskan Restaurant
4333 Spenard Road
Anchorage, Alaska 99503
+1 907 243 2090
Attraction | "Hope-Sunrise Mining Museum"
The single-room Hope-Sunrise Mining Museum houses a number of interesting artifacts and photographs from the days when these two communities were bustling little cities filled with prospectors hoping to strike it rich. Inside, a friendly docent is available to answer questions and man the tiny gift shop area. Be sure to check out the photograph with the gold miner showing off three very large gold nuggets, each weighing over 10 pounds. There's also a humorous photo of a black bear being used to pull a sled in the snow. Outside a small shed shelters a collection of historic mining equipment. Nearby are several log buildings dating from the gold rush days. This little museum is worth spending a few minutes exploring and is a great way to gain insight into the history of the area.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 13, 2004
Hope & Sunrise Mining
Be sure to watch out for wildlife, especially in the area where the trail climbs into a brushy hillside with a great overlook of the valley below. In this section several sharp turns in the trail give you limited visibility of the trail ahead. Wild berries grow on these hillsides and if there are not many people around, bears, moose, and other animals may be on or near the trail. I suggest talking if you have someone with you, or if you are by yourself, as I was, sing or talk to yourself to help alert any wildlife that may be present that you are there. The one thing you do not want to do is surprise a wild animal on the trail that is eating and may have offspring nearby.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on August 13, 2004
Ptarmigan Lake Trail
Chugach State Park
Attraction | "Kenai Fjords National Park & Exit Glacier"
Exit Glacier is one of the easiest glaciers on the Kenai Peninsula to get close to, and has become a very popular destination. The glacier area is accessed by turning onto Exit Glacier Rd., which intersects the Seward Highway around mile 3, and following the road about nine miles until it ends at the park's fee booth and parking lot. There is a $5 per car entrance fee. A large parking lot will accommodate cars, RVs, and tour buses. Leading away from the parking lot is a trail to the glacier, which is about 1/2 mile away from the parking lot. The first half of the trail is paved and wheelchair accessible. Eventually the trail splits into lower and upper overlook trails. The upper trail steeply climbs to a bedrock overlook above the side of the glacier. This offers some spectacular views of the entire glacier, valley below, and glacial outflow area. The lower trail winds down to the outflow area, and before this year, took you up to the end of the glacier. However, the glacier's runoff has flooded the trail and washed out a couple of footbridges. The end of the glacier is still accessible but you will need tall rubber boots unless you want to get your feet wet in frigid glacial runoff water that is up to eight inches deep.
To return to the parking lot, you have two choices. The trail you came down will take you back, or you can choose the slightly longer nature trail. It winds through young forests that have grown up in the outflow area where the glacier used to be, and has some nice views of Exit Creek.
In addition to these trails, the moderately strenuous Harding Icefield Trail climbs steeply up the mountain adjacent to Exit Glacier to an overlook of the Harding Icefield. This icefield dates to the last ice age and is the source of over twenty glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park. This trail has an elevation gain of over 3,000 feet and is recommended only for reasonably fit hikers. Before starting this trail, be sure to check at the ranger's station, as weather conditions on the upper sections of the trail change rapidly and the trail is closed frequently because of this.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Outside the Town of Seward
Seward, Alaska 99664
Attraction | "Portage Glacier"
Portage Glacier is the most visited glacier in Alaska because of its easy accessibility from Anchorage via the Seward Highway, and the scenic iceberg filled lake the glacier has left behind in its retreat. Unfortunately the glacier has retreated behind some rocks making it impossible to see from the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center. However, the visitor center and surrounding decks provide great views of the lake and several nearby hanging glaciers clinging to the mountainsides. To really see Portage Glacier, the one that created the lake and is responsible for those icebergs, you will need to take one of the boat tours onto the lake, or continue down the Portage Glacier Rd. through a short tunnel toward the Whittier Access Tunnel.
This was my second visit to Portage Glacier, so I decided to stop by on my return to Anchorage after the visitor center had closed, rather than spend the early part of the day visiting a place I had already seen before. Even after the visitor center is closed you are welcome to park in its parking lot and go out onto the sidewalks overlooking the lake. I arrived at Portage Lake around 8:00 p.m. and I was one of about 15-20 people who were there. Despite it being late summer, there were still icebergs floating in the lake, although they were smaller and fewer in number than what I had seen during my previous visit in November 2002. After a brief walk around the visitors center area, I proceeded on toward the Whittier Tunnel, pausing briefly along the road for some views of Portage Glacier and the lake from a different angle.
Portage Lake and Glacier makes a great short sidetrip from Anchorage. If you do not have time to see all of the Seward Highway and drive southward to Exit Glacier and the other glaciers of the Kenai Peninsula, Portage is a good place to see a glacier. And, the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center has some excellent displays and a short film about the glacier. There are also several short hiking trails in the area that help you get up close to the glaciers.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 18, 2004
Portage Glacier (Begich, Boggs Visitor Center)
Mile 5.5 Portage Glacier Road
Anchorage, Alaska 99587
On Good Friday in March, 1964, Anchorage and much of the rest of south central Alaska was hit with a violent earthquake, measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale. In four minutes of shaking, the landscape was forever changed, as large portions of land sunk in elevation, and entire neighborhoods were destroyed in landslides. South of Anchorage, the coastal ports of Seward and Whittier were devastated by tsunamis that were caused by the earthquake. And in Anchorage, thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed as the ground beneath them collapsed.
Earthquake Park was created years later in an area that was a subdivision before the quake. The park is designed to demonstrate the power of the earthquake and highlights the massive landslides that occurred along the Knik Arm shoreline. A series of interpretive signs, sculptures, and kiosks tell the story of the earthquake and feature before and after photos and maps. These displays map out the current bluffline, where the high ground above Knik Arm drops down to the water, which was created during the earthquake, versus the original bluffline, which was in some cases where the water now is. The park itself is very forested now, making it somewhat hard to see much of the landslide area. However, there are several "unofficial" paths leading down from the park's developed areas into the landslide areas. A trek down these steep paths may require a little scrambling, but is worth it to be able to see the unusual landscape the earthquake created. However, be very careful when going into the lower areas of the park. The ground is still unstable and it is very easy to fall and possibly slide down the steep slopes. Also, do not go out onto the mudflats along the waterfront under any circumstances. The thick mud is like quicksand, and people have died when they got stuck in the mud and were not able to be rescued before the tide came in, drowning them.
Earthquake Park is a very interesting place to visit in Anchorage if you want to know more about the 1964 earthquake and see the effects of it firsthand. Also, the park is located on the popular Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, providing hike and bike access to downtown Anchorage and areas to the southwest adjacent to the Anchorage airport. This trail is very scenic and a great place to get out and enjoy a pleasant summer afternoon in Anchorage.
4306 West Northern Lights Blvd
Anchorage, Alaska 99517
In 1996, the American Hiking Society designated Anchorage as "Trail Town USA." The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail (named after the former Alaska governor, current US Senator, and owner of the popular Downtown Deli) is part of the reason why. The trail is a very popular walking, running, and biking trail along the Cook Inlet coastline in Anchorage. The wide, paved, all-weather trail charts an eleven-mile course from downtown to Kincaid Park, passing several parks and the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport along the way. The entire walk is very scenic, with great views of the coastline, Anchorage skyline, forested areas, and open meadows. There are frequent moose sightings in several areas along the route, and an occasional bear may even find its way into the area. Remember, while Anchorage is a fairly big city, this is still Alaska, and wildlife is known to find its way into the populated areas.
There are several places to access this long trail. Starting downtown, the trail can be accessed at the northeast end of Second Ave., near the Alaska Railroad depot. The trail runs along the coastline to Westchester Lagoon, paralleling the Alaska Railroad rail line and going through a tunnel under the tracks. Continuing to the southwest, the trail enters Earthquake Park (see separate entry for details on the park). There are some steep grades on the approach to the park. Continuing southward, the trail goes through Airport Park, a small picnic area near the airport. From this point on expect to see some very low flying jets overhead, as the trail skirts the edge of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Most planes take off and land over the water in Anchorage, so expect to see both departing and arriving planes overhead. The section of the trail is very popular with aircraft spotters like myself, and even though I was there at a slow time, it was fun to get such great views. There are also a few places where you can see over the fence onto the airport ramp and watch some of the operations there. Finally, after passing the airport, the trail approaches Kincaid Park and the end of the trail.
The Tony Knowles trail is a mixed-use facility. The majority of the people using the trail that I saw were on bikes, but there were also a number of hikers like myself, runners, and a few people on inline skates.
Some Useful Web Links:
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 19, 2004
Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
900 West Second Ave
Anchorage, Alaska 99501
So you've flown into Anchorage, seen a few glaciers, eaten some halibut and salmon, and if the weather's clear and it's dark enough, maybe seen the Northern Lights. And maybe you've even seen some wildlife. But unless you've gotten off the main highways and away from the main tourist areas, chances are you have not yet seen a real Alaskan community. Fortunately I have good news. There is a great little village that you can easily get to in your rental car, and it's just over an hour's drive from Anchorage. That place is Hope, and old gold mining town located on the south side of Turnagain Arm and only 17 miles from the Seward Highway.
So what makes Hope so special? Well to start, not a lot of visitors make their way to the town. Even though Hope is not like the many villages in western, northern, and interior areas of the state that require flying with a bush pilot to get to, relatively few tourists make the short drive down the Hope Highway to see this place. This has preserved the town's character and charm for those who do make the effort to get here. For visitors there are a few attractions, most notably the Hope-Sunrise Mining Museum, fishing, and some nearby hiking trails. Additionally, it is worth stopping in one of the local cafes for a meal. By doing so, you'll get a feel for the laid back atmosphere of the community, where restaurant waitresses know all of the regular customers well enough to write up their orders as soon as they walk through the door, and customers feel comfortable enough to pop behind the counter and help themselves to a refill of coffee or tea.
In the Gold Rush days of the late 1890s, Hope and the nearby Sunrise community were boomtowns with populations of about 3,000. However, after the big gold claims had all been made, the towns started to slowly decline. Today the old Sunrise town site (located a few miles down the Hope Highway from Hope toward the Seward Highway) is nothing but a few building foundations on some private land. Hope still has about 130 residents, despite much of the original town site being destroyed by the coastline sinking several feet during the 1964 Good Friday earthquake. The people who live here are very friendly and welcome the relatively few visitors who make the effort to visit their town. If you wish to stay overnight, there are a number of campsite areas, including some with RV hookups, and the Hope Gold Rush B&B, housed in a log cabin originally built in 1916 (and added on to in the early 21st century). Or, if you just want a short side trip off the Seward Highway, visit Hope for a good, affordable meal, a visit to the local museum, and a stroll through the old downtown area where several Gold Rush-era buildings still stand. You'll be glad you took the time to visit.
One of the main reasons for visiting the Alaskan wilderness are the ample opportunities to see many different types of wildlife in their natural habitats. Before leaving for my trip, I had developed of a mental list of animals I'd hoped to see in the wild, and since I was planning a bus tour into Denali National Park, I thought I'd have a pretty good chance of seeing some bears, moose, and caribou. I also expected to see some wildlife during my journeys on the Alaska Railroad, especially in some of the very unpopulated areas the railroad serves. However, I never imagined my closest encounter with the wild animals of Alaska would happen in a relatively crowded place with lots of people around.
After arriving at my hotel in Anchorage shortly after midnight the night before, I got up about 7:30 a.m. and hit the Seward Highway heading south out of the city by 9:00 a.m. My goal was to go all the way to Seward and then be back in Anchorage before midnight. Along the way I was planning stops at Girdwood, Portage, Hope, and the Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. I also hoped to do a little hiking on one of the many trails in the Chugach National Forest. I was excited to find a group of dall sheep feeding high on some rocky cliffs overlooking Turnagain Arm between Anchorage and Girdwood, my first wildlife spotting of the trip. Finally, after taking about six hours to make the 120 mile trip to Seward, I arrived at Exit Glacier. Little did I know I was about to come almost face to face with a mother black bear and her two cubs.
After paying the $5 entrance fee and parking the rental car, I started off down the half-mile trail from the parking lot and ranger's station to the glacier. The first half of the trail is a paved sidewalk and there were at least 30-40 people walking along the path toward and away from the glacier. I paused briefly at a kiosk at the start of the trail to read some signs and posters, including one warning of bears and moose near the trails and the glacier. After reading the kiosk, I continued my trek toward Exit Glacier. After a few seconds of walking, I became aware of something moving through the thick brush off to my right side. I paused shortly, pondering "what is that in the bushes?" and then continued. Then I heard the noises again, and this time they were closer. I paused again, next to a park bench. Some guys heading back toward the parking lot heard it too and stopped. One of them said "Is that a moose back there?" Just then I became aware of a dark object moving through the bushes toward me. It was still impossible to tell what it was, but I knew it was walking toward the path. Then I heard a low "grunt" from the animal and said to the two guys standing next to me "I think we need to move away. Whatever it is is coming out of the bushes." I took about three steps backwards, toward the glacier, and they started walking slowly back toward the parking lot. And then a black bear emerged from the bushes and stopped on the sidewalk, right next to the bench, stopping in exactly the same place I had just been standing. I was maybe ten feet from the bear at this point. Some kids walking back toward the parking lot who had just passed the bench saw the bear and took off running. While saying "OH MY GOD IT'S A BEAR!" I continued to walk slowly backwards, keeping an eye on the animal. A park ranger a few feet ahead leading a guided nature walk became aware of what was going on and stopped her group to turn around and evaluate the situation. In a calm voice she asked all of us to continue to slowly walk away from the bear, but not to run, and to watch our step so that nobody tripped and fell. She radioed back to the ranger station at the parking lot requesting a ranger there stop visitors from going down the trail until the bear moved on. After getting another ten feet or so away from the bear I thought "I need to photograph this" and quickly reached for my camera. I paused to snap a picture and continued to move back when a cub scampered out of the bushes and stopped next to its mother. The ranger continued requesting everyone to slowly move back from the bears. Then a second cub came out. Now there were the three bears, standing in the middle of the trail, with people a safe distance on either side of them. The bears stood there and looked at the people for a few seconds, and then the mother, followed by her two cubs, continued across the path, heading back into the bushes on the opposite side of the path from which they'd come.
After it was over, I was left with a feeling of total disbelief. "Did that really just happen?" I kept thinking. Yes, it really did. Less than a minute before I had been within ten feet of a wild black bear. I suddenly became aware of the natural fear reaction my body had gone into -- my forehead and neck were sweating, my heart was racing, and my stomach felt like it had jumped into my throat. Amazingly while it was happening I was too stunned I was actually seeing this, and concerned with trying to snap pictures, to realize that this was a pretty frightening experience. I don't think I had ever been so close to a large wild animal in its habitat in my life before. And, for the first time ever, I had seen a bear live and in person that was not in a zoo. What an experience for my first afternoon in Alaska!
The rest of my week in Alaska was filled with more wildlife sightings, including numerous brown bears and cubs, caribou, and a rare black wolf in Denali; and a moose with a calf and several wild trumpeter swans, including a family with five chicks, while traveling on the Alaska Railroad. But none of these experiences came close to the shock and amazement of my close encounter with the black bears of Kenai Fjords National Park.
The following guide is a compilation from several sources of some of the most interesting and scenic points along the Seward Highway. All milepoints are from Seward, the south end of the highway. Mile markers along the highway are placed every mile, but sometimes hard to see. If traveling from Anchorage, you are starting at approximately mile 127 and mileposts will be decreasing as you travel south. As most travelers start in Anchorage, I have posted these points starting at the north end of the highway going south.
Miles 127-79: The highway heads south through Potter Marsh, a wetlands area formed during the 1964 earthquake when the land in this area sank. This is a great area for bird watchers most of the year. After Potter Marsh, you will pass Beluga Point on your right. This is one of the first of many scenic pullouts along the highway. Beluga Point is so-named because beluga whales are often spotted in the water along this area of Turnagain Arm. However, I saw none on the day of my visit. Continuing southward, the high rocky cliffs on the left side of the road just beyond Beluga Point are a good place to see dall sheep. On both of my visits to Alaska there were dall sheep feeding in this area. It helps to have a telephoto lens and/or binoculars for viewing and photographing these animals as they precariously balance on the sides of the cliffs. You will then continue through the community of Girdwood, home of the Alyeska ski resort, and a good place to pull off for a break. On either side of Girdwood the highway goes through several avalanche areas, and in the winter the highway may be closed at times due to avalanches. Finally, at mile 79, the road to Portage Glacier and the Whittier tunnel turns off to the left.
Miles 79-75: The highway now curves and skirts around the end of Turnagain Arm and starts back toward the west, on the south side of the Arm. Twenty-mile flats, this area of relatively flat, marshy land, provides some amazing views in all directions of the mountains, glaciers, and Turnagain Arm. The highway then turns back to the south onto the Kenai Peninsula.
Miles 75-69: A series of steep inclines takes you up and over Turnagain Pass. At this latitude, it does not take long to climb above the tree line. Unlike my experiences of mountain driving in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, the road here is pretty straight and the inclines are not as steep. The mountain passes in Alaska are much lower than those in the Rockies in the Lower 48. At mile 71, there is a pullout with a waterfall right next to the highway. If you are driving south, the waterfall will be behind you; you will need to stop and get out to really see it. A few miles down the road, the rest area at the summit of Turnagain Pass provides great views, has restrooms, and there is a paved trail down into the alpine meadow to a creek. It's a nice place to get out and walk and enjoy the cool, fresh mountain air.
Mile 56.5: The Canyon Creek rest stop is just before you get to the junction with the Hope Highway. The parking lot has an overlook where you can see where Canyon Creek flows into the north-flowing Sixmile Creek. The Hope Highway follows Sixmile Creek back to Turnagain Arm and the old mining community of Hope, a great side trip that not many people make. The drive to Hope is 17 miles, and will take about 25 minutes.
Miles 57-46: After leaving the junction with the Hope Highway, you will climb back above the treeline and pass a number of lakes in the valleys between the mountains. At mile 46, the Summit Lake Lodge provides a good rest stop with motel rooms, a decent restaurant, and a nice gift shop with a coffee bar and ice cream parlour. The lake is gorgeous and if the wind is calm, provides beautiful reflections of the surrounding mountains. See the dining entry in this journal for a review of the Summit Lake Lodge restaurant.
Mile 36: At this point the Sterling Highway turns off to the right to go to Homer and Kenai. The Seward Highway continues to the left. At this junction is Tern Lake, a beautiful lake with frequent bird spotting and yet another good place to stop and walk around. There are picnic tables on the west end of the lake.
Mile 33: The trailhead for the Carter Lake Trail, a popular hiking trail that will take you about four hours to do.
Mile 30: The community of Moose Pass is a quaint little town on the shores of Upper Trail Lake.
Miles 22.3-18.5: The highway passes the blue-green waters of Kenai Lake.
Mile 23: The Ptarmigan Creek Recreation Site offers camping and the Ptarmigan Lake Trail, a scenic hike along Ptarmigan Creek to Ptarmigan Lake. The hike will take about 2-3 hours to do roundtrip. See my review of this trail in this journal for more information.
Mile 3: Just north of Seward, Exit Glacier Rd. turns off to your right. Unfortunately there is no advance warning of the turn to this popular destination, so be prepared for semi-lost tourists slamming on their brakes when they see the sign right at the intersection. Be smart. If you have not been watching the mileposts, don't slam on your brakes in the middle of the highway's curve at this intersection, but continue on a short distance until it is safe to slowly turn off the road and make a u-turn back to Exit Glacier Rd.
Mile 0: The highway ends at the Seward waterfront, near the Alaska Marine Life Center.
District of Columbia County, District of Columbia