Recently, I was fueling my car when I was asked by a visitor driving a car rental how to get to highway #1. I clearly looked confused and responded with, “well, where are you going to?” Having lived in Alaska for over 40 years, I have never learned all of the official highway number designations. Never the less, after the visitor from Germany responded saying “Alyeska”, I was able to explain how to reach Alyeska, based on navigational directions and street names not highway number. In this case, highway #1 in southcentral Alaska is called the Seward Highway which starts in Anchorage and ends in Seward. In other parts of the Alaska, Highway #1 may be referred to as the the Alaska, Sterling, or Glenn Highway.
And I’m not alone, when visiting Alaska you’ll quickly realize that asking for directions by highway number is a futile effort as most residents of Alaska don’t know what highway number they live nearest. To help you prepare for your trip to Alaska, I”ll provide a brief summary of Alaska’s primary highways, by popular name, that most visitors to Alaska may expect travel on if starting their trip in Anchorage.
The Seward Highway starts in Anchorage and ends in Seward. The 127 mile highway was Alaska’s first to be designated as an Alaska Scenic Highway and is also an “All American Road”. Its dramatic views as well as its opportunities for outdoor exploration and seeing wildlife really make it a must-do experience for any visitor to Alaska. You’ll take the Seward Highway south from Anchorage if you are planning on visiting Kenai Fjords National Park.
The Glenn Highway starts in Anchorage and heads north-east 328 miles through the Matanuska-Susitna Valley to the Copper Valley and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, ending in Tok, Alaska. The portion of the “Glenn” which cuts through the Matanuska Valley was recently designated a National Scenic Byway and has awesome views of both the Talkeetna and Chugach Mountains as well as the Matanuska Glacier.
The George Parks Highway starts north of Anchorage, near the town of Wasilla and continues north 362 miles. The “Parks” intersects with the Glenn Highway and the two highways together provide the means to drive between Alaska’s two largest cities, Anchorage to the south and Fairbanks to the north. The entrance to Denali National Park is at Parks Highway mile 237 and the primary lodges and visitor services to the park are located on the Parks Highway.
The Glenn Highway intersects with The Richardson Highway in Glenallen and many Alaska visitors travel from Anchorage to Valdez by car, an approximately 8 hour drive one way. If you take this route, be sure to have your camera and binoculars handy, it’s an incredible drive. The Richardson Highway connects Valdez, located on Prince William Sound to Fairbanks and the Interior. The 366 mile long “Richardson” is historically important, as it was the primary route to interior Alaska during the Gold Rush, and now parallels the Trans-Alaska Pipeline which can be seen from many locations along the Richardson Highway.
Found entirely on the Kenai Peninsula, The Sterling Highway begins just north of Cooper Landing and ends in Homer, a scenic fishing village on Kachemak Bay. To reach the Sterling Highway take the Seward Highway south from Anchorage to Tern Lake at mile 90 where the two highways connect. The Sterling is literally a “roadmap” to most of southcentral Alaska’s hottest fishing spots, including the Kenai River.
Alaska has many other highways, some as scenic and certainly more remote then the primary highways mentioned. But, all of the highways I’ve refered to are rental-car approved roads, are maintained for the most part year round, and will provide you unforgettable memories and highlights along the way. These highways are among my favorites, and I know they will be yours too after you visit Alaska.