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Alaska Scenic Drive: Seward Highway

        Adventure | West

Highlights of Seward Highway
© Turnagain Pass is contrasted with the Chugash mountains along Seward Highway.
© Turnagain Pass is contrasted with the Chugash mountains along Seward Highway.

The trip fr­om Anchorage to Seward along Seward Highway is one of the most scenic drives you can take. Frequent pulloffs offer vistas of snowcapped mountains, glaciers, wildlife, and wildflowers at almost every turn, and side trips and hiking trails beckon adventurous explorers.

The road up Portage Valley leads into the 5.8 million-acre Chugach National Forest and past three hanging glaciers that are perched in the cleavage of mountain canyons.

Portage Glacier pokes its nose through the mountains at the head of a valley that it cut a long time ago. Since 1890, it has receded one mile and will be out of view by 2020 so don't procrastinate taking a trip to see it. Now, only a few bergs float in water that was once brimming with ice.

The visitor center offers excellent descriptive displays of glaciers and the best chance to see ice worms, pin-size critters that burrow into glaciers and eat algae. Temperatures ­above freezing can kill them.

You can take a day cruise along the rugged coast of Kenai Fjords National Park to see wildlife and tidewater glaciers that calve into the sea. Along the way, you may see orcas breach at boatside or a humpback whale with young swimming placidly along.

At Chiswall Islands, thousands of puffins and kittiwakes circle the boat. Just when you think you've seen the best, the boat stops at the foot of Holgate Glacier.

With the engines cut, the cracking and popping of the 500-foot wall of aquamarine ice thunders through the frigid air. A slab of ice silently slips from the face of the glacier and crashes into the water. Seconds later, the blast reaches your ears. This is no dainty wildflower beside a trickling stream; you're witnessing the raw power of nature that carves valleys through mountains and determines the weather of the entire planet.

The Seward Highway is in a richly varied and highly diverse area of Alaska. Over the length of its route, the character of the byway continually changes with its proximity to water, mountains, and towns.

Seward: The Seward Highway begins in the town of Seward nestled among the fjords surrounding Resurrection Bay. Nearby Kenai Fjords National Park offers the chance to see puffins, otters, eagles, arctic terns, whales, seals, and other marine life.

Ptarmigan Creek Recreation Site: Traveling north, the landscape surrounding the byway becomes one of alpine meadows dotted with rivers and lakes. During late July and early August, Ptarmigan Creek Recreation Site, 23 miles from Seward, is an excellent place to stop and watch the incredible salmon run, when thousands of red salmon head upstream to spawn.

Portage Glacier: Another few miles along the byway is Portage Glacier. Portage Glacier provides an incredible opportunity to watch glacial action on fast forward. One-hour boat tours are available to better witness the action.

Twentymile Flats: Farther north is Twentymile Flats, an expanse of lowlands and intertidal mudflats where three river valleys empty their silt-laden waters into Turnagain Arm and provide unobstructed views of the surrounding mountain peaks and glaciers.

Turnagain Arm: Turnagain Arm experiences the second highest tides in the world, often up to a 38-foot change in water level. Bore tides, a rare natural phenomenon in which the front of an incoming tide is a moving wall of water from three to five feet high, can be witnessed during extremely low tide here.

Anchorage: An­chorage offers a wealth of Alaskan history and cultural sites that you can enjoy.

The natural beauties you'll discover along Seward Highway are truly like no other you'll find in the United States -- or the world.

For more useful information related to Alaska's Seward Highway, see:

  • Alaska Scenic Drives: Seward Highway is just one of the scenic byways in Alaska. Check out the others.
  • Seward, Moose Pass, Girdwood, Anchorage: Find out what there is to do in these cities along Seward Highway.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond Alaska? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.
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