If you have plans to visit Alaska for the first time, it’s inevitable that you will want to head out and explore everything this beautiful state has to offer. Trust us when we say, there is A LOT to see! Before heading into the hidden depths of northern and central Alaska, consider taking a drive from Anchorage to Seward along the coastal highway to enjoy a plethora of reasons that will entice you to this part of the state.
We arrived in Anchorage late morning and immediately picked up our car rental to head out and start exploring. Our plan was to spend the night in Anchorage before heading out the next day on the drive from Anchorage to Denali which in itself is an amazing experience. But day one allowed us to take a day trip south along the Seward Highway with the hope of reaching the stunning natural phenomenon of the Portage Glacier.
On our final day of this Alaskan trip, we headed to Seward along this same highway to experience Kenai Fjords National Park courtesy of Major Marine Tours. We want to share just a couple of spots along this stretch of road that you will likely want to visit given the spectacular experiences that are available here.
Drive from Anchorage to Seward
The Seward Highway is approximately 125 miles and runs the distance from Anchorage to Seward. It is the only way to get between the two locations which is like most of Alaska as there is pretty much only one road that runs from north to south (makes navigation around this state very easy!).
The first trip that we took primarily focused on the stretch of highway known as the “Turnagain Arm” as it winds along the dramatic shorelines of this gorgeous bay. Every turn that you take along this highway offers a unique view of the mudflats across Turnagain Arm with the picturesque mountains providing a perfect backdrop to this part of Alaska.
I mentioned that this route will offer a glimpse of some of the breathtaking natural scenery that we associate with Alaska and this is certainly true as there are ample opportunities to pull over and admire the panoramic views surrounding you.
One side of the road offers alpine tundra with the potential to see mountain sheep wandering around the slopes of Chugach State Park, while a quick glance to the other side offers expansive views across the Turnagain Arm.
Let’s take a look at some of the popular viewpoints and why you should be intrigued to visit them.
Just a few minutes outside of Anchorage is Potter Marsh, a coastal wildlife refuge that offers a boardwalk measuring 1550 feet and allows visitors the opportunity to experience a myriad of wildlife that migrates to this area and enjoy the marshland.
If you spot your favorite bird species in the distance, there are viewing scopes strategically located along the boardwalk so you can zoom in and admire the wildlife in their local habitat.
THE MARSH IS A REST AREA FOR MIGRATORY BIRDS INCLUDING TRUMPETER SWANS, REDNECKED GREBES, GOLDEN EYES, AND PINTAILS. (ALASKA.ORG)
As you can see from above, there are a number of bird species that migrate here but if you are really lucky, you may spot a bald eagle in the area or perhaps salmon spawning in the depths of the marsh.
We spent quite some time exploring the boardwalk and spotted an abundance of wildlife though I am not much of a bird aficionado so can’t pinpoint exactly what species we saw!
McHugh Creek Recreation Area
Only a few minutes further south along the Seward Highway is another intriguing spot that is worth exploring. For those of you that enjoy the relaxing sight and sound of waterfalls, McHugh Creek will certainly be a place you will want to visit. A beautiful 20-foot waterfall may not have the size or power of iconic falls around the world but it does offer a sense of relaxation and solitude away from the highway which is just a short distance away.
Be prepared to pay a $5 fee for parking here but depending on the time of year you visit or even the time of the day, you may not need to pay this. We only spent a short time here so avoided the fee (don’t tell anyone!).
The recreation area offers access to the creek and waterfall but most visitors here will likely want to take a stroll along the trail that takes you deep into the woods and provides even more spectacular views of the Turnagain Arm and mountains. If you continue along this trailhead, you will eventually reach the source of the waterfall at McHugh Lake. This is a moderately difficult trail as you clamber high into the mountains of Chugach State Park.
We opted to take a short hike to get a better view across Turnagain Arm and then enjoyed spending some time clambering around the edge of the creek, in an attempt to capture a perfect shot of the waterfall. We could quite easily have spent more time here but with so much more to see on our drive to Portage Glacier, we continued on our journey.
Beluga Point Lookout
If you want to have the opportunity to experience a once in a lifetime moment, be sure to visit the Beluga Point lookout which is a little further down the Seward Highway from McHugh Creek. This extensive vantage point offers you the opportunity to see beluga whales when the tide is rolling in.
Visitors are strongly encouraged to view the tide schedules to find the best times for viewing the beluga whales. I will admit that we spent about 45 minutes here and honestly I don’t think we saw any beluga whales.
I hesitate to say we definitely didn’t see any in the distance but the waves and ‘potential’ beluga whales blend together so much that it’s really difficult to differentiate between the two. Heather claims that she saw one but I’m not convinced.
Regardless of whether you see a beluga, this lookout offers stunning views across Turnagain Arm. It is a popular spot for kayakers, stand up paddle boarders and even windsurfers and why not…the scenery is breathtaking and you never know what wildlife you might stumble across.
Beyond Portage Glacier
We spent the evening of our first day exploring Portage Glacier and the surrounding area. The drive beyond Portage and Whittier to Seward will take you to higher elevations as you pass through the mountains of Chugach National Forest, through the iconic “Moose Pass” before dropping down into the port of Seward.
Our time beyond Portage Glacier was limited as we drove straight through to Seward before hopping on the cruise to explore Kenai Fjords National Park.
The drive from Anchorage to Seward offers awe-inspiring panoramic views across the Turnagain Arm, Chugach State Park and much more. Whether you plan to take a day trip or perhaps spend a few days hiking various trails along this route, there is enough to keep everyone occupied.
I am sure you will stumble across many hidden gems along this route and again there are ample opportunities to take awesome photographs and appreciate the breathtaking scenery that surrounds you.
Have you experienced the scenic drive from Anchorage to Seward? If so, did you see any beluga whales or other wildlife?
Certainly looks like a beautiful drive! Every time I read one of your posts, it makes me want to go to Alaska again even more! #WeekendWanderlust
That is one of my favorite drives and I love seeing your photos as Alaska is my home in my heart.. You could see so much wildlife ont this drive–mountain goats, belugas, moose, ravens, bears. Moose love Potter’s Marsh.
I’ve had family that have visited Alaska and said how beautiful it is; now I see why. Your photos wonderfully capture the raw beauty of the landscape. Just wild and pristine. Beluga Point Lookout looks gorgeous. One day maybe!! #WeekendWanderlust
Your photos looks amazing..usually i just know that Alaska will be fully covered by snow buf these are gorgeous especially the sea n bay. Hope to see ang beluga swimming there also
This is so gorgeous! I have yet to visit Alaska – but definitely want to! #WeekendWanderlust Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin
We loved this drive when we were there 2 years ago. We were also able to see a Boring tide and watch the surfers in the waters of Turnagain arm. Would have loved to have been able to spend more time in Seward! Next Trip!
So beautiful! I’m taking a cruise this August from Vancouver to Seward. I was planning on renting a car to drive to Anchorage from Seward. It seems that all the research I find it’s always in the opposite direction. Not sure if this is a silly question but is the drive still amazing going from Seward to Anchorage?
It is more amazing driving from Anchorage to Seward than the opposite. We did both . But, it is beautiful either way! Enjoy your trip! Seward was my favorite place in Alaska.
pictures will not do justice to how beautiful it really is here in Alaska. We just did the drive on this highway last week.it was a nice sunny and clear day…all I can say is, it’s a drive of a lifetime …
Exactly!! You described the drive perfectly…”a drive of a lifetime” – we are so jealous that you were able to experience this last week and we really need to make a return trip back to Alaska soon to experience this same drive again! So much breathtaking scenery to enjoy. We are so glad that you had a great time guys!
After living in Alaska for 35 years, I still find the raw beauty of this great state awe inspiring. I always recommend this drive for visitors – especially if they don’t have a lot of time left on their trip. A one hour drive south of Anchorage takes you down Turnagain Arm and past the small town of Girdwood, Alaska. A turn into Girdwood takes you to the ski resort and the tram. Take it to the top and you have the opportunity to see seven glaciers surrounding you. Twelve miles past Girdwood on the left brings you to Portage Valley. Magnificent hanging glaciers on each side of the road. At the end of the road is a visitor center and a chance to take a boat ride onto Portage Lake to get an up close and personal view of Portage Glacier. All of this before you even get to Seward! I feel so privileged to live in this magnificent state.
This is one of my favorite drives I have ever done and continues to be, and I live in Seward. Glad you had a great trip along the road. Too bad all your photos are north of Portage Valley. There are amazing hikes along the Seward highway on the Peninsula and the views are stunning too year round.
Yes me and my partner travelled to Alaska from Florida back in 2008 along the ALCAN highway and spent 12 glorious days driving around Alaska…up the Dalton Highway…and down from Anchorage to Seward! Beautiful scenery. We drove through the Whittier road/train tunnel as we were taking a tour around the glaciers…27 glaciers in 3 hours…spectacular. On the outskirts of Seward is Exit Glacier and that is the nearest I have stood next to a glacier. We also stopped to try and find Beluga whales but didn’t see any. But we did see plenty of Moose merrily chomping on the vegetation from the bottom of a pond…and I spotted a wild porcupine. This is a trip I will never forget and I can highly recommend it to anyone who has a yen for a long road trip. I am trying to visit every state and now have only 4 left but failing health has curtailed my travelling. On another note I am Preston, Lancashire, UK born and bred (my Mum was born in Manchester) and I have lived in the US for over 25 years.
So funny to read that your name is Preston. My grandson, who is visiting Anchorage and Seward, at this very moment, is named Preston. We lived in Anchorage, when his mom was a baby!