The drive from Anchorage to Valdez is gorgeous and it is packed with lots of great things to do. Along the drive, you can visit historical sites, hike on a glacier, feed a reindeer, learn about Musk Ox, see Dall sheep, photograph waterfalls, and stop at numerous viewpoints.
This was our introduction to Alaska. And what an awesome first impression it made.
For most of the drive, we felt like we were driving through a national park. But nope, this is just your typical, jaw-dropping, beautiful Alaskan scenery.
You can drive right up to several glaciers, view the mighty Wrangell Mountains, get up close with moose and reindeer, and have stunning views of the Chugach Mountains…there never is a boring moment on this drive.
There is so much to do on the drive from Anchorage to Valdez that you will want to set aside an entire day for this experience. It’s really that good.
In this guide, we cover the driving route from Anchorage to Valdez, with maps, things to do, lots of photos, and tips to have the best experience.
Let’s get started!
Overview of the Drive
Distance: 300 miles
Length of Time: 5 to 6 hours without stops. With stops, this can take a full day.
Route: There is only one way to do this drive. From Anchorage, take Alaska Route 1 (AK-1, also called Glenn Highway) to Glennallen. From Glennallen, take Alaska Route 4 (AK-4, also called Richardson Highway) south towards Valdez.
When to Go: You can do this drive all year. During the winter months, be prepared to drive on snow covered roads, particularly on the Richardson Highway near Valdez.
Type of Vehicle: A regular car is just fine for this drive. All of the roads are paved, with the only exception being the 1 mile gravel road to Glacier Tours of the Matanuska. If you plan to do this from late fall through spring, an SUV might make driving the snow covered roads easier.
Going from Valdez to Anchorage: If you plan to do this drive in the opposite direction, you can still use this guide. Just simply follow it in reverse.
Alternate Options to Get from Anchorage to Valdez: If you don’t like the idea of doing a 300 mile drive, you can fly from Anchorage to Valdez. You also have the option to drive from Anchorage to Whittier and from Whittier, take the ferry to Valdez.
How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (places to go and the driving route from Anchorage to Valdez). You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.
Things to Do on the Drive from Anchorage to Valdez
This list starts in Anchorage and ends in Valdez. It’s a very long list and you will not be able to do everything in one day. So, you will have to pick out your favorites.
We did most of these on the drive out to Valdez. On the return drive to Anchorage, later in our trip, we visited the places we didn’t get to on the first drive.
Before starting the drive, we went to a grocery store in Anchorage to get snacks and lunch for the day. In this driving guide, I list a café that makes a great lunch spot. But snacks are good to have on hand, in case your timing doesn’t work out the same as ours did.
We started the drive at 7:30 am. Since we had flown in from the east coast the day before, 7:30 am felt like 11:30 am to us, so it was very easy to get an early start. With stops, by the time we got to Valdez, it was 5 pm.
As you drive north from Anchorage, Eklutna Lake is your first optional stop.
Eklutna Lake is a beautiful lake located just north of Anchorage. It is a popular spot to go kayaking and hiking. You can also hike to Thunderbird Falls, a 2 mile out-and-back hike that starts near the intersection of AK-1 and Eklutna Lake Road.
With so much to do on this drive, we skipped the kayaking and hiking and simply enjoyed the view of the lake. At 8:30 am, we had Eklutna Lake to ourselves. It was quiet, it was peaceful, and it was a wonderful way to start the day.
To visit Eklutna Lake, there is a $5 entrance fee. You will pay this at the automated pay booth in the parking lot.
HOW TO GET TO EKLUTNA LAKE: To get to Eklutna Lake, turn onto Eklutna Lake Road from AK-1. It is a 10-mile drive on a paved road to get to the lake. Keep an eye out for moose. We spotted a moose on the roadside when we did this drive.
PLANNING YOUR TIME: This detour adds 45 minutes for the drive out-and-back to the lake from AK-1, plus the time that you spend at the lake. We spent about 15 minutes here, for a total time of 1 hour.
Eklutna Historical Park
The Eklutna Historical Park is home to the original St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, which is the oldest building in the municipality of Anchorage.
It is also home to the Spirit Houses of the Athabascans. These small houses are built over the grave sites so the spirits would have a place to live. The colors of the houses correspond to the family name.
The Eklutna Historical Park is usually open from Tuesday through Saturday from 11 am to 5 pm. A $5 donation is appreciated.
HOW TO GET HERE: The address is 26612 Eklutna Village Road. It is located right off of AK-1 so it there is minimal driving time to get here.
PLANNING YOUR TIME: A visit here lasts 15 to 30 minutes. We did not do this on the drive from Anchorage to Valdez, since it was not open. Instead, we did it later on our trip, on the drive back to Anchorage.
The Reindeer Farm
If you want to feed, pet, or interact with reindeer, moose, or alpaca, put the Reindeer Farm at the top of your list.
We loved this experience. On a one hour tour, we got to feed reindeer, kiss a moose, pet an alpaca, and see and learn about other animals. It’s a great learning experience and lots of fun. If you will be doing this drive with kids, this is a must-do.
Reservations are recommended but not necessary. We were able to show up and schedule the next tour, but this is not always the case. You can only visit the farm on a tour; you are not permitted to walk around on your own.
Tours cost $15 for those 12 years and older. Children 3 to 11 are $13. For full details on pricing, hours of operation, available tours, and to make your reservation, visit the official website.
HOW TO GET HERE: The Reindeer Farm is located at 5561 S Bodenburg Loop Road in Palmer. From AK-1, take S Old Glenn Highway to get to Bodenburg Loop Road.
PLANNING YOUR TIME: A visit here lasts about an hour and a half. This gives you time for your tour and to grab a bite to eat. There is a food stand that serves hot dogs and ice cream (try the Fireweed flavor…it is delicious!). We did this on the drive back to Anchorage.
PRO TRAVEL TIP: The Reindeer Farm and the Musk Ox Farm are located near each other in Palmer. Since they both require so much time (the tours at each farm take about one hour) you will need to choose one or other, in order to give yourself enough time to get to Valdez. We visited the Musk Ox Farm on the drive to Valdez and the Reindeer Farm on the return drive to Anchorage.
The Musk Ox Farm
Musk Ox are native to the Arctic. They were once endangered but populations have been re-introduced to northern Alaska, as well as the Yukon, Norway, and Sweden.
In 1954, John Teal established the Musk Ox Project. The farm raised Musk Ox so that the Musk Ox hair could be combed and spun into yarn. Workshops in Alaska taught Native Alaskan women how to knit this yarn into garments. John Teal’s Project not only helped save a dwindling population of Musk Ox but it also provided income for hundreds of Native American women.
Alex Trebeck visited the Musk Ox Farm several times and was a big donor.
The Musk Ox Farm can only be visited on a tour. Advance reservations are recommended. Tours last 45 minutes and typically run from 10 am to 5 pm. The cost of admission is $11 for adults and $5 for children 5 to 17. For updated information and to schedule your tour, visit the official website.
HOW TO GET HERE: The Musk Ox Farm is located very close to AK-1. Two miles north of Palmer, take Archie Road. The farm is located at 12850 E Archie Road.
PLANNING YOUR TIME: A visit here lasts about one hour.
Scenic View of the Matanuska River
Once you leave Palmer and head east, the drive really starts to get good. As you head along Glenn Highway, the road twists and turns along the Matanuska River. To your right are the Chugach Mountains.
30 miles east of Palmer is an unmarked overlook on Glenn Highway (GPS coordinates: 61°47’11.531″ N 148°27’11.604″ W). Here is the view.
Visit the Matanuska Glacier
The Matanuska Glacier is one of the most accessible glaciers by car in the United States. You can drive almost right up to the terminus of the glacier, making this one of the easiest glaciers to visit in Alaska. Most glacier visits require airplane flights or boat trips to get to them.
Currently, this is a stable glacier. It has not changed much in the past few decades.
There are several different ways to visit the Matanuska Glacier. Glacier Tours on the Matanuska offer several different experiences.
Get a View of the Glacier. From the parking area near the terminal moraine, one of the guides will spend between 30 and 45 minutes with you, teaching you about the Matanuska Glacier. You will not leave the parking area, but this is the quickest way to visit the Matanuska Glacier.
The view of the Matanuska Glacier from the parking lot.
Hike on the Moraine. For a little more money and time (this can take up to 2 hours), with a guide, you can hike on the terminal moraine (the gravelly, hilly landscape that sits right in front of the glacier).
Hike on the Glacier. For the ultimate experience, strap on some crampons and go for a hike on the Matanuska Glacier. This takes about 4 hours.
Hikers on the Matanuska Glacier
IMPORTANT NOTE: You cannot view the glacier without paying for a guided tour, even if you just view it from the parking lot.For pricing and more information, visit the official website.
What We Did: We simply viewed the Matanuska Glacier from the parking area. It’s a gorgeous view from here. But we were hesitant to spend too much time here, since we still had a lot of driving to do. We also had multiple glacier hikes scheduled later in Alaska.
PRO TRAVEL TIP: If you have no glacier hikes scheduled for your trip to Alaska, and are interested in doing something like this, I recommend doing it here. Yes, it takes up a nice chunk of time, but this is a very impressive looking glacier and its easy accessibility is a huge plus. You will have to keep all of your other scenic stops and detours to a minimum on this drive.
HOW TO GET HERE: Glacier Tours of Matanuska is located at 66500 S Glacier Park Road. Just before you get to Glacier View, turn right on Glacier Park Road. There is a sign to turn here for Glacier Tours. You will drive one mile on a narrow dirt road, cross a one lane bridge, and then get to their office. Pay your tour fee here or check in. You will then be permitted to go through the gate and drive the final short distance to the glacier parking lot.
The one lane bridge to get to the Glacier Tours office.
PLANNING YOUR TIME: We took the tour where we simple viewed the glacier. We spent about 30 minutes talking to the guide. We also spent about 30 minutes driving out and back on the road and speaking with the staff inside the office, trying to figure out what experience we would like to have. Our total time here was about one hour. We arrived here at 11:30 am.
View of the Matanuska Glacier
Just past mile marker 103, you get a nice view of the Matanuska Glacier right from Glenn Highway (GPS Coordinates: 61.797262, -147.746784).
Note: There is a second viewpoint on Glenn Highway farther down the road called “Matanuska Glacier View Spot.” It is also a good view but we liked the one near mile marker 103 better since you are closer to the glacier.
Grand View Café & RV Park
At this point in the day, it was lunchtime for us. This café, which is located right on Glenn Highway, is worth stopping in for a few reasons.
One is for the food and drinks.
Two is for the view. Inside the café are telescopes pointed up at the mountains on the north side of Glenn Highway. From here, you have a good chance of spotting Dall sheep on those mountains.
And three is for the hiking trail. Behind the café is a trail that you takes you uphill to a viewpoint of the Lion’s Head. This rocky mountain is an icon in Alaska and it is featured in advertisements throughout the state. Just be aware that this is not the true Lion’s Head Trail that takes you to the top of Lion Head. The trail from the café takes you to an overlook. Here is the view.
View of the Lion’s Head from the overlook.
PRO TRAVEL TIP: You can add on the Lion’s Head Trail to the drive between Anchorage to Valdez, if it sounds interesting to you. The trailhead is located on Glenn Highway west of Grand View Café. Learn more here.
PLANNING YOUR TIME: If you sit down to lunch and do the hike, plan on this visit lasting about an hour. If you want to be as quick as possible, put in your lunch order, hike the trail, and then use the telescopes to spot Dall sheep. Either sit down to lunch in the café or eat it on the drive.
3.5 miles west of Grand View Café, the mountains to the left dramatically change in their appearance. The mountains here appear orange. What you are looking at is gypsum mixed with iron oxide, the result of volcanic processes that were active here millions of years ago.
Look for Dall sheep on these mountains. They lick the gypsum to replenish their calcium and magnesium levels.
Black Spruce Trees
4 miles past Sheep Mountain you begin to see a forest of black spruce trees off to the right. They are small and thin because they are growing very slowly, since they are growing over permafrost.
At 3,332 feet (1,016 meters), Eureka Summit is the highest point on Glenn Highway. The summit is located at mile marker 129.5. There is a gas station here.
Views of the Wrangell Mountains
As you get closer to Glennallen, you begin to see a snow-capped mountain range off in the distance. These are the Wrangell Mountains. Mount Drum is the largest and most prominent of the mountains, from this vantage point. But you will also be able to Mount Sanford on the left and Mount Wrangell on the right.
Glennallen & the Hub
Near the end of Glenn Highway, you will drive through the small town of Glennallen and then reach “the Hub,” the spot where AK-1 meets AK-4. There are a few restaurants here and this is a great place to get gas. There are not many facilities between here and Valdez.
Turn right to take AK-4 south towards Valdez. You are now driving on Richardson Highway.
Scenic View of Copper River and the Wrangell Mountains
2.3 miles south of The Hub is a nice scenic overlook. There were no signs on the road indicating the view, but look for a turn out on the left hand side of the road (GPS coordinates: 62.081296, -145.436628 and on Google Maps it is called “Scenic Point Access Rd”). This is the view.
Wrangell – St. Elias National Park & Preserve
Wrangell – St. Elias National Park & Preserve is the largest national park in the United States. It sits just to the east of the Copper River. The Wrangell Mountains that you see are just a tiny part of this sprawling park.
On the drive from Anchorage to Valdez, you can stop off at the Wrangell – St. Elias National Park visitor center. There are several viewpoints of the park, a few short walking trails, and you can talk to park rangers to learn more about the park. Just note that you won’t actually be in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park. From here, you are looking at it from a distance.
The view from the Wrangell – St. Elias Visitor Center
Walking trail at the visitor center
For another great view of Wrangell – St. Elias National Park & Preserve, you can stop alongside Willow Lake to take in the view and snap a photo.
The Richardson Highway
South of Tonsina, the Richardson Highway travels through the Chugach Mountains. It is a gorgeous drive and if you are lucky enough to do this when skies are clear, you are in for a real treat. So far on this drive, the views from the road have been beautiful, but somehow, it’s about to get even better.
The closer you get to Valdez, the more impressive the views. I have heard other people describe this part of the drive like it’s plucked out of the European Alps, and that description is not far off. For miles and miles, you will be driving between massive, snow-capped and glacier-capped mountains. It is an extraordinary sight.
The Worthington Glacier is another very accessible glacier.
The Worthington Glacier from Richardson Highway
You will see it as you drive down Richardson Highway. For a closer view, you can stop off at the Worthington Glacier Recreation Site. It is located right off of Richardson Highway and it takes about 20 to 30 minutes to hike the paved trail to the terminal moraine. There is also an unpaved trail to get closer to the glacier but this was closed during our visit.
The Worthington Glacier from the recreation site.
It costs $5 to park at the recreation site. There are restrooms and a general store with snacks and souvenirs.
PRO TRAVEL TIP: I think the view of Worthington Glacier is better from Richardson Highway than the recreation site. If it’s getting late in the day, I don’t think you miss much by skipping the recreation site.
The Thompson Pass is the highest point along this stretch of road. At 2,678 feet, you have nice views of the mountains from this part of the drive.
Welcome to Valdez Sign
Just beyond Thompson Pass you will see the “Welcome to Valdez” sign. You are getting close (it’s still 22 miles until you actually reach Valdez) but there are still a few more things to see and do.
From miles 14 to 17 on the Richardson Highway, you will drive through Keystone Canyon. Here, the road travels through a narrow canyon. It’s a beautiful, short drive where you can see the next three sights on this list.
Old Railroad Tunnel
In 1906, a railroad tunnel was cut into the rock walls of Keystone Canyon. The plan was to transfer the copper from the Kennecott Copper Mine to the coast via this canyon, but the tunnel was never finished. According to a sign at the railroad tunnel, “a feud interrupted the progress. A gun battle was fought and the tunnel was never finished.”
You can walk into the tunnel. It’s amazing to think that this was all hand-carved over 100 years ago.
HOW TO GET HERE: Here are the GPS coordinates of the tunnel: 61°5’4.926″ N 145°53’40.092″ W
Bridal Veil Falls & Horsetail Falls
These two waterfalls are located very close to one another.
You will see Bridal Veil Falls first. It is on the left hand side of the road. There is a large parking area on the right hand side of the road. For the best photo, cross the road to the opposite side. Just be careful here because here because cars and trucks speed through this section of road.
Bridal Veil Falls
Just around the corner is Horsetail Falls. Park on the right hand side of the road and take your photos.
In 1964, a massive earthquake struck Valdez. This site is the original location of Valdez, but due to the destruction from the earthquake, Valdez was moved 4 miles down the road, to its new spot on the coast.
Not much is left of Old Valdez. There are a few signs marking the locations of where buildings once stood.
HOW TO GET HERE: Old Valdez is located 4 miles outside of new Valdez.
Valdez sits at the end of Richardson Highway. Your drive from Anchorage ends here. Check into your hotel and get dinner. We recommend the The Potato, Nat Shack, and the Fat Mermaid.
Top Experiences on the Drive from Anchorage to Valdez
That’s a long list of things to see and do. If you need help narrowing down the list, here are our favorite experiences from the drive:
- Eklutna Lake
- Reindeer Farm
- Musk Ox Farm
- Scenic View of the Matanuska River
- Matanuska Glacier
- The views of Wrangell – St. Elias National Park from the viewpoints along Glenn Highway and Richardson Highway
- Seeing Worthington Glacier from Richardson Highway
- Bridal Veil and Horsetail Falls
Frequently Asked Questions
Will I Have Cellular Service on the Drive?
We use Verizon and for most of the drive we had cellular service. The signal is best around Anchorage, Palmer, and Glennallen. There were two places where we had no cellular service: for the stretch of road between Glacier View and Glennallen, and on Richardson Highway between Tonsina and Valdez.
Are there Gas Stations on the Drive between Anchorage and Valdez?
Yes, there are numerous gas stations along the drive, so there is no risk of running out of gas. Most vehicles will be able to do this on one tank of gas, as long as you fill up before leaving Anchorage. There are gas stations in Palmer, Glennallen, and Valdez, and there are a few on AK-1 between Palmer and Glennallen.
If you are doing this drive from Anchorage to Valdez, it’s a good idea to refuel in Glennallen before heading to Valdez, especially if you have less than half a tank at this point.
Should I Make any Reservations in Advance?
We were able to visit the Musk Ox Farm, the Reindeer Farm, and Matanuska Glacier without making an advance reservation, but maybe we just got lucky.
During the busy summer months, I think it is a good idea to make your reservation in advance for these three activities, especially if they really sound interesting to you. The websites indicate that they can sell out for the day.
If you plan to hike on the Matanuska Glacier, I highly recommend making a reservation in advance.
If you have any questions about how to drive from Anchorage to Valdez, or if you would like to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information about Alaska
VALDEZ: Columbia Glacier Kayaking Tour: The Complete Guide
WRANGELL – ST. ELIAS: Flightseeing Tours of Wrangell – St. Elias: What to Expect & is It Worth It?
WRANGELL – ST. ELIAS: Bagley Icefield and Mount St. Elias Flightseeing Tour
DENALI: Top 10 Hikes in Denali National Park
DENALI: How to Hike the Triple Lakes Trail
KENAI FJORDS: Harding Icefield Trail: The Ultimate Hiking Guide
KENAI FJORDS: Ice Climbing on the Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park
KATMAI: 8 Amazing Things to Do in Katmai National Park
SEWARD HIGHWAY: Driving the Seward Highway: Best Things to Do, Map & Photos
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