Travel

Take a Never-Dark Summer Road Trip Through Alaska

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Shutterstock
Shutterstock

Visitors who venture up to Alaska from the lower 48 (that’s what Alaskans call the continental US) may think the primary mode of travel for an Alaskan vacation is by cruise ship. But that’s not necessarily true – road tripping can be the best way to see some of the state’s unforgettable sites at your own pace and on your own schedule, with an itinerary that’s totally doable in a week.

Visit from June through early September, when the sun barely (if ever) sets, so you’re cruising down the open road during after-dinner daylight and will never run out of time to sightsee. Better yet, the roads on this route are well maintained (you don’t need a fancy or especially rugged car to drive out here), gas is cheap (for better or worse, you’re close to the source), and you may even witness some epic moose crossings as you navigate your way through Alaska. Note that cell service isn’t reliable, so you’ll want downloaded or printed maps on hand (retro!), plus some music or podcasts saved to your device.

This Alaskan road trip itinerary winds from Anchorage to Denali National Park to the beaches of Homer. The schedule can be flexible to extend your visits at any stop, but as mapped, this is plenty of time to see and enjoy it all.

QUICK FACTS
Length of trip: 8 days
Hours of daylight on the summer solstice: 22 hours
Population of smallest town visited: 50

Anchorage Museum
Anchorage Museum
Anchorage Museum

Day 1: Arrive in Anchorage

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is the main airport in Southcentral Alaska, so this will be your starting (and ending point). Flights are frequent from Seattle (a common connection point for Alaskan travelers). Rent a car on site, and don’t skip out on a warming meal at Pho Lena, a family-owned Southeast Asian spot just minutes from the airport, where you can indulge in noodle soups, curries, and savory noodle dishes.

Head downtown to check into the Hotel Captain Cook (fans of a certain Alaska-set TV show may recognize the digs as the main character’s pied-de-terre) and explore the state’s biggest city. Culture buffs can take in local and indigenous art, as well as exhibits on local history at the Anchorage Museum and souvenir fiends can shop down Fifth Avenue. Grab a cone of spruce tip ice cream at Wild Scoops and if you’re up for a late night adventure, see if there’s a drag show at Mad Myrna’s. Note, you’ll be in Anchorage twice more during this trip, so don’t feel the need to hit up everything at once.

Wild Scoops
Wild Scoops
Wild Scoops

Day 2: Tour Talkeetna

Fuel up for a day of driving and exploring at Snow City Cafe, a local favorite for Alaska-inflected diner classics, such as reindeer sausage and snow crab omelets. Our 44th President once ate cinnamon rolls here, so you know those are good, too. Pay a visit to the Alaska Native Heritage Center before venturing out of the city en route to Talkeetna, a hamlet with a population of just 1,200 people. The two-hour drive is scenic and smooth – if you need to stop for bathrooms or caffeine, plan to pull over in Wasilla.

In Downtown Talkeetna, stop for lunch at Mountain High Pizza Pie. Browse the local shops for crafts and Alaskan wares, working your way down to the Talkeetna River for enchanting views. Some visitors love using their time in Talkeetna to go “flightseeing” – that is, taking a scenic small flight to see Denali, the tallest mountain in North America.

Once you’ve seen Talkeetna, hit the road for the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Denali Grizzly Bear Resort. If that’s too much driving for one day, you can also check into the nearby Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge and drive up to Denali in the morning.

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Shutterstock
Shutterstock

Day 3: Enjoy Denali National Park

Today’s your day to enjoy the great outdoors! Head to the visitor’s center at Denali National Park and Preserve for an overview of the 7,400-square-mile park, plus free guided ranger hikes and more. You’ll have the morning at leisure before grabbing a quick lunch and hopping on the narrated bus tour, the best way to venture deep inside the park and see wildlife. The six-plus hour tour navigates the narrow cliffs of the park to get up close to the mountain, with a naturalist pointing out bears, moose, and more along the way. The renovated school bus is actually quite comfy and you’ll get some breaks for fresh air during the tour.

Grab a late dinner at 49th State Brewing, where you’ll find excellent fish and chips, plus crab grilled cheese. Or if off-roading is more your thing, opt for a Midnight Sun ATV tour to take in the never-setting sun over the rocky terrain of the national park, while driving your own four-wheeler.

Day 4: Depart Denali for Anchorage

You’re heading back south today. Before you say goodbye to Denali, you can fit in one last hike or hit up the Nenana river for a white water rafting adventure. Then change into warm and dry clothes and start your five-hour drive back to Anchorage. Stretch your legs on the way at Independence Mine State Historical Park in Palmer to learn a bit about the Alaskan gold rush. Back in Anchorage, grab dinner downtown, and rest up for your early morning two-hour drive to Seward in the morning.

Getty Images courtesy of Enterprise
Getty Images courtesy of Enterprise
Getty Images courtesy of Enterprise

If you’re feeling inspired to plan a road trip, you’re going to need a vehicle that takes you the distance. Enterprise provides award-winning customer service, streamlined service through its mobile app, and a fleet of vehicles to help meet any road tripper’s needs. Reserve a vehicle at one of Enterprise’s convenient neighborhood or airport locations worldwide and find your new place to love.

Day 5: Set off for Seward

Seward, a port city on the Kenai Peninsula, is a popular spot for the commercial fishing industry and for tourists to enjoy glacier cruises, fishing expeditions, and more. You’ll want to arrive in Seward by 11am to catch the 11:30am or 12pm glacier cruises exploring the Kenai Fjords National Park and Resurrection Bay (the rides are slow and long to reach the untouched glaciers, so you can nap on board). If you have extra time at the dock, keep an eye out for seals, which often swim in the local harbor. Back in Seward, dine at The Cookery, an oyster bar and seafood spot showcasing local fare.

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Shutterstock
Shutterstock

Day 6: Deep sea fishing in Seward, spend the night in Homer

If you want to catch Alaskan halibut or salmon, this is your chance! Wake up early for a pre-booked deep sea fishing charter, which will take you miles out into the open ocean (it’s smart to bring seasickness medications). If you do catch something, you can have it frozen and shipped back home to enjoy. If you’d rather see aquatic life on land, head to the Alaska Sea Life Center, an immersive aquarium to view seal pups, puffins, and more.

When you’re ready, set off on the three-hour drive to Homer. There aren’t many stops on the way, so be sure to have snacks and anything you need with you. In Homer, a popular stop is the Salty Dawg Saloon, a historic bar in a 19th-century cabin. If you’re hungry, swing by Captain Pattie’s Fish House for crisp fried seafood with a waterfront view. Treat yourself with a night at the waterfront Homer Inn & Spa or stay in one of the town’s many more modest accommodations.

Within the Wild
Within the Wild
Within the Wild

Day 7: Enjoy Homer and night drive to Girdwood

Today’s your day to enjoy Homer, a coastal town with a population of about 5,700. Enjoy the exquisite views of Kachemak Bay and linger through the shops on Main Street. Two Sisters is a local favorite for coffee and baked goods, as is La Baleine for locally sourced brunch and lunch items, including a homemade ramen bowl topped with freshly caught fish. Pick up a great new read at The Homer Bookstore, stock up on a new Alaska-themed wardrobe at Salmon Sisters, and see how reality stars really live at the Kilcher Family Homestead. For dinner, check out local favorite Vida’s Thai or grab more seafood at Fresh Catch Cafe.

If you’re up for a full day (or longer) excursion, you can also book a water taxi to Halibut Cove, a remote community (we’re talking population 50) with a state park, beautiful waterfront walks, and hyper local restaurants to enjoy before heading back to Homer. Depart to Girdwood’s Alyeska Resort for your last night, where an indoor pool and hot tub await. If you haven’t eaten dinner yet, Jack Sprat and its creative cuisine (think local scallops with pumpkin hot sauce, curried lamb with pappardelle and tomato jam, or halibut cheeks with ham vinaigrette) is known as one of the best in the state.

Day 8: Back to Anchorage

In the morning, head up the mountain to catch some fresh air and excellent views before driving the last hour back to the airport to catch your return flight. If you have time to spare, stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Girdwood, where you’ll visit rescued bears, reindeer, and more animals up close. If you have time and cash to spare, a helicopter excursion to go dogsledding atop a glacier is an incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Back in Anchorage, you can also rent bikes or walk the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail before you take off. Following eight days of never seeing darkness, it should be easy to sleep on the plane.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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