For a few glorious weeks each fall, parts of Alaska make the transition from deep, rich green to palettes of gold, yellow, and auburn. A road trip from Anchorage to Seward, through Chugach State Park and the Chugach National Forest is one of the best ways to experience the short, but intense, autumn season in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
Start your road trip on a Saturday morning with an expertly-prepared—one of the owners is among the two baristas in Alaska who’ve been certified by the International Association of Specialty Coffee—caffeinated beverage from the Dark Horse Coffee Company. Sit on the deck, enjoy the crisp air and get ready for your journey. Once energized, head a few blocks east and hit the southbound Seward Highway.
Take a left off the Seward Highway onto Rabbit Creek Road then head up to Clark’s Apple Orchard for one of the few pick-your-own apple experiences in this part of the state. Apple season usually starts around Labor Day and lasts until the apples are done. The picking window for the orchard’s 20-plus varieties is on the shorter side, so check the website or call before heading up. Once you’ve filled up on apples, head back to the Seward Highway and skirt the Turnagain Arm southward.
Absorb the mountain views on the driver side and the ocean vistas on the right, as you follow the gentle curving shore of the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet. About 20 miles south of Anchorage, just before you reach the village of Indian, pull into the trailhead near the mouth of Falls Creek. The entire trail is four miles uphill, but you don’t have to hike the whole thing. Hike up, above the rushing Falls Creek, no farther than the timberline. Treebathe in the golds and yellows of the aspens and birch. When you’ve had your fill of foliage, turn around and head back down to the car. As on any hike in Alaska, you must be bear aware. Both black and brown bears live in this part of the state. Pay attention to your surroundings, make a little noise as you hike, and always carry bear spray—it protects both you and the bears.
Continue southward on the Seward Highway, into the town of Girdwood. Replenish the fuel in your tank, and then look for the pink Oso Loco cart to replenish yourself after the hike. If they’re not set up near the Tesoro station in town, they’re likely next to Girdwood Brewing Company (check their Facebook page or call for their current location if you don’t see them). Order street tacos, a burrito borracho, or some grilled reindeer. When they’re set up next to the brewery, wash down your food with a No Woman No Cryo IPA. Now that you’ve refueled, continue south on the Seward Highway for the longest stretch of the road trip.
After lunch and time in the car, you’ll need a great hike to stretch your muscles and work up an appetite for a fresh, Alaska-style dinner. The Seward Highway will split off from U.S.-1 just before Cooper Landing and head southward. Look for the Johnson Pass trailhead between mile markers 33 and 32 (the miles count northward from Seward), near the Upper Trail Lake access, and park. The entire trail is 23 miles-long, and from this access point, the first 10 miles of the trail are forested. Grab your water bottle and bear spray and start hiking. After a walking for a few minutes, you’ll see Upper Trail Lake on your left, and the deep spruce forest will give way to golden willows and green alders. Hike as far as you want, but don’t forget that you also need to hike back. And you still have a ways to go.
You’ll have to backtrack a bit to get there, but your dinner at Gwin’s Lodge will be well worth the extra few minutes in the car. From the trailhead, go north on the Seward Highway and then west on US-1 to Cooper Landing. Order the fresh salmon chowder or the halibut sandwich. Can’t decide? Try the salmon-stuffed halibut. And don’t forget a big slice of house-made pie before you hit the road.
You made it (almost)! Stop in to the Pit Bar, just outside Seward, for a drink and to take wind down after a long day hiking and driving. Because the Pit Bar’s not located in town, it can stay open until 5 a.m. But don’t stay up too late playing pool, singing karaoke, dancing, or sipping whiskey on a deck as the northern lights dance over the snow-capped mountains. You still have things to do tomorrow.
Happy Aloha Friday! #outdoorjunkiez . A little #aloha from our favorite bar in #Alaska. The "Pit Bar" is famous for what is called the "Clopen." Bars in Alaska can be open from 8am to 5am and are required to close for the hours in between. So if you close the Pit Bar and find a way to f*ck off till it reopens at 8am and return for a Bloody Mary...you have officially "clopened" the Pit Bar. Few succeed in this endeavor, not for lack of trying however. . . . . #pitbar #ojzabroad #travel #travels #travelgram #travelblogger #travelphotography #adventure #adventurelife #adventuretime #adventureculture #bar #cheers #conservationthroughrecreation #throughourlenses #summer #exploremore #photooftheday #wanderlust #worlderlust #supportoutdoors #wakeandwander #sharealaska
Spend the night at the historic, century-old, 24-room Van Gilder Hotel. If you do, you might have company. A ghost named Fannie—who shuffled off this mortal coil in the 1950s, after being murdered in room 202—is a permanent resident of the hotel, making the Van Gilder one of Alaska’s most haunted places. Sleep tight!
When you wake up, look for a four-story barn: It’s the tallest building in Seward and also the place where you’ll eat breakfast. Le Barn Appétit was the first creperie in Alaska, making it, therefore, the state’s oldest creperie. Grab an Americano and a crepe du jour with reindeer sausage.
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After breakfast, walk over to the Kenai Fjords National Park visitor center—it’s right on Resurrection Bay in Seward—to grab a map and learn about the park. Then, drive south out of town to Lowell Point. Hike the first couple miles of the Coastal Trail, as far as Tonsina Point. You’ll experience sweeping views of the bay, towering mountains, and see some foliage as you walk where the forest and mountains meet the ocean. Keep an eye out for whales as you hike. After your hike, head back through Seward and take a left from the Seward Highway onto Herman Lehrer Road to the Exit Glacier Nature Center. Take a few minutes to learn about the glacier, and then hike out on to the trail above it. Yes, with winter coming you’ll see plenty of ice soon enough, but glaciers are awesome—and we must enjoy them while we can!