The Seward Highway

Whether by car or by train, a trip down the Seward Highway from Anchorage will allow you to see yet another beautiful area of Alaska.  What I learned is that each area was different.  Although the beauty of nature transcends the state, it didn’t all look the same.  For my trip down the Seward Highway, I started out the morning from Knik River Lodge near Palmer and drove through Anchorage on my way south.

As you drive past Anchorage, one of the first stops is at Beluga Point.  This is an easy turnout immediately off the freeway.  During my stop, it was extremely windy.  This limited my enjoyment here, so I made it a quick stop.  I did not see any whales, but I did talk to other couples who had sightings in this area.  This stretch of highway as it hugs the shoreline is also referred to as the Turnagain Arm. You may see this referenced as you research the Seward Highway.

Beyond this, the next stop is Girdwood.  This was one of my favorite places.  Looking back, I think this would be an ideal place to spend the night.  They have the Alyeska Resort, which is the best hotel in the area.  Also in Girdwood, you can make the short hike to see the Virgin Creek Falls.  This is an easy trail with a great waterfall at the end.  Driving up to the trailhead, you also get a chance to see many of the beautiful homes in the area. 

The Bake Shop in Girdwood might just be the perfect place for lunch.  It was absolutely packed both times that I stopped, so I have to believe it is popular for a reason.  They offer a bottomless soup option!  Scary, yet fantastic at the same time.  Their grilled cheese was very traditional, yet tasty.  If you are a grilled cheese lover, this is a great place for a classic.  Last, if you love something a little sweeter, they have a ridiculously large sweet roll and cookies that looked incredible. 

Leaving Girdwood, there is a gas station right as you turn back onto the Seward Highway.  It was packed every time I passed, so if you are in need of gas, it might be wise to have this taken care of before arriving to Girdwood.  Some areas that you may want to stop as you drive further south include Hope and Kenai Lake.  If you visit Hope, it does require a detour off the main road.  You will drive about 17 miles into town.  It is quiet and serene.  The population is in the hundreds, giving this town a very cozy feel. There are lunch options despite the small size. I tried a banh mi sandwich from a food truck and briefly walked around the area.  I found this an interesting community to explore.  It wasn’t a must see, but if you have the time, I found it worthy of the stop. 

Continuing on the highway, my final destination was at the Seward Windsong Lodge.  This route will take you past Kenai Lake with beautiful, crisp blue waters.  Once you arrive, the Windsong isn’t in the actual town of Seward.  I thought the location was ideal because they do offer a shuttle into town, and it places you on the road that leads to the Exit Glacier. 

In retrospect, the Windsong Lodge was probably one of the nicest hotels I stayed at, and it felt like an actual hotel compared to some of the smaller lodges with individual cabins.  The room was large and the bathroom had a tub/shower.  There was a balcony with chairs and a table.  I thought this property was nice, and I stayed here for two nights.  They do have a restaurant, or you can take the hotel shuttle into town for many options.  Finding food in Seward was a challenge over a holiday weekend.  The best restaurant in Seward is The Cookery.  If you want to eat here, you absolutely have to make a reservation in advance.  It can be very difficult to get a table.  After being turned away at The Cookery, I tried The Lone Chicharron taqueria in town and really liked it.  My favorite tacos were the elote and rockfish. You can also grab a sweet treat after dinner treat at Sweet Darlings. The second night, I had food at the Exit Glacier Salmon Bake.  I thought they served was a great piece of fish. It was slightly reminiscent of the Texas Roadhouse, only instead of steaks, they served salmon.

Here are some ways to spend your time in the Seward area.  One is to visit Exit Glacier.  Exit Glacier offers everything from the simple viewing to a challenging hike.  Ahead of time, I read that the Harding Icefield Trail offered a fantastic reward if you were able to make the climb.  It also mentioned possibly bringing a guide for the hike.  After making the visit, I have a couple of thoughts.  You do not have to make it to the top to get a decent view of Exit Glacier.  I have included my photos from the glacier that were obtained by taking the shorter trail that loops around the front of the glacier.  There were so many people visiting that I didn’t think a guide for the hike would be necessary.  If you choose to do the Harding Icefield Trail, it will take you about 6-8 hours from start to finish.  Even if you don’t make it to the top, here are the major stops along the way:

  1. Marmot Meadows.  This is at mile 1.3.  The trail levels and you will start to be rewarded with your first views.
  2. Top of the Cliffs.  This is at mile 2.3.  You will see your first view of the icefield here.  If you don’t want to do the entire hike, you could turn around here for a total trip time of around 4-6 hours hiking. 
  3. End of Trail.  This is at mile 4.6. 

I spoke with a couple that completed the hike and found it very rewarding.  While I was checking into the Windsong, the concierge thought the weather conditions were poor, and I felt he discouraged me from making the hike.  Whether this was the right move or not, it is hard to say. If you do attempt the Harding Icefield hike, I would encourage you to bring bear spray.

Staying in Seward aligns you to make a day trip to Homer.  It is a lengthy drive to Homer from Seward, so it does make for a day heavy in driving.  I heard so much about Homer that I was eager to check it out.  A couple that we spoke with at Denali Backcountry Lodge really enjoyed their time in Homer.  I made the drive on a Saturday, and the main drag was absolutely packed.  It was so packed that parking was a huge problem.  After finding a spot, I had lunch at La Baleine.  This restaurant was great.  I highly recommend it for lunch. Their turkey sandwich called the Widgeon with a side of chili was perfection.  The chili had great flavor and a smoky taste.  Don’t skip dessert here.  Their Blondie bar is a great way to indulge. 

After lunch, I walked around and did some shopping.  My favorite store was AK Starfish Co. I bought some Chugach chocolates here that were excellent. I have since ordered from their company online. My favorites were the dark chocolate with toffee and pink Himalayan sea salt. After this, I left my coveted parking spot to drive to Bear Creek Winery. Their wines are unique and fun to try.  This is certainly not wine making at it’s finest, but I thought it was a fun way to spent the afternoon. Following this, I headed out of town making a stop at the Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord Chapel in Ninilchik.  This is an almost eerie Russian Orthodox Church in the middle of nowhere built in 1901.  It is a cool place for photos. 

After this stop, I headed back to Seward.  I wanted to see Homer with my own eyes, and I almost included a stay here for one to two nights.  In the end, I am glad that I did not.  The crowds on the main strip Saturday made it less enjoyable.  Maybe I didn’t explore enough, but I wouldn’t plan a return to Homer if traveling back to Alaska. 

Here are some key points.  If you are heading south from Anchorage, don’t miss a stop in Girdwood.  This was such a cute town!  Consider stopping in Hope if you are up for a detour.  As you arrive in Seward, the Windsong Lodge puts you in a great position to visit Exit Glacier.  Although Homer was nice, it wasn’t my favorite stop on the trip.

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