• Menu
  • Menu
Magestic Denali Peak soars above the Alaskan wilderness on a stunning clear May day.

Denali is Gonna Get You: Ultimate Day Trip from Anchorage

With the official visitor center 250 miles north of Anchorage, we’d originally ruled Denali out of our Alaskan vacation plans. But with a clear morning and secret corner just 120 miles away, we headed out on the most amazing adventure to the tallest mountain in North America on the cheap.

Stop 1: Russian time capsule in Eklutna

Administered by Russia before its sale to the US in 1867, Alaska is spotted with Russian Orthodox churches. Just 20 minutes north of of our hotel, Eklutna Historic Park houses the Russian Mission Log church, oldest building in greater Anchorage. The graveyard beyond the church houses scores spirit house graves adorned with bright colors and mementos for the deceased. A blend of Athabaskan and Orthodox traditions, the cemetery offers a lovely way to learn about the blended cultures that make up Alaska for free!

Colorful spirit houses surround the Russian Orthodox Church at Eklutna Historical Park.

Stop 2: Up close with wildlife in Palmer

Having missed a chance to pet reindeer in Leavenworth WA last summer, I knew Alaska would offer redemption. A ridiculously scenic 20 minute drive along the Knik River from Eklutna, we arrived at the Reindeer Farm in Palmer. After paying our bargain rates of $17a/$15c, we entered a spacious facility full of bucket list animals. Our highland cow loving daughter checked off a life goal when she met Lola and our son jumped with joy as he fed a moose! A heckling turkey tom, alpacas big and small, sweet barnyard cat and dozens of super friendly reindeer made this our favorite animal encounter ever!

Stop 3: Dog sledding at Iditarod Headquarters

Commemorating the 1925 Diphtheria serum run from Anchorage to Nome, the yearly Iditarod challenges sled dog teams to a 1000 mile race across Alaska. Just 30 minutes up the road from Palmer, the headquarters documents the event’s history with artifacts and videos. As we exited the car, we heard the excited yips of sled dogs. At just $10 per person, the sled dog ride through the forest was the most thrilling bargain we found in Alaska.

The most famous dog of the run, Balto is commemorated with statues around the world for delivering the serum to Nome on the final leg of the relay. Unsurprised by his likeness outside of the headquarters, we were flabbergasted to find the real hero of the run inside. Togo, the dog who completed the majority of the run through the toughest conditions, is actually taxidermized and on display in the headquarters!

Stop 4: Sweet snacks at Birch Syrup Farm

The hour drive north provided interesting changes in landscape, most notably blue hoses hanging off the trees. Upon arrival at the Alaska Birch Syrup Company, we learned they are the collection method for local farmers. At this delicious stop, we sampled sauces, sodas and candies made from birch syrup. No cost for this stop except snacks and souveniers.

Stop 5: Tight security at Spoon company

A short 20 minute drive down the Talkeetna spur road, we arrived in the namesake town. And what did we spy on the side of the road, but the Alaskan Wooden Spoon Company. After passing the intense security deTAIL, we marveled at the handmade objects and chatted with the inventor of the right and left handed spoon. Several uses of our $15 spoon later we’d say it’s money well spent.

Stop 6: Secret corner of Denali NP

Nestled at the end of the road near the Susitna River lies the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger station of Denali National Park. Typically a stop for climbers, we found this is the closest point to Anchorage for NPS passport stamps and Junior Ranger badges. A popular stop for the Alaskan railroad, we learned Talkeetna offers some of the clearest views of Denali. Apparently cloud cover and foothills often block the peak over then next 100 miles to the actual park. And best part, the views are free!

Unbelievable view of the Tallest mountain in North America… Denali!

Stop 7: Capstone snack at Denali Brewing

What better to end a day of iconic Alaskan adventures than a local brew? With a large patio overlooking quaint Talkeetna, the Denali Brewpub offered the perfect capstone to our adventure. After rehashing our favorite moments of the day over burgers and brews, we hopped back in the car and headed back to Anchorage.

Even the brews look iconic in Alaska!

Stop 8: Final leg stretch at Reflection Lake

Even though it was 7pm, the deceptive Alaskan summer sun lingered high in the sky. Reflection Lake at the convergence of the Knik and Matanuska rivers seemed like the perfect stop to stretch our legs before retiring to the hotel. Earning its name with still waters, the lake offered lovely reflections of Mount Palmer along the easy 1.5 mile loop trail.

Mount Palmer putting on a real show at Reflection lake

How’d we do?

At ten hours and 250 miles, this was by far the biggest bang for our buck day in Alaska. As for cost, we only spent $104 on attractions. We found food to be the biggest unexpected expense of our trip, so grab-and-go breakfast at the Aviator hotel was a huge help each day. Lunch at Crema Coffee House & Pastries in Wasilla and dinner at the Denali Brewpub were $200 in total. Our few souvenirs added another $100, so the whole outing for our family of four was about $400.

Taking time to enjoy little attractions like deer themed Guess Who at the Reindeer Farm make extra fun memories with kids for free:)

Missed Opportunities

With only one day to venture and two family members recovering from leg injuries, we had to rule out a couple of cool stops:

  • Matanuska Glacier Hike: Running about $150pp this is the shortest trek to touching a glacier in all of Alaska. About 2 hours from Anchorage, guided tours are required but supposedly worth it for the gear and info.
  • Musk Ox Farm: $14a/$8c we might have done another animal encouter with another day
  • AK Sled Dog Tours: Much pricier than the Iditarod Headquarters stop, for $150 locals love this dog sled adventure with cool drivable carts and lots of puppy snuggles.

What are your favorite day trips from Anchorage?

Even though the water in the Susitna River is ice cold glacier runoff, our son couldn’t help but play in the soft sediments.

Working on your Alaska Vacation?

Check out our other stops during our amazing two weeks in the 49th state


Eternally on the hunt for the science in every adventure.

View stories

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *