America abounds with scenic roads. The Pacific Coast Highway and Oregon’s US 101 provide amazing coastal views, Montana’s Going-to-the-Sun Road and Colorado’s road to Pike’s Peak give you stunning mountain views from the comfort of your car. Even the Rio Grande’s River Road in Texas and the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado are strong contenders for a top-ten list. But it seems that Alaska excels at breathtaking roads, and chief among them is the Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm.
South of Anchorage, Alaska Route 1 is known as the Seward Highway. As soon as you leave town, the road is sandwiched between Turnagain Arm (a branch of the Cook Inlet) and the Chugach Mountains. The mostly two-lane road skirts the edge of the water and the feet of the mountains for miles and miles, as it heads southeast towards the Alyeska ski resort, and then the Kenai Peninsula.
The scenery begins as you leave Anchorage. At the south end of town is Potter Marsh – a man-made (by accident) wetland and bird-watching area. I made the marsh my final stop on day one of this trip. But before that, I drove down and up Highway 1, just to enjoy the scenery.
The Seward Highway is just two lanes, despite being the only highway linking Anchorage and several cities on the Kenai Peninsula. So, it’s no freeway, and that means traffic and congestion is likely. But unless you need to get somewhere fast, you probably won’t notice. You’ll be too busy admiring the scenery.
The Seward Highway has numerous turnouts on the water side, so you can stop and photograph the scenery to your heart’s content.
The Alaska Railroad runs alongside the highway. At some spots, like Beluga Point, signs warn you not to trespass on the rails — although everyone seems to ignore these warnings, cross the railroad tracks, and explore the rocks at Beluga Point and other spots.
This is what Beluga Point looks like, from down the road at the next viewpoint.
Bird Point is another popular stop, and it’s more developed for tourists than the other turnouts. It’s also a good place to watch the Tidal Bore arrive in Turnagain Arm.
In addition to the turnouts on the water side of the road, there are several parking areas and trailheads on the mountain side. The popular Turnagain Arm Trail runs parallel to the road, providing a great place to hike, and numerous photo opportunities.
Beyond this portion of the highway, the road meets up with some power lines, making it less scenic. When you finally make it to the upper end of the Arm…
… there’s a pretty wetland area, where you may be able to capture the reflection of the mountains in the water. Out that direction, you’ll find the Alyeska Ski Resort. Further, at the very tip of the Arm, the Seward Highway crosses over onto the Kenai Peninsula. The community of Portage is here, and if you exit Highway 1 and travel through a long tunnel, you’ll arrive at Whittier, a cruise ship port. If you’re cruising in and out of Alaska, there’s a very good chance that this will be your port.
On day 2, I traveled this same stretch of highway once again, but this time I kept going, beyond Alyeska and Portage, onto the Kenai Peninsula.
Once your on the Kenai, you’ll climb to a lofty height of 900 feet. This spot is Turnagain Pass, the highest spot on the Seward Highway. Yes, a state dotted with tremendous mountains has highway passes that don’t even top 1,000 feet!
Watch for a few roadside ponds, before you reach the intersection of Highways 1 and 9. The Seward Highway turns into Route 9 and continues south to Seward, while Route 1 gets a new name, the Sterling Highway, and continues on down the peninsula to Soldotna and Homer. I’ll cover both of those roads on separate pages.
The Bottom Line
The Seward Highway is easily one of the most scenic roads in Alaska and in America. Make it a priority to drive it, at least once, while you visit the area, and take time to enjoy the numerous viewpoints.
Visitors should be aware that the Seward Highway along the Turnagain Arm is ticket central for the Municipality of Anchorage. You will see multiple cops giving out expensive tickets in the area which surely help to narrow the state and city budget deficits. You will find them at all times including a sunny holiday day. Avoid the area or stick like glue to the speed limit. Be warned if you do that you will find a big line of cars behind you. You can’t win either way.