The Seward Highway from Anchorage to Seward is about 125 miles (200 km). It’s classified as an All-American Road and Scenic By-Way for a reason. The Highway follows the coast south of Anchorage with the Cook Inlet on your right and the mountains of Chugach State Park on your left. On this portion of the drive your traveling along the Turnagain Arm Scenic By-Way. The drive is filled with magnificent views and plenty of opportunities to see wildlife along the way.
According to Visit Anchorage The arm draws its name for British explorer James Cook, who was forced to “turn again” when the waterway didn’t hold the fabled Northwest Passage during his 1778 voyage.
You’ll want to take your time and plan a few stops in advance along with those impromptu stops.
We made several stops, two notable spots were Beluga Point and Bird Point. Both offer panoramic views of the Turnagain Arm.
Beluga Point is aptly named for the beluga whales that frequent the area. If you’re lucky you may spot one surfacing with their characteristic white color.
Further south on the highway is Bird Point. Both Bird & Beluga Points are prime birding spots as well as offering possible views of beluga whales. Not to mention the breathtaking scenery. Bird Point has several walkways offering different viewpoints as well as restrooms.
Bird Point is also known for being a prime spot to view a unique natural phenomenon, the bore tide. As the tide rushes into Turnagain Arm, it creates a wave-like effect that sweeps across the water’s surface. If you time your visit right, you may witness this impressive display of nature’s power, as the bore tide surges in, transforming the calm waters into a turbulent spectacle. This would have been cool to see though our schedule did not allow for it.
According to Visit Girdwood Turnagain Arm has the second largest tidal swing in North America. It can see tides as large as 40 feet. A bore tide happens when rapidly rising tidewaters are forced up, forming a raised front and creating one, big WAVE. The Turnagain Arm Bore Tide is one of the largest in the world and can climb to 6-10 feet and travels 10-15 miles per hour.
Speaking of Girdwood, as you continue south on the Seward Highway you’ll soon reach the turnoff to the small town of Girdwood nestled in the Chugach Mountains. It’s also home to the Alyeska Resort offering skiing and snowboarding in the winter and hiking and biking trails during summer. You can also take a ride on the Alyeska Resort tram for stunning views.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
As you approach the inlet to Turnagain Arm and just before you come to the Portage Glacier Road turnoff you’ll see signs on your right for the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC). The center is a sanctuary dedicated to preserving Alaska’s wildlife by taking in injured and orphaned animals and providing them spacious habitats and quality care. A general admission fee is charged to enter the 200 acre center.
Some of the animals you may see include black and brown bear, moose, reindeer, muskox, elk and wolves as well as others.
Visitors are welcome to take a self-guided walk, bike or drive through the 1.5 mile loop as well as optionally touring with a personal guide. You can also schedule a bear or moose encounter where you’ll get an up close and personal experience and actually get to feed the animals. There are additional costs for touring with a guide or animal encounters.
We highly recommend stopping in AWCC for a visit to learn more about Alaska’s wildlife, especially for families wanting to break up the drive to Seward.
Following our visit to AWCC we made a short side trip down the Portage Highway. Our first stop was to Moose Flats Wetland Trail at Mile 1.0. This stop has an easy boardwalk trail that follows around several ponds popular with waterfowl that nest in the area. It’s also said to be a good area for seeing the occasional moose, though none were spotted when we visited.
Afterward we drove to check out Portage Lake and stop in at the visitor center. The center has exhibits and presentations as well as general information available.
If time permits you may wish to drive through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel located there. It’s the longest (2.5 miles) highway tunnel in North America. The tunnel is a single lane shared by cars and trains traveling in both directions. There is a one-way toll for private vehicles using the tunnel. Once through the tunnel the highway continues toward Whittier Alaska. Information on alternating traffic schedules can be found on the Alaska Department of Transportation website.
You can also visit Alaska.org for more info on the Portage Driving Guide.
Turnagain Arm Guide Map
Alaska.org also provides a guide detailing more stops along the Turnagain Arm which can be viewed here.
Welcome To Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula
We headed back on the Portage Highway to reconnect to the Seward Highway. Heading south you soon reach the Kenai Peninsula Welcome Sign.
If it’s a clear day on your drive toward Seward there are a couple of spots along the highway you might consider for some pretty photo ops.
- Tern Lake: Tern Lake is located at the junction of the Seward and Sterling Highways. The Sterling Highway heads west toward Soldotna before turning south toward Homer. There are pullouts available on both highways at the southbound junction. Google Map
- Kenai Lake: A small area is available to pull off to the side of the southbound highway. Google Map