15 Best Small Towns in Alaska on the Road System (from a local)

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If you love small towns, you’re going to love Alaska. Alaska is a state full of cute small towns with the added benefit of impressive local wildlife and stunning views everywhere you look.

I’ve lived in Alaska for over 25 years and grew up visiting these small towns. These are the best ones to visit on your trip. I’ve organized them by beauty, small town feel, and quirkiness and included the best things to do in each place.

After reading this article, you should have plenty of fresh ideas for your next Alaska trip.

Best Towns for Beauty

Let me preface this section by saying that most of Alaska is beautiful, stunning, and any other superlative you can think of.

But these towns specifically make this list because everywhere you look, you’re surrounded by mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, and wildlife. If you love to sit by a fire and simply enjoy beauty surrounding you, these are the best towns to visit!

1. Girdwood

Best Known For: Hiking | Skiing | Alyeska Resort | Nordic Spa | Girdwood Brewery

We’re going to start off with a local favorite. Girdwood is located just 40 miles south of Anchorage along the beautiful Turnagain Arm. This ‘Arm’ is along the waters of Cook Inlet and is one of the most beautiful drives in the state.

Alaska only has seven ski resorts across the state, and Girdwood is the top ski resort town to visit.

There isn’t a large downtown area, but there’s plenty of outdoor activities here. The main resort is the Hotel Alyeska, which has many amenities on-site. There are restaurants, hiking trails, a large pool (well, for Alaska standards) and jacuzzi, a spa, and rustic lounge areas. They also recently opened the Nordic Spa which I highly recommend visiting.

Girdwood Alyeska Alaska
View from top of Alyeska Girdwood Alaska
View from top of Tram

I always recommend at least a stop in Girdwood on the way south to Seward or Homer. If possible, a stay overnight will allow you to do much more while here.

Winner Creek, Virgin Creek Falls, Mt Alyeska, and Crow Pass are popular trails here. Stop in at Girdwood Brewery for a drink and a bite, they always have at least one food truck daily.

Winner Creek Girdwood Summer Foggy Alaska
Winner Creek

2. Seward

Best Known For: Fishing | Whales & Wildlife | Cruise Port | Fjord

It’s hard to beat Seward. The town is set in a deep fjord surrounded almost completely by mountains, and is one of my favorites on this list.

In the summer months, the town fills with tourists from cruise ships arriving daily. But even with the additional people, it’s such a cute town with a nice downtown area.

I recommend at least one overnight stay here. If you want to visit the town but stay somewhere more remote, check out Lowell Point, just past the town. There’s a large beach area and it’s a popular spot for camping and having a fire next to the water.

Glacier and whale watching day trips are hugely popular here. The active Aialik glacier is something you really need to see in person. It’s hard to describe how tiny you feel when you get up close to one of these glaciers by boat.

In the summer months, we always spot whales – orcas, humpbacks, fin, and gray whales. Sea otters and sea lions can easily be spotted in the harbor or out in the bay.

For a quick bite, we usually grab something at Mermaid Grotto or Firebrand BBQ. There are two upscale restaurants that are worth the hype – The Cookery and Flamingo Lounge. Woody’s Thai Kitchen is surprisingly delicious, and there are many American style restaurants in town (Highliner is good) and some good seafood spots along the harbor area.

Popular activities include fishing, hiking, camping, sightseeing, and visiting Exit Glacier. There’s also a fun dog kennel nearby (home to the 2024 Iditarod champion!) called Seavey’s. They offer a fun tour of the kennels and dog sledding – I can personally recommend it!

Seward Alaska Downtown image of Brown and Hawkins Building

3. Cooper Landing

Best Known For: Fishing | Beauty | Rafting | Hiking

Cooper Landing is such a small town on the drive between Seward and Soldotna that it’s easy to miss. But there’s a reason it’s on the list!

Cooper Landing is located along the world-famous Kenai River and next to Kenai Lake.

Kenai Lake at Sunset Fall Alaska
Kenai Lake near Cooper Landing

This is a fantastic spot for fishing on the Kenai and rafting along the river too. There’s a scenic float trip that allows younger kids to get out on a raft in calmer water.

I love staying at Quartz Creek Campground (they fill quickly!) and stopping in at Cooper Landing Brewing Company.

The Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge is a beautiful place to stay and makes a great basecamp for all the activities in the area.

4. Valdez

Best Known For: Less Touristy | Beautiful location | Glaciers & Wildlife | Fishing

Valdez (pronounced Val-deez) is another beautiful town set in a fjord at the base of the Chugach Mountains.

To get here, you head in the opposite direction of Seward, going northeast along the road system from Anchorage. This is a beautiful drive that passes waterfalls, mountain valleys, glaciers you can see from the highway, and the famous Thompson Pass which is the snowiest place in Alaska (averaging 550 inches annually!).

Worthington Glacier and Matanuska Glacier are both well worth a stop. Don’t miss Horsetail and Bridal Veil Falls either.

The town itself is quite small and gets less tourists than Seward or Homer in the Kenai Peninsula. Most people like the more remote feel while still getting stunning mountain views and wildlife as well.

There are glacier cruises from Valdez where you can see Columbia Glacier, the second-largest tidewater glacier in North America. Meares Glacier is one of the only advancing tidewater glaciers in North America, which is incredibly unique considering most glaciers are retreating.

Stephen’s Cruises run the most popular glacier and wildlife cruises.

Columbia Glacier

During the salmon runs in the summer, harbor seals (and bald eagles too) love to feast at the Solomon Gulch Hatchery, about a 14 minute drive from town.

Valdez doesn’t have a cute downtown area like others on the list, but it’s location is hard to beat. There are a few shops, coffee shops, and a brewery (Valdez Brewing) in town.

5. Whittier

Best Known For: Cruise Ship Port | Fishing | Beautiful Views

Whittier is a small town near Anchorage that is only accessible via a tunnel. In fact, it’s the longest combined vehicle-railroad tunnel in North America! Technically it’s also accessible from a cruise ship as it’s a major cruise port.

Whittier almost landed on the quirky list due to some of the unique things about this town. The biggest perhaps is that nearly everyone in town lives in one 14 story building (that tall building in the center of the above photo).

Whittier is a great spot to take in the natural beauty of Alaska and hike around. There’s a nice harbor to explore, lots of fishing opportunities, and a few gift shops as well.

The most popular activity is the 26 Glacier Cruise from Whittier. The waters are calmer here than in Seward and there are some stunning glaciers to see. You likely won’t see as many whales as Seward, but it’s definitely worth the tour!

Portage Glacier and Byron Glacier are nearby and there are some fantastic hikes here. Portage has a short 1-hour day cruise that takes you up close to the glacier.

Whittier is great as a day trip or stop between Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula. There’s really not much for accommodations, I’d recommend a stay in nearby Girdwood or camp at Williwaw Campground on the other side of the tunnel.

Best Small-Town Feel

6. Eagle River

Best Known For: Beautiful Mountain Views | Hiking | Nature | Jitter’s Coffee

Eagle River is a lovely little town in the Chugach mountains just 20 miles north of Anchorage. Although it’s close, Eagle River is protected from the city hassles and retains a cozy small town atmosphere.

The town itself is quite small and it’s a popular place for hiking and a slower pace of life.

Eagle River Nature Center Overlook wetlands summer alaska
Eagle River Nature Center Alaska

The best thing to do here is head down Eagle River Road all the way to the end. You’ll end up at the Eagle River Nature Center, a non-profit park at the entrance of Chugach State Park ($5 parking fee). This area is loaded with beauty and plenty of trails to explore.

The lookout points are a short walk from the parking area, and you can continue on the Albert Loop Trail and reach some fun boardwalks. There’s even a long 23 miles Crow Pass hike taking you from Eagle River over the mountains to Girdwood.

It’s hard not to feel awe-inspired when you’re driving down a mountain valley with a glacier up ahead.

Once you’ve explored the nature center, I recommend heading back into town and grabbing a coffee at Jitters. For a bigger bite, try Jalapeños Mexican Restaurant, Jimmy’s Sushi, or Pizza Man (a local favorite).

Odd Man Rush is the local brewery in town. They have a fun rooftop bar in the summers and serve up great beer (and a range of other types of drinks too).

Fall Eagle River Road Alaska

7. Palmer

Best Known For: Cute downtown | Shopping local | Mountain views | Patio at Palmer Alehouse | Hatcher Pass & Hiking

If you continue on past Eagle River, you’ll head north toward a town called Palmer. Palmer is set in a large valley with large mountains surrounding it. There’s a cute downtown with an old miner/old west look to it.

There are many shops with local Alaskan made items (look for the “Made in Alaska” sticker verifying it’s local!). You could easily spend half a day exploring the shops, stopping in at Vagabonds for some delicious lunch and coffee, or hanging out on the large patio at the Palmer Alehouse.

If you love hiking, you can head to the popular Hatcher Pass area and explore. There are many great day hikes and it’s a fantastic place for views of the mountains and valley below.

Hatcher Pass near Palmer

8. Soldotna

Best Known For: Fishing | Stopover between Anchorage and Homer

To be honest, Soldotna barely made this list. Many people recommend Soldotna on these type of lists, but it’s not the cutest town, it’s not near the mountains, and it’s really more of a stopover town between Anchorage and Homer. We typically stop for lunch and fill up before heading out.

But, Soldotna is next to the Kenai River, the town of Kenai, and the large Cook Inlet. There are some nice beaches here (well, Alaskan beaches), a few breweries in town, and you also have fantastic fishing along the Kenai River.

Kalifornsky Beach is a popular spot. There are a lot of great cabins, campsites, and lodges along the Kenai River to stay at in between fishing.

I recommend walking along a metal boardwalk next to the river behind the Aspen Hotel, and stopping in for a snack and a drink at Kenai River Brewing.

9. Haines

Best Known For: Southeast Alaska on the road system | Remote | Beautiful location

Haines, Alaska is a town that not many people visit unless you’re driving to Alaska. The town is about 45 miles from the Canadian border and 756 miles from Anchorage.

To get here, you take one road called the Alcan (Alaska-Canada) or Highway 1, from Anchorage. No really, that’s it. Just drive highway 1 for 14hrs 18 minutes (according to Google) and you’ll get there.

Haines has some art studios, a heritage center, museum, and galleries. It’s also an active town with plenty of fishing & charters, kayaking, hiking, and camping.

People love the laid-back and relaxing atmosphere, and it’s a unique place to visit.

You can easily take the ferry to Skagway and continue your drive, or just explore the town for a day.

Best Quirky Towns in Alaska

10. Talkeetna

Best Known For: Cute downtown | Views of Denali |Mahay’s River Boat | Denali Brewing Company | Talkeetna Spinach Bread

Further north as you head toward Denali, you’ll get to the town of Talkeetna. It’s about 115 miles north of Anchorage, just over 2 hours, and has one of the cutest downtowns.

There are many good restaurants here and a few breweries. On the way in, you can stop at Denali Brewing Company. Then make your way to the town to explore. There’s a small downtown area with a lot of cute shops and restaurants.

You can see everything in an hour or so. This is a popular stop on the way to Denali and also makes for a great overnight stay.

After you’ve walked the town, make your way to the end of the road where the Talkeetna, Chulitna, and Susitna rivers converge. It’s a wide fast flowing river and you can do a popular boat tour here with Mahay’s Boat Tours.

There are many cute B&B’s and larger lodges such as these riverside cabins (VRBO) or the Talkeetna Alaska Lodge. If you love a cute historic town, Talkeetna has it all!

11. Homer

Best Known For: Homer Spit | Halibut Fishing | Kachemak Bay

Homer has a few slogans. It’s considered the Halibut Fishing Capital of the World. It’s also known as a place where “the odds are good, but the goods are odd” – a reference to dating life here.

And most often it’s considered “the end of the road”, meaning the town at the end of Highway 1.

Homer is really split between being an absolutely beautiful location but also a quirky one. Many artists are drawn to the area due to the sweeping views of Kachemak Bay and natural surrounding beauty.

It’s about 225 miles from Anchorage, or a 5 hour drive. Because of this, the town feels more secluded and quite different from the areas closer to Anchorage.

The town has 180 degree views of Kachemak Bay. You can often spot sea otters and seals in the bay. The nearby Gull Island is full of all sorts of birds including puffins.

The famous Homer Spit extends out 4.5 miles into the bay. This is where you’ll find the ferry, harbor, and tons of restaurants and gift shops.

Salty Dawg Saloon is the most popular bar in Homer and is located along the spit. There’s a paved trail that runs along the spit, and there are many campsites here too. A rocky beach extends around the spit and is a popular spot to hang out, fish, and play.

Homer Alaska Sea Otters Boat Tour Summer

Bishop’s Beach is a large sandy beach just as you enter town. Be sure to drive up to the lookout point for great views of the town, spit, and bay. Fishing charters are extremely popular from Homer and nearby Ninilchik & Deep Creek.

Homer Brewing Company is a fun local brewery next to Beluga Lake. There are tons of great restaurant options in town, so if you’re foodies like us, you’ll love it.

Homer Beach Alaska

12. Seldovia

Best Known For: Cute town | Off the grid | Remote

Seldovia technically isn’t on the road system, but I added it to this list as it’s easily accessible from Homer. A ferry runs daily out to this little fishing village of Seldovia, and once you disembark, you can easily get everywhere on foot.

Seldovia Boardwalk Homer Alaska

This place is tiny and has a population just under 300, but it has a super cute boardwalk area and there are some great hikes here (the Otterbahn Trail is my favorite).

In the little town area, there are a few b&b’s, small hotels, and restaurants. It’s a fun place to stay overnight if you want something more remote and off the grid, but it also makes for a great day trip.

Seldovia used to be a much larger town until the 1964 earthquake. Once the massive 9.4 earthquake hit, the ground dropped by four feet and the high tides poured water into the buildings. The town had to be partly demolished and rebuilt, and is much smaller today.

13. Hope

Best Known For: Small town vibes | Gold Rush history | Outdoor activities

Hope is a small town between Anchorage and Seward. It’s a truly off-the-beaten path town; it’s at the end of a road and is mostly self-contained. The town sits on Turnagain Arm and provides stunning views from the other side of the arm.

The town area is tiny. There’s a fun cafe and bar by the beach area called Seaview Cafe and Bar.

If you like history, you can explore many of the original buildings from the Gold Rush era. A miner discovered gold in 1889 which drew many people and eventually became the Turnagain Arm gold rush. There’s a mining museum you can visit, and you can also pan for gold on Resurrection Creek.

There are only 200 full-time residents here. Porcupine Campground is a beautiful campsite at the end of the road. It’s in the woods and each spot feels quite private with some having views of Turnagain Arm.

Views from Hope

There are plenty of outdoor activities you can do here. Six Mile Creek has Class IV and V rapids that are popular excursions from Hope. There are a lot of hiking options and you can fish at Resurrection Creek right next to Main Street.

14. Chicken

Best Known For: Quirky area | Remote | Near Alaska/Canada border

Chicken really can’t be called a town as there are only about 10 residents that remain year-round. The town is near the Canadian Border north of Tok. From Anchorage the drive takes 7 hours 30 minutes without any stops. From Fairbanks it’s about a 5 hour drive without stopping. Needless to say, there’s not a lot of people around the Chicken area.

Like many towns in Alaska, Chicken was formed during the Gold Rush era. There are a few campgrounds and some cabins available for rent, but otherwise there isn’t any lodging. There’s an outpost with a cafe, espresso bar and a gift shop as well.

You can still try gold panning here at the claims and it’s a fun stop if you’re heading out of Alaska.

15. North Pole

Best Known For: Santa Clause House

North Pole is the last quirky town on this list. North Pole is a real town just 20 minutes from Fairbanks.

The most popular activity here is to visit the Santa Claus House. There are even streets like Santa Claus Lane and Mistletoe Lane. In the winter months there’s a winter fest and holiday bazaar and kids can write letters to Santa year round.

North Pole and the greater Fairbanks area is a fantastic place to view the northern lights. This area is in what’s known as the “Aurora Oval” where the aurora is the strongest.

Once you’ve explored all things Santa, you can visit Chena Lakes Recreation Area. There’s a large beachy area for kids to play and it’s popular place for kayaking. There are many wooded trails you can hike as well.

More Alaska Reading

I’ve lived in Alaska for over 25 years and have tons of helpful articles for your trip. From packing guides to destinations and many insider tips, I try to provide as much value as possible.

15 Best Small Towns in Alaska on the Road System (from a local)

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