Few places in the United States offer as diverse an array of natural beauty as Southcentral Alaska. From grizzly bears to migrating whales, and moose to spawning salmon, from icy peaks to calving glaciers, and ocean bays to rainforests, there is something to satiate every nature-lover. The wonders of Southcentral are traversable or viewable by car. Unlike the other regions in Alaska, roads connect
most towns, villages, and cities here.
Most visitors to the Kenai Peninsula and Southcentral tend to begin and end their journey in Anchorage, the region's transportation hub. During summer, planes, trains, buses, and automobiles depart from here on a daily basis. RV rentals are also popular in Anchorage, and recreational vehicles can be seen in droves on the Seward Highway along Cook Inlet. Most highways have two lanes and are paved, but summertime traffic can be frustrating. Be wary of impatient drivers trying to get around slow-moving RVs, stay aware of wildlife as well. Every year motorists kill hundreds of moose, and in turn there are many driver fatalities.
Southcentral Alaska is bordered on the south and the west by ocean waters: the Gulf of Alaska, Prince William Sound, and Cook Inlet. This region is lined with a smattering of quaint port towns. From Kodiak, a commercial-fishing port, to Homer, a funky artists' colony, each town has its own personality. Inland, the remnants of mining towns continue to grow and prosper in different ways. Talkeetna, a small village on the region's northern edge at the base of Mt. McKinley, is a starting point for many mountaineers. Most locals refer to the 20,320-foot mountain by its original Athabascan name, Denali, which means "the High One." In the center of Southcentral is Alaska's farmland, the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, generally referred to as the "Mat-Su Valley," the "Matsu," or just "The Valley." The region boasts 75-pound cabbages and gigantic award-winning rhubarb.
All of Southcentral is wrapped in the embrace of several mountain ranges. In a crescent shape south and east of Anchorage lies the 300-mile-long Chugach Mountain Range, which bends all the way around the gulf to Valdez, where it meets the Wrangell–St. Elias National Park. The Chugach, St. Elias, and Wrangell mountain ranges are so immense that they are often referred to, collectively, as the "mountain kingdom of North America."
The mountain peaks don't end there, however. Across Cook Inlet, easily viewed from Anchorage, is a small part of the Alaska Range known as the Pacific Ocean's great Ring of Fire, snowcapped volcanoes that still blow off steam and lava now and again. The narrow, 400-mile-long Alaska Range embraces the highest peak in North America, Mt. McKinley.
Whether you're hoping to explore mountains or ocean, tundra, taiga, or forest—from the coastal rain forests around Seward and Kodiak to the rough Arctic chill of glaciers flowing off the Harding Icefield—each climate zone and ecosystem is available in this region.