There are few places in America that offer such a diverse array of natural beauty as South Central Alaska. From whales to glaciers, there is something to satiate every nature lover's appetite. Unlike those of most of Alaska, the wonders of South Central are traversable or viewable by car. There are roads to a majority of the beloved spots in the region.
Most visitors to South Central tend
to begin and end their visit in Anchorage, the region's transportation hub. During the summer months this is where planes, trains, buses, and automobiles depart on a daily basis. RV rentals are also popular in Anchorage, and can be seen in droves along the Seward Highway along Cook Inlet. Most highways in South Central are two lanes and paved, but summertime traffic can be frustrating. Be wary of impatient drivers trying to get around slow-moving RVs, and always be aware of wildlife as well. Every year motorists kill hundreds of moose, and in turn there are many driver fatalities. South Central 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 laid-back 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 northern edge of the region, is a starting point for many mountaineers, as it's located at the base of Mt. McKinley. Most locals refer to the 20,320-foot mountain by its original Athabascan name, Denali, which means "the High One." In the center of South Central 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 South Central is wrapped in the embrace of several mountain ranges. In a crescent shape south and east of Anchorage is the 300-mile-long Chugach Mountain Range. It 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 still known to occasionally blow off steam and lava. The Alaska Range is a narrow 400-mile-long range that 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 South Central.