Fairbanks to Valdez Road Trip Guide

Last Updated on March 7, 2024

The Richardson Highway from Fairbanks to Valdez is my favorite highway in Alaska and this is a road trip route much less traveled by visitors to Alaska.

It’s a busy highway by Alaska standards, but lots and lots of wide open landscapes and quirky stops. If that sounds like your kind of thing, you’ll love this classic Alaska road trip.

I lived in Alaska for many years, including in Fairbanks where this was the closest place to get to the ocean so I have fond memories of the trip. I’ve also updated it for guidebooks and traveled with guests as a tour director on some parts of “the Rich” as it’s known in Alaska, so I know all the best stops and can’t wait to share them with you.

The Richardson Highway takes you through the homeland of many Alaska Native People, including the Interior Athabascan People and the Ahtna People.

A google maps map showing the route from Fairbanks to Valdez on the Richardson Highway
Fairbanks to Valdez, courtesy Google Maps (it will take much longer than that!)

Is it worth it to drive from Fairbanks to Valdez?

Driving from Fairbanks to Valdez is one of my favorite road trips in Alaska – the scenery is absolutely stunning! This is a long drive though (at least seven hours without stops) so you’ll either need a longer trip or be willing to give up something else to do it.

For those who love to get off the beaten track and love road trips – you’ll love this one!

It’s mountains upon mountains along the Richardson Highway from Fairbanks to Valdez. This photo was taken in March.

How long is the drive from Fairbanks to Valdez?

It’s 360 miles from Fairbanks to Valdez on the Richardson Highway – a two lane highway typical in Alaska. Plan on it taking at least 7 hours to make the drive in clear weather and without stops.

What are the road conditions like from Fairbanks to Valdez on the Richardson Highway?

The entire Richardson Highway is paved and well maintained year round. In summer, expect road construction, both planned and not planned as well as commercial and RV traffic (though way less RVs than the Parks Highway and the Seward Highway).

In winter, expect snow and ice on the highway even during times of clear weather.

When is the best time to drive from Fairbanks to Valdez?

This road is open all year. Summer is the easiest time to drive, with long hours of daylight to enjoy the amazing views. On clear days in winter this drive is truly magical, but it’s a long grind if the weather is challenging.

What is there to do between Fairbanks and Valdez?

There are lots of wonderful stops and things to do along the drive from Fairbanks to Valdez. These are some of my favorites:

#1 – Santa Claus House – North Pole

If you love Christmas, or unusual roadside attractions, the Santa Claus House in North Pole is for you. Visit with Santa all year long, find Christmas things and enjoy some great candy.

If you send a letter to Santa and address it to the North Pole, this is where it comes!

North Pole is also the location of Pagoda, the Chinese restaurant that was featured on Diners, Drive ins and Dives.

#2 – Knotty Shop – Salcha

The exterior of a log building with picnic tables and a car parked in front

The Knotty Shop is one of my favorite places to buy gifts and souvenirs in Alaska. It’s really unique and has lots of wonderful things. They also have great ice cream.

#3 – Harding Lake

Super popular with Fairbanks residents, Harding Lake is a great stop for visitors too. You can walk on the trails, have a picnic, camp or go fishing or swimming.

#4 – Tanana River Viewpoints

A wide glacially fed river, the Tanana River in interior Alaska on a cloudy day
The Tanana River from one of the pullouts along the Richardson Highway

Between Salcha and Delta Junction, you’ll be along the mighty Tanana River, with frequent views of it along the highway. There are several pullouts to stop at and spend a few moments appreciating this vast Alaskan river.

#5 – Rika’s Roadhouse

Rika’s Roadhouse is a historic building from 1910 and part of the Big Delta State Historical Park. You’ll find it after the unique bridge with the pipeline bridge next to it just before arriving in Delta Junction.

Long before the modern highway, the roadhouse served travelers along the route from Fairbanks to Valdez. In the museum you’ll learn all about the history of travel and communications in this remote area throughout the 20th century. There’s also a cafe and gift shop.

#6 – Delta Junction

A gray truck with a camper on top in a parking lots with trees and signs at the end of the Alaska Highway in Delta Junction
Parked at the official end of the Alaska Highway in Delta Junction

When you’re in Delta Junction, definitely stop at the visitor center and official end of the Alaska Highway Landmark, pictured above.

If it’s time for a meal, head to the delicious Draft House, a true hidden gem in Alaska with amazing food and their own craft beer, as well as craft beer from around Alaska. This is one of the handful of places in Alaska with really excellent salads! Their pizza and sandwiches are also incredible.

#7 – Lodge at Black Rapids

I’m mentioning the lodge because if you wanted to break this trip into two days, there’s no question that the Black Rapids Lodge is the place to do it.

In a stunning and remote location, this is a wonderful year round place to spend the night if you’re looking to make this a two day adventure – highly recommended since you’ll have so much more time to see everything.

#8 – Castner Glacier

A blue glacier with dark streaks covered in snow with the mouth of an ice cave open
The toe of Castner Glacier in late winter

Castner Glacier makes for a better winter visit than a summer one, it’s sketchy around glaciers so I strongly encourage you to go with a guide. In the winter the landscape in this area is absolutely stunning and you can walk up close to the glacier. In summer it gets really wet and the one mile walk to the glacier from the highway is trickier. Spring meltwater can make it impossible to get there.

#9 – Gulkana Glacier

Hiking to Gulkana Glacier is a good alternative to Castner Glacier for summer. I do not recommend going on to the glacier without a guide, however you hike to a great view of it in about 2.5 miles from the highway at Mile 67 on the Richardson Highway.

You’ll cross a footbridge and follow a path to a nice view of Gulkana Glacier.

#10 – Summit Lake

Make sure to stop for the beautiful views of summit lake and the surrounding mountains near the tiny community of Paxson.

Summit Lake is a very popular snowmachining area with Alaskans (especially from Fairbanks) during the winter.

#11 – The Hub of Alaska – Glenallen

Spring rolls in a take out container in a parking lot near a large gas station/convenience store.

There’s a great thai food place next to the “Hub of Alaska” – you have to stop here for gas anyway so grab some food too.

The Hub is always busy with people traveling the Richardson on the Glenn Highways and is an important crossroads and local experience you don’t want to miss.

Once when I was there an Alaska State Trooper pulled up in a helicopter and ran in to use the restroom – classic!

#12 – Ahtna Cultural Center and Wrangell-St Elias National Park Visitor Center – Copper Center

A fish wheel made of wood with a rope around it in the forest
The Ahtna fish wheel outside the Ahtna Cultural Center at the Wrangell-St Elias National Park Visitor Center

Even if you aren’t going into McCarthy and Wrangell-St Elias National Park, you want to stop here for the wonderful visitor center and the best restrooms on the Richardson Highway (except in Delta Junction).

The visitor center gives you an orientation to the park. The Ahtna Cultural Center will help you understand the people who live in the Copper River Basin and whose land was made part of Wrangell St Elias National Park in 1980 when it was established. Ahtna People have inholdings in the park and land around the edges of it, which is a small amount of their traditional territory.

There are also some flat hiking trails with great views of the Wrangell Mountains in the park.

#13 – Worthington Glacier

a blue and white hanging glacier between mountains on a partly cloudy day
Worthington Glacier from the view point near the parking lot

Worthington Glacier State Recreation Site is another wonderful glacier viewing opportunity close to the highway. There are trails and pit toilets and great views up to the glacier.

There is a hiking trail that goes up along the side of the glacier, though at the time of my most recent visit the trail was closed due to the rocks and cliff being unstable. Make sure to respect trail closures.

You’ll need $5 in cash to deposit in the parking box.

#14 – Thompson Pass

If you’re driving from Fairbanks to Valdez on a clear day, you will not be able to help yourself from stopping at the truly epic mountain landscape of Thompson Pass.

The pass is at 2800 feet and a completely different landscape from Valdez at sea level less than 30 miles away. A big open parking area allows a great opportunity for a picnic with this incredible view. If you’re a hiker you can also explore the Trail of 98, a hiking trail that goes along and down from the pass.

#15 – Blueberry Lake State Recreation Area

a small blue lake surrounded by bushes and mountains on a partly cloudy day
Blueberry Lake from the campground

Blueberry Lake Recreation area is just below Thompson Pass with the same epic landscape views and a campground. If you’re looking for a place to camp the view here really can’t be beat. There is a day use area near Blueberry Lake also.

#16 – Waterfalls in Keystone Canyon

A waterfall on a rocky and brushy cliff
Bridal Veil Falls in Keystone Canyon

There are pullouts on the highway for the waterfalls but as they are on blind corners, is it not a good idea to cross the highway for a better photo! You can explore hiking trails in the area (learn more here).

Bridal Veil Falls is on the left side of the highway but there is a pullout on the right side to take a photo.

When you get back in the car you’re just 18 miles from Valdez!

Connecting Fairbanks to Valdez to a longer Alaska Itinerary

You can connect this drive up to your drive to Alaska on the Alaska Highway and it also makes an awesome enormous triangle with the drive from Anchorage to Fairbanks and Anchorage to Valdez.

You can also take the ferry from Valdez to Whittier and then get back to Anchorage that way or connect up to the Seward Highway from Whittier to explore the Kenai Peninsula.

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Jennie Flaming
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite. I lived in Alaska for many years and I still spend lots of time there every year visiting friends and working as a tour director. I've been a guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington, am a field editor for the Milepost and host the Alaska Uncovered Podcast about Alaska Travel as well as the Washington State Hiking Podcast. I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you here!