Don’t Miss the Turnagain Arm Drive When in Alaska

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View of Turnagain Arm Drive.

If you want to explore the beauty of an area, you should hop in your vehicle and go for a drive. When it comes to scenic drives, you won’t want to miss the Turnagain Arm Drive.

The stunning natural beauty and wildlife sightings make for an unforgettable experience. Whether you drive the entire thing or just a small portion, take your time.

Today, we’re getting behind the wheel and taking you along the Turnagain Arm Drive. Buckle up, and let’s get started!

What Is the Turnagain Arm Drive?

The Turnagain Arm Drive is a section of Alaska’s Route 1, also known as the Seward Highway. While the entire Seward Highway measures 127 miles long, the Turnagain Arm Drive only travels 50 miles of the eastern shore from Anchorage to Portage Glacier Road.

Along the drive, the changes in landscapes and the views will take your breath away. While it may only be 50 miles, completing it can take an entire day.

It often seems like something worth seeing sits around every bend in the road. You’ll want to take many pictures and videos to capture this unforgettable experience.

History of Turnagain Arm

Indigenous people have inhabited Turnagain Arm for thousands of years. They survived on fish, wild game, and plants. However, in the late 18th century, explorers attempted to establish a trade route but were unsuccessful. The discovery of gold in the late 19th century ignited the Gold Rush Era.

Prospectors with hopes of striking it rich came flocking to Turnagain Arm. Mining camps and entire communities quickly began appearing all over the region. However, the excitement was short-lived, as the area was less lucrative than many had hoped.

During the early 20th century, the completion of the Alaska Railroad helped increase access to Turnagain Arm. It connected Seward and Anchorage.

This made the region more accessible for money-making ventures in commerce and tourism. Additionally, the Seward Highway was completed in the 1950s, making Turnagain Arm easier to access.

View of Turnagain Arm.

Reasons to Experience the Turnagain Arm Drive

If you still need convincing to do the Turnagain Arm Drive, we have three reasons why you should experience this spectacular drive.  

Spectacular Scenery

The Turnagain Arm Drive allows you to experience majestic mountains, turquoise waters, and one of the highest tidal ranges in the world.

During the drive, you cruise alongside the Chugach Mountains. With snow-capped peaks, rugged cliffs, and impressive slopes, it provides the perfect backdrop for any adventure.

The bright turquoise waters from lakes and other bodies of water are nothing short of incredible. The massive mountain peaks reflecting off the water add to the experience. This drive takes you along the shoreline, which makes it easy to enjoy the gigantic mountains surrounding you.

In addition to mountains and pristine bodies of water, the tidal flats provide an amazing sight. During low tide, you’ll find mudflats that stretch for miles. What’s left behind is an otherworldly landscape unlike anything you’ve ever seen. 

Wildlife Viewing

The landscapes aren’t the only spectacular sights to see in Turnagain Arm. Throughout the drive, you’ll have the opportunity to see some incredible wildlife.

Keep your eyes up as bald eagles frequently soar overhead. However, if you’re lucky, you may spot beluga whales playfully splashing in the waters. They often come close to the shoreline, making them easy to spot.

Other wildlife you may spot during your drive include Dall sheep, moose, and an occasional bear. None of these are small creatures, so keep your eyes on the road. To keep you and the wildlife safe, keep as much distance between you and them as possible. Do all you can to protect their habitat.

Northern Lights Viewing

Do you dream of seeing the northern lights? If so, visiting Turnagain Arm in the winter can make it possible. While some of the more popular regions for Northern Lights viewing sit farther north, you may catch a glimpse during intense auroral activity.

When the conditions are right, many photographers make their way to capture the magical experience. The lights reflecting off the surrounding waters create an even more unique view.

Capturing the combination of mountains, sea, and celestial magic makes for some phenomenal photographs.

Northern Lights in Alaska off the Turnagain Arm drive.

Things to Do Along the Turnagain Arm Drive

Now that you’re ready to travel the Turnagain Arm Drive, it’s time to start planning your activities. We’ve found several things to do to make the most of your adventure.

Visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center sits on the northern side of the Turnagain Arm. With its more than 200-acre property, it houses and cares for injured and orphaned animals, providing a unique opportunity to see various animals in a natural environment.

You can see brown bears, moose, and wood bison roaming throughout the property.

You can participate in tours, educational programs, and even a scavenger hunt to learn about and appreciate the many animals living here. If you want a safe way to photograph one of these dangerous creatures, this is your chance!

Keep in Mind: Looking for a place to stay in Hope, Alaska? We stayed at Porcupine Campground and have a few thoughts about the campground!

Close up of a moose at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center along the Turnagain Arm Drive.

Turnagain Arm Pit Stops

Like any good scenic drive, the Turnagain Arm Drive has plenty of spots to pull over and take a break. You can stretch your legs and appreciate the view.

The most popular sites along the route include Beluga Point, Bird Point, Indian Valley Mine, Portage Glacier Visitor Center, Girdwood, and Whittier.

We recommend exploring as many of these as possible. Each stop along the drive provides a unique experience. You can learn about gold mining and glaciers or enjoy some local cuisine. However, remember that some attractions are seasonal and may close in winter.

Hit the Trails

One of the best ways to explore the Turnagain Arm landscapes is to lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails. Whether you’re an avid or experienced hiker or just getting started, you have plenty of options.

Download the All Trails app onto your phone. You can then use the filters to narrow down the results for hikes that match your needs. Some of the most popular trails in the area include Winner Creek Trail, Portage Pass Trail, and Byron Glacier Trail.

Winner Creek Trail under trees.

Tidal Bore Watching

Many visitors enjoy the unique activity of Tidal bore watching when visiting Turnagain Arm. These phenomena occur as a result of waves from incoming tides. These waves travel against currents and up rivers or narrow inlets. Unlike regular waves that break, tidal bores can keep going for miles.

These result from the moon’s gravitational pull and are most prevalent during spring and fall. Some of the best opportunities along the Turnagain Arm Drive are in Beluga Point.

However, if you’re lucky enough to witness this natural occurrence, keep a safe distance. The effects of the tidal bore can be unpredictable, and you do not want to put yourself in danger.

Keep in Mind: We were lucky enough to see a bore tide along the Turnagain Arm. Here’s how and when to see it!

Turnagain Pass

If you enjoy panoramic views of snow-capped mountains, alpine meadows, and thick forests, Turnagain Pass is for you. This can be an incredible place to experience no matter when you visit.

However, a blanket of snow creates a beautiful wonderland during winter. It’s a popular spot among those who enjoy winter activities like skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling.

During the warmer months, it becomes an outdoor playground for hiking, mountain biking, and wildlife viewing. Many trails provide access to wilderness areas that showcase some of the area’s best features.

Make Unforgettable Memories on the Turnagain Arm Drive

Exploring Turnagain Arm Drive provides an incredible opportunity to experience nature. You and your fellow travelers can also create unforgettable memories while cruising the region.

Take the time to appreciate the unique features and breathtaking landscapes. When it comes to scenic drives, Turnagain Arm Drive should be on your to-do list.

Have you driven the Turnagain Arm Drive?

  1. The wife and I stayed at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood. The Turnagain Arm was right there by us. We drove it all the way to Seward, visited the “Exit Glacier”. Stopped at the Wildlife Center, we pretty much did it all and would love to do it again.

  2. We rented a Motorhome and went all the way to Homer & back, it took a week.. We did and saw everything we could. Our favorites were: The tram at Alyeska and the boat trip from Seward.. There were some things that were less than perfect, But it was all good.. If we went back, we’d want to flyfish the Kenai River.

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