Does your Alaska bucket list include glaciers, wildlife, history, and mountains all in one place? Meet Anchorage.
When you think Alaska, does your mind’s eye may immediately conjure the image of a moose? Or an icy blue glacier? Rugged granite peaks topped with snow? Immense brown bears? What you may not realize is that the city of Anchorage and its surrounding area is one place where you can truly “have it all” - and more! Here, an easy and affordable guide to this extraordinary community.
Visit the Chugach Range
One thing you’re certain to notice upon arriving in Anchorage is that the Chugach Mountains seem close enough to touch. Well, almost. Many of the gorgeous range’s trails and access points are a short drive, about 20 minutes, from just about anywhere in the city, meaning you can balance a comfy hotel stay and first-rate restaurant options with a truly wild experience amid the 9,000 square miles of Chugach State Park and Chugach National Forest. Take your pick of hiking, rafting, or simply contemplating the serenity of this virtually untouched natural area. Paddling, cycling, climbing, and even ogling glaciers are all on the Chugach’s menu of options. Spend a few hours, a few days, or an entire week exploring its bounty. (If the Chugach whets your appetite for glaciers, consider a day cruise from nearby Seward or Whittier to see even more.)
Explore Alaska Native and Pioneer History and Culture
The Anchorage area has been at the crossroads of Alaska Native and pioneer history for centuries. Set aside a day or more to explore the Alaska Native Heritage Center with its introduction to the stories, dances, traditions, and customs of Alaska’s 11 major native cultures.
For a taste of Alaska’s history, hop aboard the railroad that helped tame the wilderness. In summer, visitors to Anchorage may choose to continue their Alaska Adventure by embarking on a train trip to Seward, Prince William Sound, Denali, Talkeetna or Fairbanks. But you don’t have to go too far to savor the joy of train travel - the Glacier Discovery train is a beautiful day trip to nearby Spencer.
Dogsledding is another uniquely Alaska transportation activity available in Anchorage. Surprisingly, sledding can be available year-round, with summer trips via helicopter to the tops of glaciers. Visit “mushers” any time of year to meet the sled dogs and get a feel for the state sport.
Explore Alaska’s Mining History Hands-On
Kids of all ages will love playing prospector at a hands-on mining destination such as Indian Valley or Crow Creek. These spots combine a museum experience, complete with authentic mining tools, with entertaining history lessons about the great gold rush that once attracted people from all over the world with dreams of striking it rich. Best of all, visitors learn the basics of panning for gold and take home more than just memories.
Go Cycling on the Coastal Trail
Anchorage is one of the most bike-friendly cities in America, with 135 miles of cycling paths. The one you especially won’t want to miss is the paved 11-mile Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, where you can rent a bike and explore Anchorage’s Cook Inlet all the way from downtown to Kincaid Park, including marshes, hills, and patches of forest. Keep an eye out for bald eagles, moose, and other local denizens.
Visit One of America’s Best Museums
Sure, you come to Anchorage for the natural beauty, but we bet you didn’t know that the city is also home to an incredible museum devoted to the entire Alaska experience. The Anchorage Museum is the biggest museum in the state and it immerses visitors in human history and the arts, natural history, and much more. A walk through the museum is a bit like experiencing a guidebook sprung into three-dimensions, a unique way of appreciating this unique state from its earliest days to its vibrant present.
Look for Wildlife
Anchorage is home to more than 1,000 moose. (We’re guessing your hometown isn’t.) The majestically awkward-looking giants can be spotted in almost any green space in Anchorage if you spend enough time outdoors, and you can always count on seeing one at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
It takes a little more effort to spot whales here, but they are also abundant. Belugas, the friendly looking white whales that can be as long as a minivan, can be seen on a trip down Turnagain Arm.
Alaska is also the only place in America where black bears, brown bears, and polar bears abound. Head out of Anchorage for the rivers and streams of Katmai National Park to see bears feasting on salmon.
Take an Aerial Tour by Plane
(Chon Kit Leong/Dreamstime)
In addition to all the sightseeing opportunities we’ve already mentioned, consider “flightseeing.” In a land as big as Alaska, small planes are often the most efficient way of getting from one place to another, and aerial tours are an unforgettable way to experience the Anchorage area’s mountains, forests, and waterways.