In a place as huge and wild as Alaska, it’s pretty great to have a single place that distills virtually all of the state’s most compelling elements. That’s Anchorage. Surrounded by Cook Inlet and huge Chugach State Park, it’s rich with trails to run/hike/ride, glacier-fed lakes to paddle, wonderful food and drink that reflect the state’s pride, and, yes, moose, bears, and various other charismatic fauna in abundance. And with nonstop flights from 17 major cities in the lower 48, it’s more accessible than you think. Here’s how to get the full Anchorage experience.
Ride Sweet Singletrack
Anchorage is blessed with several brilliant networks of singletrack trails that serve an exploding mountain bike scene. Two fat-tire favorites, Kincaid and Hillside, boast 19 and 15 miles, respectively. “Kincaid has great flow trails, really well maintained,” says Dan Oberlatz, whose Alaska Alpine Adventures guides wilderness trips statewide. “The lower Hillside trails are absolutely incredible—a little more aggressive enduro riding with long climbs and descents.” The trails are also favorites with local trail runners and hikers.
SUP the Bore Tide
Turnagain Arm, the narrow branch of Cook Inlet just south of Anchorage, is a beautiful sight when it’s placid. But when the twice-daily tidal shift prompts a bore wave that sweeps along the channel at 20 miles per hour—and as high as 10 feet—it’s really something to behold. Or, for locals like photographer Scott Dickerson, to ride. Chasing this mighty but sometimes fickle wave can lead to what Dickerson calls bore fever. The only thing that finally cured his case: “catching a double-overhead ride for about 20 minutes in perfect conditions.” Curious? Sign up with Pete Beachy’s T A Surf Company (@tasurfco) for a guided ride on your board of choice. Tyros can even ride it flat on a bodyboard.
Tour the Breweries with Big Swig Tours
“It’s an educational experience”—seriously, contends adventure guide Dan Oberlatz, who likes to drop his guide role and ride along on a brewery tour with Big Swig Tours. “You get the whole soup-to-nuts history of Alaska brewing,” he says. Big Swig’s four-hour tours, offered year-round, include tastings at three different brewery stops and a charcuterie platter.
Paddle Wilderness Flatwater
Eklutna Lake, in Chugach State Park, is a beauty even to just photograph or stroll alongside, but better is to get out in a sea kayak and appreciate a circular panorama of stunning scenery and serenity. “To be just an hour from Anchorage, where there’s no cell coverage, you get an instant connection with the turquoise water and the snowcapped mountains,” says Dan McDonough of Lifetime Adventures, who rents kayaks and mountain bikes at the lake. “It’s easy enough for a two-hour paddle, or you make it a hard trip by paddling to the end of the eight-mile lake and biking back on the Lakeside Trail.”
Bike the Coastal Trail
Don’t ride too fast on the 11-mile Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. Why? Well, you’re very likely to see moose—“a 70 percent chance,” to be precise, says Pablo Portillo, who rides it three times a week and runs Pablo’s Bike Rentals, near the trailhead. “You also see all kinds of birds, there are salmon-viewing areas, you go by the Earthquake Park, and you get great views of Cook Inlet and the downtown skyline.” For morning fortification, Pablo says breakfast at Snow City Cafe is the best in town. After you drop off your bike, celebrate your round-trip next door with a reindeer dog at the International House of Hot Dogs food truck.
Don’t Miss the Anchorage Museum
What? Poke around inside a museum when there’s so much to do outside? Emphatically, yes. “It’s a treasure for our city,” says Oberlatz. “It’s a place you can really get lost in.” And why not? When you’re in Alaska, you can’t help but develop a fascination for the place, and the Anchorage Museum tells the state’s story through Alaska Native art and culture, interactive science and tech exhibits, and multimedia timelines of state history. Dan says to cap off a museum visit with a meal at Crush Wine Bistro & Cellar (a nine-minute walk), where he’s a fan of the butter chicken.
Hike the Falls Creek Trail
Even locals overlook this one. From a Seward Highway turnout between Anchorage and Girdwood, hike 2.7 creekside miles into Chugach State Park from sea level up to alpine lakes—then continue beyond to bag the Suicide Peaks, landmarks of the Anchorage skyline. Carry bear spray.
Take a Midnight Hike
“Go on a midnight hike at Flattop Mountain,” says Mollie Foster, author of Hiking Alaska. “It’s great for a variety of activity levels, from a short walk to climbing a peak, all with gorgeous aerial views of the mountains, the water, and the city.” The three-mile hike to the top is a fine one any time of the day, and a shuttle will take you to the trailhead from downtown.
Where to Stay
The historic downtown classic has views of Cook Inlet and the Chugach Range, and an art collection that tells the story of its nautical-explorer namesake.
Forty miles southeast of Anchorage, Alaska’s biggest ski resort puts you at the cusp of its lift-assist bike park and out-the-door hiking trails in the Chugach Range.
Built in 1916, the Historic Anchorage is on the National Register of Historic Places and lies in the heart of the city’s walkable downtown.
Run by outdoorsy folks for outdoorsy folks on a budget, Base Camp is knowledgeable about local hikes and tours, rents bikes, and provides gear storage while you’re out and about. For summer 2021, requires proof of COVID vaccination.
The hub of Alaska adventure, Anchorage is the perfect mix of urban and wild: Find hundreds of miles of trails, nearly half a million acres of parkland, glaciers, and wildlife, plus comfortable hotels, top restaurants, and abundant art and culture. Anchorage offers the best of Alaska, all in one place.