Things To Do In Anchorage
Anchorage, a city once built almost by accident, is now a tourism giant. The largest city in the Last Frontier of Alaska, Anchorage is home to over 40 percent of all the people in the 49th state. Located in south-central Alaska, Anchorage was originally built as a railway hub. Since its creation, Anchorage has blossomed into a home for several US military bases. After oil was discovered in Prudhoe Bay, it became a major part of the oil industry and remains so to this day.
As with many cities in Alaska, Anchorage is home not only to people, but to an incredible range of wildlife. It is not uncommon to see bears, moose, beavers, fox, and even lynx in the city. On the outskirts and in the surrounding mountains, wolves, mountain goats, and Dall sheep are often spotted. Salmon flood the rivers several times each year as they begin their epic journey upstream to reach their natal spawning grounds, and even from the coast Beluga whales can be seen frolicking in the ocean.
Anchorage is a tourist's dream. You can spend a small fortune taking advantage of extraordinary adventures, or you can spend weeks enjoying fascinating sites and activities for almost nothing. One thing is sure, no trip to Alaska is complete without a stop in Anchorage.
When To Go:
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Anchorage is a city that has dramatic climate shifts between the summer and winter months. The short, but brilliant summers are the most popular for tourism, and many places and activities are only open during these warm months. Prices also rise with the mercury, however, and you will pay a premium for rooms and services. The winters in Anchorage are not nearly as severe as they are in Alaska's northern regions, and the outdoor activity market still thrives. If you don't mind the colder temperatures, you can save a fortune on airfare, lodging and related services while seeing a side to Alaska that many visitors forego to their own great loss.
Read on for a list of the things to do in Anchorage...
Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
Among the most beautiful coastal trails in the United States, the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail meanders along the Cook Inlet for 11 miles. The well-maintained, paved trails are strictly for walkers, bicyclists, rollerbladers, and cross-country skiers. Escape the city while you're still in it as you enjoy the beauty and smell of nature, watch the birds, and listen to sounds of the ocean.
On a clear day you can see on of Alaska's most imposing sights, Mt. Denali and the Alaskan Range, in the distance. On any given day, you may see moose, fox, perhaps even a bear. The site is free and the trail may be enjoyed year-round.
Between the permanent exhibits and rotating exhibitions, the Anchorage Museum is a must-do for the museum aficionado. With bountiful exhibits of Alaskan art, contemporary art, native culture, and invaluable artifacts – many on long-term loan from the Smithsonian – the state-of-the-art museum truly brings history to life.
A full-sized planetarium and new Imaginarium Discovery Center (with an aurora machine, aquatic touch tank, earthquake simulator, and hands-on learning center) add yet more reasons to visit this fantastic attraction. You can spend a good part of your day at the museum which has something for visitors of all ages.
Alaska Native Heritage Center
A fascinating history of Alaska's many native cultures can be found at this truly unique attraction. Beyond the traditional gallery of artifacts, there is a true-life display of the numerous traditional dwellings of the eleven main native people groups.
Adding yet another dimension that goes beyond exhibitions is the performance hall where Alaskan natives show off their many talents and interact with the visitors. A craft shop with work for sale, demonstrations, and lessons round out this engaging site. The center is closed during the winter.
Chugach State Park
Just outside the city limits is the third largest state park in the United States. If you want to see and experience the 'real' Alaska, you don't want to miss this park only moments from Anchorage. Set in the splendid Chugach mountains, the breathtaking backdrops include glaciers, mountains, forests, and wetlands all teeming with an abundance of wildlife.
The park has many trails that can be hiked or skied. Remember that this is not a zoo and the animals you meet are truly wild so proper precautions should be taken especially with food. During the summer you can sign up for guided tours. There is no fee unless you want to camp.
Most visitors to Alaska will want to visit or at least see a glacier. With stunning blue ice, huge cliffs, and deep, cavernous crevasses, glaciers are one of nature’s greatest wonders, and Alaska boasts the most glaciers in the United States - almost 30,000 square miles of them. The stunning Matanuska glacier is a perfect first (or 100th) experience since you can drive or walk right up to it.
It is the most accessible glacier by car in the United States, and one of the most accessible glaciers in the world. Just over 2 hours outside Anchorage, this glacier is over 4 miles wide at its terminus and nearly 30 miles long. You may recognize it as soon as you see it since it is on the cover of countless brochures and magazines. If exploring the glacial ice on your own is not enough, you can sign up for guided tours that range from a simple walk to full scale adventures that include glacier safety, history, and ice climbing.
The Alaska Zoo is not nearly as big as the ones in most major metropolitan centers, but its mission is very special. The Alaska Zoo rescues animals and birds that can no longer survive in the wild and gives them a home. Most of the animals that you would not want to meet in the Alaskan wild can be safely viewed here: from moose to polar bears, seals to wolves.
As with most zoos, there are exotic animals as well. You will find a tiger, elephant, some camels, several bear species, and even a yak. With dozens of animal selections and dozens more birds, the zoo is a worthwhile stop. During the winter, colorful lights in pastel and neon provide a spectacular canopy under which to view these amazing animals. The modest fee makes it a great place to spend an afternoon and if fun for all ages.
Prince William Sound
Prince William Sound will give you a sense of just how big Alaska is and the true depth of her beauty. From the eagles, whales, and other marine life you experience on the ocean to the majestic mountains that surround the bay you will be in awe of her splendor. The highlight of the Sound, however, is the tidewater glaciers. If you have never seen a calving glacier then this is a part of Alaska that you truly must see! Prince William Sound has more tidewater glaciers than anywhere else on earth.The glaciers that extend into the sound are massive and stretch for miles.
Beyond their sheer size and beauty, the sound of a glacier getting ready to calve, or shed enormous amounts of ice into the sea, is incredible and somewhat frightening. The glacial ice cracks and crackles until, with a low rumble that crescendos into a large crashing boom, monolithic, hundred-ton, ice chunks drop into the ocean below creating huge waves that can last for days. Seeing this event on television pales in comparison to this mind-blowing experience of nature. A truly must-see, must-do on your trip to Anchorage.
Alaska Botanical Garden
A tourist favorite, the botanical garden sits on over 110 acres in the city of Anchorage. Over 1,000 plant varieties can be found in the wooded park. The nature trail itself is over a mile long and takes you to Campbell Creek where you can view salmon during the late summer. Several specialty gardens have been created within this massive park such as an herb garden, wildflower garden, and rock garden. Walking among the trails and relaxing in the serene park can make you forget that you are still in the midst of the city. There are guided tours and a gift shop. Picnicking is encouraged.
Kincaid Park sits on the edge of Cook Inlet. The 1500 acre park boasts unrestricted wildlife in the midst of the city. Hiking, biking, and ski trails can be found in abundance. It is the perfect place to view wildlife including many moose, hare, eagles, ermine, fox, lynx, and the occasional bear while not having to take a trip to the middle of the wilderness. It is a favorite location for many local photographers and the background contains amazing views of the sea and mountains. Whether your there for an hour or a day, you will not be disappointed by the peace, tranquility, and beauty of this park. The park is open year-round.
Set against the beauty of the Anchorage skyline, the Ship Creek salmon viewing platforms are an excellent place to unwind at the end of the day, especially if you are in Anchorage during the July and August salmon runs. Located downtown next to the Ulu Factory (park here for free) you can watch the salmon work their way upstream toward the salmon ladder that will lead them over the dam.
A bicycle trail goes along one side of the creek giving you another vantage point to this wonder of nature. See the fishermen try their best to catch a few before they get too far up the freshwater river and start to change. If you are truly fortunate, you may see other wildlife (bears, fox, even beluga whales) taking their turn at the salmon as well.
Alyeska Roundhouse Museum
Sitting almost half a mile above sea-level on a mountaintop, the octagonal Roundhouse was placed on the National Historic Register in 2003. The view is unlike any other in Alaska and few others in the world. Enjoy the panoramic view of seven majestic glaciers, the beautiful Turnagain Arm (named for Captain Cook who found that the inlet was not connected to the sound and had to turn his ship around again), and two spectacular mountain ranges.
Sitting at the top of a 2,000 foot ski lift, the one-time ski patrol warming hut, Alaska's only mountaintop museum, is now dedicated to preserving the legacy of the importance of outdoor recreation. Be it summer, winter, spring, or fall, the Roundhouse Museum is a photographer's dream and a place whose beauty will stay in your memory forever.
Campbell Creek Science Center
Activities for the entire family can be found in the 740 acres of the Campbell Creek Science Center. Promoted as an “outdoor classroom” you have access to paths, creeks, plants, and lots of wildlife. From early morning bird walks to evening lectures, take advantage of this free opportunity to learn about the relationship between science and nature. You can guide yourself, or take advantage of the knowledgeable staff.
Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary
If you love bird watching, you will love Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary. Over 200 distinct species of birds and be found here. A major stop on several migration routes, birds come and go through every season. A boardwalk is provided for ease of access, or you can venture into the wetlands. Summer brings gulls, terns, and trumpeter swans.
Among the most frequent visitors in the fall are Canadian Geese, northern pintails and canvasback ducks, and norther harriers. You will also see many eagles, muskrats, and frequently moose. Don't forget to bring your binoculars and camera! The sanctuary is safe and enjoyable for all ages.
Iditarod Dog Sled Race
The annual Iditarod Dog Sled Race is held in early March. Racers, called mushers, race their teams of dogs nearly 1100 miles from Anchorage to Nome. Paying tribute to the important role that sled dogs and their handlers had in Alaskan history, the race is the most popular sporting event in Alaska. Today, the race start is officially held in the city of Willow, but a symbolic start is still held downtown Anchorage each year. On years when the snow is sparse in the city, truckloads of snow are brought in to line the roadblocked streets.
You will see over 1,000 dogs on 50 sled dog teams from more than a dozen countries. Enjoy meeting the mushers, hear the sounds of the dogs as they bark and yelp in excitement, see the tension of the dog teams as they yearn for the sleds to be released from their anchors so they can do what they were born to do – pull. Partaking the the Iditarod festivities is not only an amazing experience, it gives you a true sense of what Alaska is all about and should not be missed.
If you love to ski or snowboard, you will love Alyeska. Alyeska Resort receives nearly 650 inches of snowfall each year. It features the longest-continuous double black diamond ski run in North America, and yet it has well-groomed, gentle slopes for beginners. Large bowls and terrain parks are other options. Heli-skiing packages to the virgin powder in the Chugach Mountains are also available.
Beyond skiing and snowboarding, the resort offer world-class dining, panoramic views of glaciers and mountain ranges, and excellent hiking, biking or cross-country ski trails.
During the summer the resort offers amazing scenic tram rides, mountain biking (with chair lift access), and incredible hiking opportunities through lush fields and forests.
Wells Fargo History Museum
Sometimes a bank is more than just a bank! Stop in to Wells Fargo and you will find one of the best hidden gems in Anchorage: an amazing Alaskan museum. You can tour yourself, but if you want a real treat stop by the last desk and talk with the curator. While the museum is not large, the varied pieces that tell the story of Alaska are some of the best in the state and include a 49 oz nugget of gold! Spend an hour, or spend all day. The museum is open year-round.
The Ulu Knife has been a part of Alaskan tradition for as long as there have been Alaskan traditions. Used to skin animals, the knife is still an important piece of traditional native life. While the knives from the Ulu Factory are no longer made by hand, but by many machines, you can watch the incredible craftsmanship and see the quality of these very sharp knives.
The staff are very knowledgeable and will answer all of your questions. The knives and many other Alaskan gifts are sold in the gift shop. If you want a genuine gift or keepsake this is the place to go.
Alaskan Aviation Heritage Museum
Aviation has played an important role in making Alaska what it is today. Many villages and strategic locations are still only accessible by plane most of the year. The Alaskan Aviation Heritage Museum pays tribute to the men and women – and their aircraft – who helped forge this great land.
From WWII aircraft, float planes and bush craft to aircraft simulators and an Alaskan Airlines jet, the 2 hangers of restored and partially restored aircraft will enthrall you. If you are an aviation enthusiast, or simply want to know more about the history of Alaska then this museum is for you.
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