Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska by population and landmass, yet it still has a walkable downtown with a small-town feel. It is in the south-central part of the state overlooking Cook Inlet and within Denaʼina Ełnena, the traditional homelands of the Dena’ina Athabascan people and the Native Village of Eklutna.
Officially known as the Municipality of Anchorage, there are 1,961 square miles from Eklutna to the north and Portage to the south to explore. With so many fantastic outdoor experiences you can enjoy a short distance from a downtown hotel, you will run out of time before you visit them all.
After winter, Alaskans get outside the minute the sun comes out and the days begin to lengthen. The long days make for a hyperactive growing season, with plants growing so fast you can almost see them increase in size. Anchorage takes advantage of that with extensive landscaping throughout the city and its parks. The flowers are unbelievably beautiful, with bright colors and floral scents. So plan to spend some time exploring downtown on foot and start at the visitor information centers: the Log Cabin Visitor Center and the Downtown Visitor Center directly behind it. Here, you can receive information and see some of Anchorage’s famed flowers.
Pro Tip: Try a reindeer sausage at one of the many food carts in the area! It is one of the local foods you should experience, it supports a small business, and the sausage is really good.
Note: Thank you to Visit Anchorage for hosting me on a press trip. All opinions are my own.
Anchorage City History Trolley Tours
Hop aboard an Anchorage Trolley Tour right in front of the Log Cabin Visitor Center. You might even see owner Cyrus Aldeman, an unofficial ambassador for Anchorage. You’ll catch him answering visitor’s questions, providing directions, and offering hospitality. It makes a great first impression on your visit to Anchorage. He grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS and was fascinated by the show’s trolley, which influenced his choice of business. These tours are fun, and Cyrus hires energetic, funny tour guides. The tours are one hour in length if you stay on the trolley or 90 minutes to two hours with a few stops. Both are informative, with history and local tales woven into the narrative. Highlights include Earthquake Park, the Alaska Railroad, historic neighborhoods, the world’s largest floatplane base, Westchester Lagoon, and more of Anchorage’s lovely flowers. It is a great introduction to the city.
Urban Fishing At Ship Creek
How cool is it that you can walk from your downtown hotel and go fishing at Ship Creek, Anchorage’s urban salmon fishery? Stop by The Bait Shack and rent a complete fishing package that includes a rod and reel, waders, tackle box, bait, landing net, and all required State of Alaska non-resident sport fishing licenses. Owner Dustin Slinker, a U.S. Army veteran, has breathed new life into this longtime Anchorage business. He and his staff will even fillet and vacuum seal your catch, and most airlines will ship properly packaged fish back home for you. Early to mid-summer brings in the Chinook salmon, and mid-July through late September, the coho salmon return. The best time to fish is when the high tide comes in.
Even if you don’t like to fish, it is fun to watch everybody fishing from the bridge. The Ship Creek Trail is a 2.5-mile path along the creek where you can watch the salmon swim upstream. There are interpretive signs with information on Anchorage’s history as a railroad camp and tent city. Even though you are in an urban area, the creek and trail are surrounded by wooded areas, and the creek is a thriving salmon stream. This area is the historical land of the Dena’ina Athabascans, who named it Dgheyay Kaq’, meaning “Mouth of Stickleback Creek”.
Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
The scenic Tony Knowles Coastal Trail (Knowles was a former Mayor of Anchorage) is a paved 11-mile coastal trail that follows the shore of Cook Inlet from downtown Anchorage to Kincaid Park. The terrain varies when you leave the bustle of downtown. You will see coastal marshes and forested areas as well as beautiful scenic views. On a clear day, Denali, Mount Hunter, and Mount Foraker loom in the distance while Mount Susitna looks like a sleeping lady. Wildlife frequent the area, and you may see a moose, bald eagle, or even a beluga whale. The highlight for many is Earthquake Park, where the trail skirts the fault line of the 1964 Alaska Earthquake. You can see where the ground dramatically dropped.
There are plenty of trailside benches and parks along the route. If you want to complete the whole trail, then a bike is the way to go. Near the corner of 5th and L are two downtown bicycle rental shops with easy access to the coastal trail. Check out Pablo’s Bicycle Rentals or Alaska E-Bike.
Alaska Native Heritage Center
I had the opportunity to learn about the heritage and culture of Native Alaskans at the Alaska Native Heritage Center, and it was a very special experience. It is a statewide cultural and education center that also provides experiences to visitors and non-Natives. The heritage center is honored to be a guest in the traditional territory of the Native Village of Eklutna, a Dena’ina Athabascan tribe.
It was so moving to see all the young people sharing their culture with visitors. They lead tours around Lake Tiulana and through the six authentic life-size dwellings nestled into the surrounding woods; they danced and demonstrated Native games. Through these experiences, I learned about 11 of Alaska’s Native cultures: Iñupiaq, St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Athabascan, Eyak, Haida, Tsimshian, Tlingit, Unangax, Alutiiq, Yup’ik, and Cup’ik.
The walk around Lake Tiulana really gives you insight into what life was like for Native Peoples.
Flattop Mountain in Chugach State Park is the most climbed mountain in Alaska due to its proximity to downtown Anchorage and the lack of equipment needed to reach its summit. It is a steep and rocky trail to the top, but there are lots of other options if you don’t want such a strenuous hike. On my visit, I didn’t have a lot of time, so I parked at the Glen Alps Trailhead lot (which has restrooms) and did the short, paved 0.3-mile loop, which is wheelchair accessible. It leads to a flat area with stunning views of Anchorage, the mountains, and Cook Inlet.
For those that want a more strenuous hike, head to the summit which is about a three-mile hike with an elevation gain of 1,500 feet. The last stretch is rocky, but the incredible views are your reward. A less strenuous option is the Blueberry Loop, a hard-packed dirt trail around Flattop Mountain.
Pro Tip: If you don’t have a rental car, take the Flattop Mountain Shuttle. It will pick you up downtown and drop you off at the trailhead. The van stays parked for three hours while you hike independently, which allows you to go at your own pace. The driver can share some ideas for a hike. The shuttle returns to downtown, and at $23 round trip, it costs much less than an Uber.
Alaska Botanical Garden
I just love public gardens, especially since I don’t have a green thumb. I appreciate the hard work and craftsmanship that goes into creating a space like the Alaska Botanical Garden. The gardens are laid out over 110 acres of boreal forest, with eight acres of gardens and nature trails keeping a large portion in its natural state. The cultivated gardens have over 1,100 varieties of annual and perennial plants. My favorite was the Lower Perennial Garden, which includes peonies, my favorite flower. The Himalayan blue poppies had just reached peak bloom on my visit, and they were gorgeous.
With much of the property in a natural state, the walk on the interconnected trails is so interesting. You walk through the boreal forest and then “discover” the other cultivated gardens, including the Herb Garden, the Alpine Rock Garden, and the Anchorage Heritage Garden. For a longer hike, take the Lowenfels-Hoersting Family Nature Trail, a two-mile trail down to Campbell Creek, where salmon spawn during the summer months. There are two sets of stairs on the trail, and you may encounter wildlife.
Anchorage Parks And Trails
There are 223 parks and over 250 miles of trails in Anchorage, which provide great outdoor spaces for locals and visitors alike. With longer daylight hours in the summer months, you can enjoy outdoor activities late into the evening. The Anchorage Downtown Partnership works with Anchorage Parks and Recreation to create community programming for the two main parks downtown. Visit their website to learn more about the fun events and activities planned throughout the year at Town Square and Peratrovich Park. Keep an eye out for murals and art installations in the downtown area.
The Anchorage trail system offers a great way to get out and explore the city. Many trails connect with local parks. Even though you are in a city, it is not uncommon to encounter a moose or bear along a trail. The website has maps and information on trail etiquette as well as safety tips when encountering wildlife.
The Anchorage Museum is the largest museum in Alaska and is well known for its spacious indoor spaces and galleries, but there is also a vibrant outdoor space known as the common. It is a two-acre park adjacent to the front entrance to the museum. Landscape architect Charles Anderson created an iconic setting utilizing birch trees planted in urban mini forests. Ample amounts of benches encourage people to enjoy the space, which also has a large grassy area. The museum offers events throughout the year in the common — check their calendar for details.
This just scratches the surface of all there is to see and do outdoors in the Anchorage area. Visit Anchorage has tons of information online, or you can check out their visitor center downtown. The city ensures social-distancing measures are in place and COVID-safety guidelines are followed. I felt very safe throughout my stay.
The rental car shortage is real, but don’t let that keep you from a visit — I was amazed at all the options to get around the area. Many local attractions run shuttles, both Uber and Lyft are options, and there is public transportation. I just walked to most of the downtown locations. There are a few hills, but none too strenuous, and I found plenty of crosswalks and wide sidewalks. The city ensures social distancing and COVID-safety guidelines are
Pro Tip: In the summer, make sure to have bug spray, sunscreen, and a bear bell and/or