With direct flights from major hubs in the U.S., Anchorage is one of the best and easiest cities in Alaska to call home base. With the Chugach Mountains, glaciers, wildlife encounters, snow sports, and world-class fishing within driving distance, this city of 290,000 is not only easy to get to but easy to navigate as well.
Even better, you don’t have to break the bank to have an amazing Alaska experience. Anchorage has plenty of affordable excursions and travel options to help your dollar stretch further. To make the most of those hard-earned vacation dollars, here are six budget-friendly experiences in Anchorage to experience the best Alaska has to offer.
Timing It Right
Experience the famed shoulder season in Anchorage! While summer is arguably the most popular time to visit Alaska, the shoulder season between April and May, and then again in September, offers the best value for travelers on a budget. Not only will you beat the summer crowds, you’ll likely find lower rates on hotel stays and special “off-season” rates on tours and popular attractions.
Going in April and May lets you take advantage of the Alaska spring when the snow begins to melt away and the animals come out to munch on the young green shoots.
Because the main visitor season either hasn’t hit or is winding down, many hotels and tour companies drop prices, so you may be able to score discounted tour rates or add an additional traveler for little or no cost.
Outdoor Adventures On A Dime
If your soul is craving heart-racing adventure in the wilds of Alaska, you can’t beat Anchorage. Not only does Anchorage have a whopping 60 glaciers within 50 miles of downtown, it’s also surrounded by six mountain ranges, has more than 300 miles of trails, and is close to Chugach State Park. Biking, hiking, water sports, fishing, climbing, ATV touring, and simply looking up at the sky to see the northern lights are some of the many excursions you can find within the city limits itself. In fact, from mid-August through April is the best time to see the northern lights, since this is when the Alaska skies are dark enough.
One of the most enjoyable and mostly free activities that Anchorage offers is its extensive network of wilderness and walking trails throughout the city. They are perfect for a run, a nice walk, or a bike ride.
Home to 223 municipal parks inside the city, there’s no need to leave town to get your fill of hiking or biking. On a winter trip to Anchorage, my friend and I rented an e-bike from Pablo’s Bike Rentals and spent the day cycling the Coastal Trail, which stretches along Cook Inlet from downtown to Kincaid Park, granting views of the neighboring mountain ranges.
Kincaid Park itself is the city’s largest public park with 40 miles of walking trails and 20 miles of single-track bike runs. Don’t be surprised if you stumble across a moose or black bear in this urban wild space.
A short drive out of the city brings you to countless other trails, like Thunderbird Falls, an easy 1-mile trek that ends at a viewing platform of a 200-foot waterfall.
Pro Tip: Although Anchorage loves its resident moose and bear, it’s important to stay safe around wild animals. The City of Anchorage has tips on how to be “Bear Aware.” And you can see our article on how to be safe around the resident moose.
Less than 30 minutes after landing at night in Anchorage, I saw my first moose. I saw the gangly female not on a game drive but in a residential neighborhood in Anchorage while driving to our hotel for the night!
There are nearly 1,500 moose within the Municipality of Anchorage (an area spanning 1,961 square miles), so moose sightings are an extraordinarily ordinary part of daily life here. But spotting these giants along Anchorage’s city streets isn’t the only way to view wildlife.
While private wildlife viewing tours abound in Anchorage, you can spot bears, moose, and more at the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, a natural area spanning 16 miles along Anchorage’s coastline from Point Woronzof Park to Potter Creek.
If you’re looking for a guaranteed sighting, head to the Alaska Zoo or Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. The Conservation Center has more than 200 acres of animal enclosures on a 1.5-mile loop, which can be explored on foot, bike, or car. To keep those dollars going further, sign up for one of the many free educational programs at the center or take advantage of the special admission days; like Military Mondays in which the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center thanks the members of the U.S. Armed Forces by offering free admission on the first Monday of each month.
3. Urban Salmon Fishing
Many visitors dream of snagging that coho salmon from the depths of Alaska’s salmon-rich waters, but again, you don’t need to spend a fortune on a chartered fishing tour. World-class fishing is as close as dropping a line downtown or wading out to fly fish in one of the many rivers around Anchorage.
Listed on Field & Stream magazine’s list of America’s Best Fishing Cities, Anchorage and its surrounding rivers, lakes, and oceans are home to all five species of Pacific salmon. Ship Creek in downtown Anchorage is a local favorite fishing spot and is one of Alaska’s most productive king salmon sport fisheries. During the summertime, fishing derbies along Ship Creek can even make you money! If you snag one of the specially tagged fish, you can win anywhere between $100 and $10,000.
Fly fishing enthusiasts will love the fish-filled Campbell Creek, which also passes through the center of town from Far North Bicentennial Park. This fun little creek is stocked with rainbow trout, Dolly Varden trout, and silver salmon, all within downtown.
Pro Tip: Don’t have a pole? Don’t worry. You can rent everything you need for a day of fishing, including a rod and reel, waders, tackle, and net — as well as a 1-day fishing license for $100 at The Bait Shack.
Embrace Alaska Culture
To experience the true soul of Anchorage, check out the local museums or book a tour with a local. Anchorage is located in the Dena’ina Ełnena, the traditional homelands of the Dena’ina Athabascan people, and discovering Indigenous Alaska culture is not just educational and fascinating, but inspiring as well. And, as always, the locals will let you know what other free and low-cost things you can do in town and the best (and most affordable) places to eat.
4. Tour With A Local Guide
I’m a big fan of walking tours as I truly believe they are the best way to get to know a city and learn facts and interesting tidbits you can’t find anywhere else. Anchorage has a great walking tour hosted by rangers at the Alaska Public Lands Information Center. This 45-minute walking tour centers around downtown Anchorage and includes the history of Alaska and the city’s public spaces, state lands, and area national parks.
Another low-cost and enjoyable way to learn about Anchorage is through Anchorage Trolley Tours — a scenic 15-mile tour around the city led by knowledgeable Anchorage-based guides.
Pro Tip: The Anchorage Trolley Tour is an added cost-saving bonus as each tour also comes with $200 worth of savings in a coupon book that includes over 40 businesses within walking distance of the trolley stop.
5. Alaska History And Indigenous Culture
Museum lovers can spend days exploring the numerous museums and centers around Anchorage that delve deep into the city’s Russian, native, gold rush, and pioneering histories. From the Anchorage Museum and Anchorage Botanical Garden to the Alaska Aviation Museum and the Alaska Museum of Science & Nature, you can find fascinating art, information, history, and more within the city.
My favorite was the Alaska Native Heritage Center, which includes a detailed museum, visitors center, and interpretive trails covering Alaska’s 11 major cultures. The Alaska Native experience continues through stories, dance exhibitions, and more.
Pro Tip: Many museums have free and discounted admission days. For instance, the Anchorage Museum offers free admission from 6–9 p.m. on the first Friday of the month, while the Alaska Aviation Museum has discounted admission for first responders, military members, and seniors.
Day Trips On A Dollar
If you want to leave the city to explore the surrounding scenery, Girdwood is the perfect day trip escape. When you get to Girdwood, take the Alyeska Aerial Tram from the Alyeska Resort and Alyeska Nordic Spa all the way to the top of Mount Alyeska.
Starting at just $119, you can spend all day enjoying the benefits of the outdoor pools, saunas, steam rooms, and exfoliation cabin at Alaska’s newest spa.
Girdwood itself is a gem of a resort town with plenty of activities to make the 40-minute drive from Anchorage along the Seward Highway worth it. Activities like skiing, snowboarding, snow machining (snowmobiling), nordic skiing, dog mushing, and more are available in winter with hiking, rafting, and biking plentiful in summer.
The shopping and dining scene in Girdwood is spectacular with boutique shops and restaurants like Jack Sprat Restaurant, Sakura Asian Bistro, and the Mardi-Gras-themed Double Musky Inn.
Pro Tip: Opening in July, the new Veilbreaker Skybridges at Alyeska Resort will take you to new heights. After you put on your safety harness, you can walk across two sky bridges 2,500 feet above the valley floor.
Eat Like A Local In Anchorage
The Jack Sprat Restaurant’s Sweet Cheek is a signature dish featuring pan-seared halibut cheeks, organic black-eyed peas, and collard greens with a tasso ham vinaigrette. But it’s the Big Jack half-pound wagyu beef burger (which comes with an Impossible Burger version) that will really fill you up after a day outdoors.
The top choice at Sakura Asian Bistro would have to be the bento box, which comes with the chef’s selection of Alaska meat and seafood.
If the Double Musky Inn is your choice, opt for the shrimp and sausage jambalaya, which is served hot, hot, hot to warm you up after a day of fun in the snow.
A bucket list trip to Alaska doesn’t have to break the bank. These budget-friendly experiences in Anchorage are enough to give you the full taste of the best that Alaska has to offer.