Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, lies between the Chugach Mountains and Cook Inlet. Anchorage is more urban that any other place in Alaska, but it’s also just as wild.
About Anchorage (Dena'ina Athabascan: Dgheyaytnu; Dgheyay Kaq')
Among the northernmost cities on Earth, Anchorage is a place with big-city amenities: fine restaurants, museums, shops, theaters, and an excellent music scene. It is also home to Alaska’s largest college, the University of Alaska Anchorage. Creating the backdrop are the salmon-rich waters of Cook Inlet and the 5,000-foot-plus peaks of Chugach State Park. Within a short drive from downtown are dozens of wilderness adventures, and a short plane ride opens up the possibility of almost any type adventure - that’s one reason why Anchorage’s Lake Hood is the world’s busiest floatplane base. Anchorage’s more than 290,000 residents embrace both the urban amenities and the surrounding wilderness.
Anchorage enjoys a relatively mild climate by Alaska standards, with summer temperatures in the mid-60s to low-70s, and winter temperatures in the 10s and 20s. Like the rest of Alaska, summer days are long in Anchorage, with 22 hours of sunlight on Summer Solstice on June 21. The shortest day of the year is Winter Solstice on December 21, with 5.5 hours of daylight. It’s best to bring plenty of layers as weather conditions can change in Anchorage very quickly. Anchorage is in the Alaska Time Zone (1 hour behind Pacific Time Zone, 2 hours behind Mountain, 3 hours behind Central, and 4 hours behind Eastern) and observes Daylight Savings.
Things to do
Warmed by a maritime climate, you can spend the day fishing Ship Creek downtown, hiking the nearby mountains, photographing glaciers, and dining at a four-star restaurant. Anchorage is a top destination in both summer and winter, with activities, festivals, tours, and amenities available year-round.
Parks & Outdoor Recreation
Anchorage offers endless opportunities for outdoor recreation right in town including hiking, road biking, mountain biking, walking and running, water sports, and so much more. Anchorage features 223 municipal parks and 122 miles of paved trails, including the popular Coastal Trail which stretches 11 miles along the Cook Inlet from downtown to Kincaid Park.
Kincaid Park is a popular year-round hiking and biking destination, with 40 miles of hiking trails and 20 miles of singletrack trails woven through 1,400 acres. The rolling terrain of forested hills features views of Mt Susitna, Denali on a clear days, and fiery sunsets in the evening. Moose, black bears, lynx, eagles, and ptarmigan can be seen in the park. In the winter, many trails are groomed and lighted for cross-country skiing, and fat tire bikers cruise through the singletrack trails.
The Alaska Public Lands Information Center is the place to head for information and maps on hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, camping, renting a wilderness cabin, or just about anything else you might want to do outdoors in Alaska. There are also excellent wildlife displays, free movies, fun dioramas, and a daily guided Captain Cook walk to Resolution Park, covering the sea captain's travels in Alaska.
Bordering much of the city is Chugach State Park, a 495,000 acre wilderness area and the fourth largest state park in the United States. With over 280 miles of trails, the park offers hiking, backpacking, and biking opportunities for people of all skill levels, with many trailheads accessible from downtown Anchorage in 30 minutes or less. Popular trails include Crow Pass, Bird Ridge, Thunderbird Falls, Turnagain Arm Trail, and Flattop Mountain – Anchorage’s most popular hike.
Located 12 miles southwest of Anchorage, Potter Marsh, also known as Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, is Anchorage's best destination for birding. A boardwalk trail leads visitors through the marsh to view ducks, songbirds, grebes, swans, gulls, and sometimes moose.
Located on the west side of Anchorage, the area that is now Earthquake Park was devastated during the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake. Today, visitors can see evidence of tectonic upheaval at this scenic park through interpretive displays that tell the story of what Anchorage went through on that ill-fated day. Earthquake Park is located along the popular Coastal Trail.
Far North Bicentennial Park is like a slice of wilderness in the middle of Anchorage. The 4,000-acre preserve includes forest, muskeg, and 20 miles of trails. During the summer the streams are full of spawning salmon. Visitors often see moose and bears in the spring and summer and brilliant fall colors in the fall.
Alaska Botanical Garden is a colorful showcase for native plant species. Gentle paths lead visitors through groomed herb, rock, and perennial gardens in a wooded setting. The mile-long Lowenfels Family Nature Trail is designed to teach visitors about native Alaska plants.
Recently renovated to the tune of $75 million, the Anchorage Museum is Alaska's largest museum. This world-class museum tells the story of Alaska, past and present - a multifaceted story that weaves together social, political, cultural, scientific, historic, and artistic threads. Popular permanent exhibitions and programs include an Alaska Native art collection from the Smithsonian Institute, the Art of the North Gallery, Planetarium, and the interactive Discovery Center.
The Alaska Native Heritage Center is a 26-acre complex that invites visitors to experience Alaska Native culture. The main cultural center includes exhibits on traditional arts and culture as well live performances of song, storytelling, and dance. Outside, around a picturesque lake, is a village of typical structures from the Aleut, Yupik, Tlingit, and other tribes from Alaska. Visitors can watch artists practice their traditional ivory carving and beadwork skills.
On the south shore of Lake Hood, the world's busiest floatplane lake, is the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum. The museum serves as a tribute to Alaska's famous bush pilots and is home to 25 planes along with historic photos and displays of pilots' achievements, from the first flight to Fairbanks (1913) to the early history of Alaska Airlines. You can view early footage of bush planes in the museum's theater or step outside to its large observation deck and watch bush pilots take off with a roar on Lake Hood.
Oscar Anderson was the 18th person to set foot in Anchorage and built his house in 1915. Today, his home is the city's oldest wooden-framed house and has been preserved as the Oscar Anderson Home. Overlooking the delightful Elderberry Park, the museum is open June to mid-September.
From mid- to late summer, king, coho, and pink salmon spawn up Ship Creek, the historical site of Tanaina fish camps. Located just below downtown, Ship Creek is the best place in town for some urban fishing, with several local outfitters providing all the gear that you’ll need to reel in a big one. If you’d rather just take in the sites, the Ship Creek Salmon Viewing Platform is the best place to witness the spawning salmon.
The unique wildlife of the Arctic is on display at the Alaska Zoo, the only zoo in North America that specializes in northern animals. The zoo focuses on native Alaska species, including wolves, wolverines, moose, caribou, and Dall sheep. The most popular species with visitors, naturally, are bears. The Alaska Zoo is home to three bear species: brown, black, and polar. The zoo works with the Department of Fish and Game and US Fish and Wildlife Service to rescue and rehabilitate orphaned and injured Alaskan animals.
A wide range of flightseeing tours are available in Anchorage, each offering an eagle-eye view of the wilderness, glaciers, and mountains that lie outside the city. Many head to Prince William Sound for tours of Blackstone Glacier or even Columbia Glacier. Others head north towards Knik Glacier or Denali.
Anchorage Fur Rendezvous, or simply "Rondy," as most locals call it, is one of the best winter festivals in Alaska. Participants sculpt ice, ride the Ferris wheel in freezing temperatures, take part in the entertaining Outhouse Race, and watch the Running of the Reindeer through downtown Anchorage. Following the two-week Fur Rendezvous is the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, where dog teams depart from downtown Anchorage.
The summer’s biggest festival is the Summer Solstice Festival held on the weekend closest to the longest day of the year. This family-friendly festival takes over downtown Anchorage with live music, food, family activities, food trucks, and a beer garden.
Downtown Anchorage hosts free events throughout the summer including the Live After Five Concert Series, Music in the Park, and Movie in the Park.
In winter, the city transforms into fluffy white playground, with 100 miles of maintained Nordic ski trails, dog sledding, ice skating, snowmobiling, ice sculptures, and more.
Popular areas for cross country skiing include the groomed trails at Kincaid Park and Hillside Park, part of the Far North Bicentennial Park system. Many trails are lighted in the winter so you can get out and enjoy skiing even on the shortest winter days.
For downhill skiing and snowboarding, Hilltop Ski Area is right at the edge of town with 30 acres of groomed and lighted terrain for all skill levels. Just 45 minutes away is Alaska’s premier ski resort, Alyeska Resort, with over 1,600 skiable acres, 76 named trails, and over 669” of annual snowfall. In addition to skiing, the resort offers accommodations, several restaurants, an ice skating pond, and a Nordic spa.
Locals and visitors alike enjoy ice skating at Westchester Lagoon, near downtown Anchorage. When the ice gets thick enough, the city mops an ice skating route that winds around the lagoon's islands. This festive winter activity, often complete with burn barrels and hot chocolate to keep warm, is a family favorite.
Staying & Dining in Anchorage
There’s no shortage of places to stay in Anchorage, from locally-owned hotels with Alaska charm, boutique hotels, large national hotels, vacation rentals, bed & breakfasts, hostels, cabins, RV parks, and campgrounds. There’s also no shortage of places to eat and drink. The Anchorage dining scene is exciting and diverse, often featuring local fare like seafood and Alaska grown produce. You’ll find fare for every taste, from fine dining to casual food trucks. The local brewery scene is also thriving, with dozens of breweries throughout the city, plus local producers of spirits, mead, and cider.
Getting here and around
Anchorage technically stretches across 1,955 square miles, from the Alaska Native village of Eklutna all the way to Portage Glacier south of town. Anchorage’s Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is the state’s main air hub, and it’s no stretch to say all roads (in Alaska anyway) lead to Anchorage. Paved highways accessible from Anchorage connect to places like Fairbanks, Valdez, the Kenai Peninsula, Denali National Park and Preserve, and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. Multiple car rental and RV rental companies are available in Anchorage if you’re interested in exploring the road system yourself.
The Alaska Railroad’s main passenger depot is located in Anchorage and runs south to Seward and north to Fairbanks. Some cruise itineraries that cross the Gulf of Alaska end in Anchorage, giving passengers a convenient location to disembark and fly home, or continue their journey on a land-based tour via train or motorcoach.
The area surrounding Knik Arm is the traditional land of the Dena'ina Athebascan peoples. The City of Anchorage wasn’t officially founded until 1915, even though British explorer Captain James Cook sailed past the site in 1779, and gold prospectors discovered the bounty of Ship Creek in the late 1800s. It wasn’t until the Alaska Railroad set up a construction camp in 1915 that Anchorage was established and became a booming tent city of 2,000 people.
Anchorage proved to be the ideal center for Alaska's rail, air, and highway systems with the military build-up of World War II and the discovery of oil in Cook Inlet in the 1950s, adding to its steady growth. After the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, the city was rebuilding itself when another opportunity arose: the discovery of a $10 billion oil reserve in Prudhoe Bay. Though the Trans-Alaska Pipeline doesn't come within 185 miles of Anchorage, the city became the headquarters of various petroleum and service companies.