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Cyclists in Anchorage, Alaska
Photo Credit: ATIA, Chris Arend
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Destination Anchorage

Destination Anchorage

Alaska’s largest city is a vibrant, eclectic metropolis with a frontier spirit, located in the heart of great wilderness. Most adventures start from the doorstep of your downtown hotel or from the Downtown Log Cabin Visitor Information Center at Fourth Avenue and E Street.

Day 1: Downtown Trails and Shops

Welcome to Anchorage! Once you’ve checked in to your hotel, rent a bike and spend a few hours exploring the 11-mile Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, which hugs Anchorage’s coastline all the way to heavily wooded Kincaid Park. (Kincaid Park also happens to be one of the best places in town to see a wild moose.) After you return downtown, feast on wild Alaska salmon or king crab in a local restaurant, browse the downtown gift shops (there is no sales tax in Anchorage), and cap the night off with a horse-drawn carriage ride or one of several walking tours.

Day 2: Girdwood

Rent a car and make the scenic, hour-long drive along the Seward Highway from Anchorage to the tiny ski town of Girdwood. This stretch of road is a nationally designated Scenic Byway, with snow-capped mountains on one side and the glistening water of Turnagain Arm on the other. From Girdwood, you can board a helicopter for a dog sledding tour on a glacier or take a kennel tour and dog sled ride from town. Before you leave, enjoy lunch in one of Girdwood’s excellent cafes or restaurants and hike or ride a tram to the top of Mount Alyeska.

As you head back to Anchorage, you have two choices: take a slight detour to visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where you can see large animals like bears, wolves, and moose, or stop by the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge to view birds, fish, and sometimes moose from a raised platform over Potter Marsh.

Day 3: A Train Adventure

Board one of the Alaska Railroad’s passenger trains from the historic depot in downtown Anchorage. Two of your most popular options include the Coastal Classic, which takes you all the way to the small port town of Seward with enough time for a glacier and wildlife cruise before you head back, or the Glacier Discovery train, which takes you to the shores of the lake surrounding remote Spencer Glacier.

Day 4: Museums & Hiking

Visit Anchorage’s biggest cultural attractions. Start with a free shuttle ride from the downtown visitor center to the Alaska Native Heritage Center, where you can tour through life-size re-creations of traditional villages, watch performances of Alaska Native music and dancing, and see demonstrations of traditional crafts. The free shuttle will also take you back downtown to the Anchorage Museum; make sure you visit the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center. Cap off your day with a hike up Flattop mountain, the state’s most climbed peak; the trailhead is just 20 minutes away from downtown via shuttle service or rental car.

Day 5: Denali & Eklutna

Take to the skies in a flightseeing adventure that’ll have you circling near 20,310' Denali in about an hour. Some flights include a glacier landing, a stop at a remote backcountry lake, or a visit to the quirky climbing town of Talkeetna, one of the best places for taking photos of Denali.

Once you get back to town, rent a car and make the half-hour drive north to Eklutna Historical Park, where you can see a Russian Orthodox church that dates back to the early 1800s and the colorful, unusual spirit houses built as refuges for those who’ve passed on. If you still have energy, drive another half-hour to blue-green Eklutna Lake, where guided tours include ATV rides, kayaking, and bicycle trips around the lake.

Day 6: Portage

For your last adventure near Anchorage, you’re going to need a rental car. You have two destinations to choose from, each about an hour’s drive to the south: you could go to Whittier, the quirky little port town where almost the entire town lives in one building, and the only land route to get there is through a 2.5-mile, single-lane tunnel. Or you can skip the tunnel and drive to Portage Valley and its Begich, Boggs Visitor Center, where you can learn about glaciers and take a narrated lake cruise that offers excellent views of nearby Portage Glacier. Once back in Anchorage you can spend the evening shopping for last-minute gifts, or settle in for a relaxing night before heading back home the next day.

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