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 short ride to a year-round dog-sledding adventure on a glacier. 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: Either stop by the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where you can see large animals like bison, elk and moose in natural habitat, or play the links on one of the Anchorage-area golf courses, where summer tee times can run as late as midnight.
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 sightseeing and wildlife watching 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 and 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 at Rasmuson Center; 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 and 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 where almost the entire town lives in one building, and the only land route to get there is 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.