Anchorage may be Alaska’s largest city, but it’s also the gateway to some of the world’s best wilderness adventures. Take advantage of Anchorage’s “big city” amenities by using it as a base camp for exotic day trips in this seven-day itinerary through Southcentral Alaska.
Day 1 Anchorage
Get to know downtown Anchorage with a ranger-led walking tour, starting from the front steps of the Alaska Public Lands Information Center. Once the tour’s over, stroll 4th and 5th Avenues—the main downtown corridors, dotted with statues, gift shops, galleries, and a few colorful bars—and try a reindeer hot dog, Alaska’s most popular street food, from one of the street vendors. Next, learn about how small “bush” planes shaped Alaska’s history with a stop by Lake Hood, the world’s busiest seaplane base, and the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum.
Finally, take a free shuttle bus to the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center and the Alaska Native Heritage Center, where you can learn about Alaska’s eleven distinct indigenous cultures. Cap off the day by enjoying local brews and fresh-caught seafood in one of Anchorage’s excellent restaurants.
Day 2 Flightseeing
Capture Alaska’s magnificence on an all-day flightseeing tour out of Anchorage. Your many options include bear-viewing at Katmai National Park or Lake Clark National Park, landing on a glacier for an ice-climbing or dog mushing adventure, finding a remote fishing spot, or even circling massive 20,310’ Denali, North America’s highest peak.
Day 3 Girdwood
Enjoy a relaxed breakfast in one of Anchorage’s excellent cafes, then rent a car and make the hour-long drive down the Seward Highway, a National Scenic Byway that traces the shoreline of Turnagain Arm, to Portage. Follow signs for the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center, where you can learn about glaciers and the ecology of this area before boarding a narrated, one-hour cruise to the glistening blue face of Portage Glacier. Next, retrace your route just one-tenth of a mile for a visit to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a wildlife rehabilitation facility where you can see moose, elk, bison, brown bears, black bears, and other wildlife in natural habitats. End the day with a visit to Girdwood, a funky, friendly ski town that overlooks Turnagain Arm.
Day 4 Girdwood to Anchorage
Wake up in Girdwood, a world-class ski destination by winter that offers lots of hiking and mountain biking terrain by summer. One of the town’s most striking attractions is a pay-per-ride aerial tram that takes you to the top of Mount Alyeska, where you can see seven hanging glaciers, watch daredevil paragliders launching themselves off the mountain, and even grab a quick lunch. Hire a guide for one of the many day tours available from Girdwood; the most popular options include naturalist-guided day hikes, ATV trail rides, helicopter rides to a nearby glacier for a dog sled adventure, or you can join the paragliders for a tandem flight with an instructor. End the day by exploring the Crow Creek Mine, an original mining camp dating back to the 1890s, then making the leisurely, 45-minute drive back to Anchorage. Keep an eye out for white beluga whales in the water; they often chase salmon, hooligan and other fish up the inlet.
Day 5 Seward
Board one of the Alaska Railroad’s passenger trains for a scenic day trip. Your choices are to visit the small port town of Seward, where you can take a day cruise into Kenai Fjords National Park or a combination kayaking/hiking trip to the ruins of a World War II fort in Caines Head State Recreation Area, or a trip to the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop, where you can paddle among the glacier’s cast-off icebergs, then float down the fun, splashy Placer River to be picked back up by the train, which then takes you back to Anchorage.
Day 6 Hatcher Pass or Matanuska Glacier
If you haven’t had your fill of glaciers yet, drive two hours northeast of Anchorage to the Matanuska Glacier, where guides will take you trekking or ice climbing on the glacier. For a more laid-back adventure, make the scenic, hour-and-a-half drive north to Hatcher Pass. During the summer you can drive right up to the top of the pass, where you’re surrounded by rolling, tundra-clad mountain peaks and great views over the expansive land of the Mat-Su Valley. On your way back down from the pass, stop and explore the historic buildings of Independence Mine State Historical Park. Make sure you drive back through the agriculture community of Palmer, where you can get up close and personal with the animals on family-owned reindeer or musk ox farms. Once you get back to Anchorage, celebrate your last night in town by catching a local theater production or live music.
Day 7 Anchorage and Home
Come morning, it’s time to shop Anchorage’s many excellent, sales-tax-free art galleries and gift shops for any last-minute gifts, then start your way home. If you’re here on a weekend, make sure to stop by the Anchorage Downtown Market, where every Saturday and Sunday during the summer, a large parking area is transformed into the state’s biggest open-air market.