9 Things to Do in Anchorage
Alaska’s largest city is tucked between towering mountains and a bright blue inlet. Travelers might be surprised to see Anchorage’s multi-story buildings and bustling downtown, but they’ll still get to witness wild Alaska.
1. Experience Alaska Native Culture
Alaska is home to a broad range of Alaska Native cultures, and Anchorage is the perfect place to experience and learn about them all. At the Alaska Native Heritage Center, gain an understanding of the many traditions, languages, and contemporary perspectives from every region of the state. Attend live demonstrations and performances, find crafts, and explore one-of-a-kind works of art. Visitors can experience all 11 of the state’s major Alaska Native cultures and even stroll through six authentic, life-sized dwellings unique to the area’s indigenous cultures. Each dwelling has artifacts used in daily life and a culture representative to answer questions.
For more indigenous art and culture, visit the Anchorage Museum. Included in the museum’s impressive collection are more than 600 Alaska Native artifacts on loan from the Smithsonian and an exhibit that plays the sounds of the Arctic so visitors can fully immerse themselves in the experience.
2. Hike Urban & Mountain Trails
Hikers of every skill level will find a trail to enjoy in Anchorage. There are 135 miles of paved multi-use trails in the city close enough to be easily accessible but scenic enough to forget that you’re in Alaska’s largest city. Anchorage’s trails are also for more than just walking. In the summer, many people enjoy the trail system for running, biking, and rollerblading. In the winter, trails are used for cross-country skiing, skijoring, snowshoeing, and dog mushing.
Of course, trails stretch well beyond the bounds of the city. An additional 300 miles of hiking trails spread out over Chugach State Park. From short walks with incredible views to multi-day treks through the mountains, hikers will find endless opportunities from Anchorage.
3. Get A Taste of Alaska
In a place with such bountiful seafood and fresh produce, it’s no surprise that Anchorage draws some great chefs. Many restaurants in Anchorage feature local ingredients—there’s nothing like fresh-caught salmon or tender reindeer sausage. Often, local restaurants will feature special dishes when they have access to seasonal local ingredients, so always ask—it’s the best way to get true, local flavors.
A trip to Anchorage restaurants isn’t the only way to show those taste buds the flavor of Alaska. More than a dozen breweries operate in the municipality and many of them experiment with Alaska flavors, especially in summer. If there is anything on the tap list featuring spruce tips, rhubarb, or blueberries, there’s a good chance the ingredients were sourced locally. Alaska’s brewers craft their beer with the glacial water that runs through the state.
4. Cast a Line
Good fishing is an arm’s reach away in Anchorage. It’s so close that locals can cast a line or two on their lunch break. Ship Creek is a bustling salmon hot spot in the summer months, located right in the middle of the city. Just steps from downtown’s most popular shopping and dining establishments, the creek sees king and silver salmon runs.
In other streams and lakes nearby, there are even more opportunities. Land your limit of salmon, trout, grayling, and many other species. Fishing licenses can be purchased online or at many of the city’s convenience stores, and many bait and tackle shops rent everything from waders to rods. Once travelers are satisfied with their catch, local processors will package and even mail it home for them.
5. Explore Alaska by Air
Aviation is big in Alaska, and Anchorage is home to many of the state’s pilots and planes. From Merrill Field, a downtown Anchorage airfield, and Lake Hood, the busiest seaplane base in the world, sightseeing flights are ideal for a scenic day trip from town.
Leave from Anchorage on a flightseeing tour in a small plane or helicopter to circle Denali National Park and Preserve, explore glaciers, and head to iconic bear viewing spots across Cook Inlet. Flightseeing excursions can help visitors check the most off their Alaska bucket list, and for many people, it’s an exciting way to experience the long history and importance of the aviation industry in Alaska.
If time doesn’t allow for a flightseeing tour, visitors can still experience Alaska’s aviation industry. Visit the Alaska Aviation Museum or head to Lake Hood to watch floatplanes navigate take-off and land right on the water.
6. Tour Ancient Glaciers
With many accessible glaciers just outside of Anchorage, it is an excellent place to experience Alaska’s frozen marvels. Experienced guides can help travelers have safe adventures exploring the rivers of ice.
Take an afternoon flight to see the glaciers from above—some flights even include glacier landings so you can get out and walk around on the ice.
Day cruises to Portage Glacier or around Prince William Sound get up close and personal with tidewater glaciers. Lucky visitors may get to experience calving, where giant chunks of glacier ice break off and crash into the water.
For a more extreme adventure complete with glacier trekking and ice-cave exploration, visitors can join a guided trip where guides will lead them around nearby glaciers. Guided hikes are designed for a variety of skill levels.
7. Hit the Rails
One of the Alaska Railroad’s main passenger depots is located in Anchorage and runs from Seward to Fairbanks. Anchorage has a long history with the railroad; in fact, it is still at the heart of many excursions.
In the summer, daily train service links Anchorage to the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop, Whittier, Seward, Talkeetna, Denali National Park and Preserve and Fairbanks. Thanks to many railroad excursions, visitors can set up base in Anchorage and see much of the state without even renting a car. Climb aboard the Alaska Railroad for day excursions or multi-day stays in some of the top destinations in the state. No matter the destination, a ride on the rails is sure to be accompanied by spectacular views to sit back and enjoy without worrying about maps or watching the road.
8. Ski the Day Away
In the winter, Anchorage transforms into a snowy playground for skiers and snowboarders. High mountaintops rising from sea level make for not only great snow conditions but also incredible ocean and tidal views.
During the spring, increased hours of sunlight allow for more hours of fun. Alpine skiers can choose from at five ski areas within an hour of town (Hilltop Ski Area, Arctic Valley, Alyeska Resort, Hillberg Ski Area, and Skeetawk). In addition, there are plenty of opportunities for backcountry and heli-skiing. Embark from Anchorage on an adventure to untouched powder and some of the most accessible backcountry skiing in North America.
The trail systems in and around Anchorage are also great for cross country skiing, a great alternative to walking or hiking in the winter. With more than 100 miles of maintained ski trails to explore, travelers can ski every day of their visit and see something new. Some cross country ski trails are lit up at night so skiers can hit the trails after dark.
9. View the Bore Tide
Rising up to 6-feet tall, the bore tide wave rolls down Turnagain Arm south of town. Formed by the area’s unique geography and extreme tides, the Cook Inlet bore tide has the second-largest tidal range in the world. This natural phenomenon draws plenty of onlookers and even a few local surfers who can ride the wave for miles. Checking a tide chart will tell visitors the best days and times to catch the wave.
For ultimate viewing choose a turnout along the Seward Highway in the hours after low tide. The tide travels at about 10–15 miles per hour, so watch it pass by and head to the next point on the road to watch it again! After the wave, stick around for the wildlife viewing opportunities. About a half-hour after the water begins to rise, beluga whales can be spotted as they follow the fish up Turnagain Arm.
Alaska: AKA Your Next Adventure
Where will your Alaska adventure take you? Order our Official State of Alaska Vacation Planner and plot your course.