A Local's Guide to Adventure in the Anchorage Area
Roman Dial has packrafted throughout Alaska and the world. He has published articles and photos in National Geographic, Smithsonian, Outside, and Alaska Magazines and the Patagonia catalog, among others, and has been featured on the Discovery Channel and PBS. He is a professor of environmental science, mathematics, and outdoor studies at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage. Learn more about Roman Dial.
After my first winter as a college freshman in Alaska, I nearly left the state, never to return. But after a summer spent climbing mountains, working at canneries, and hitching the empty highways, I realized I had to stay.
That was more than 40 years ago. Through the late 1970s, ‘80s, and most of the ‘90s, I pursued a near obsession with the Alaska wilderness, while simultaneously nurturing an academic intrigue with ecology. I scaled rock and ice, skied glaciers, and paddled rivers. I studied for four degrees, two in mathematics (bachelor’s and master’s degrees) and two in biology (a bachelor’s and a doctorate). I learned to packraft, "hellbike," and glacier skate. I learned to integrate, analyze, and communicate. Magazines and newspapers ran my hyperbole and exploits; peer-reviewed journals published my theory and data. For me, the wild side feeds emotion and spirit; the analytic side feeds intellect and family.
Here are a few of my favorite things to do in Anchorage.
Bear Tooth TheatrePub
Bear Tooth TheatrePub is the perfect place to grab a quick brew, meet with friends, and catch a flick. The name comes from Bear Tooth Peak in the Alaska Range near Denali. The pub features a wide variety of microbrews; my favorite is the Fairweather IPA. The concession counter is a full-service kitchen featuring gourmet pizza, burritos, tacos, salads, and desserts. Food is made to order and delivered to your table in the theater. Depending on your mood, view a second-run contemporary, independent, foreign, or classic film for only $3. (The menu is reasonably priced too.)
The sport of packrafting is similar to other forms of rafting, but it uses a portable "packraft": small and light enough (five pounds or so) that you can personally carry it. A quick and relatively safe route for beginners in the Anchorage area is a run on the Eagle River aptly named "Bridge-to-Bridge." Only a short drive from Anchorage, this 45-minute float takes you through the silt-laden waters of the Eagle River with picturesque views of the rugged peaks of the Chugach Range.
To get to the put-in, take the Glenn Highway north, and exit at Eagle River Loop Road. Drive approximately two miles, and take a right just before the bridge. The take-out is at the Eagle River Campground. At mile 8.8 on the river, there is a warning sign and portage trail to the campground. A note of caution: While this section of the river is classified as Class I-II "splashy" whitewater, there is one Class III section known as "Campground Rapids" below the warning signs. Adventurers are encouraged to be familiar with swift-water rescue or travel with someone who knows the route. Packrafts can be rented from Raft and Ride, which includes your raft, four-part paddle, and a personal flotation device.
In the summer, Alpenglow Ski Resort and Recreation Area becomes a great place for hiking. Just 10 miles from downtown Anchorage in Chugach State Park, Arctic Valley Alpenglow offers a network of trails with varying degrees of difficulty and views of Anchorage and nearby Eagle River. The entire valley is filled with ripe berry bushes in the late summer and early fall. Pick wild blueberries, blackberries, and crowberries along the trails. Hikers should be on the lookout for bears though. Carry bear spray and make noise along the trail.
Ship Creek is one of the few places you can fish for king salmon in the middle of a metropolis. It's very well known and very accessible. It's also one of the few non-glacial salmon streams in the area. The half-mile stretch, from the Knik Arm of the Cook Inlet to the demarcation cable just below the dam at the Chugach Power Plant, makes the creek very easy to learn. You can also walk and bike along the creek on a 2.6-mile paved path that starts near the Alaska Railroad depot and winds with the creek to Tyson Elementary School in Mountain View. You can walk to Ship Creek from downtown or park near First Avenue.
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