Situated on the shores of the Cook Inlet with breath-taking mountain views is Alaska’s biggest city, Anchorage. Most passenger flights into Alaska arrive at the Ted Stevens International Airport. From there it’s easy to travel onto anywhere in Alaska.
Take the trolley
But this great city holds a boatload of things to do and places to see before heading out. You’re going to want to start at the Log Cabin Visitor Information Center. After going inside and talking with their friendly staff, ask about the Anchorage Trolley Tour that picks up at their doorstep. If you’re lucky you’ll get Jody Best as your guide, who is a 3rd generation Alaskan. Jody will fill you in on the history of Anchorage as the trolley covers most of the highlights in this far northern city.
The trolley takes passengers on a 15 mile/24.14 km ride seeing places like Earthquake Park. Jody explains this massive earthquake on Good Friday, 1964 that registered 8.6 on the Richter Scale but was later revised to 9.2! The ground moved like waves on the ocean in some places and shook residents for over four full minutes. Also seen on the tour is the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. The 11 mile/17 km bike and walking path is said to be one of the best urban trails in North America. One of the best parts of the trolley tour is Lake Hood. This is the busiest floatplane base in the world and up to 700 takeoffs and landings can be seen here in the summer. After the tour take the coupon book they give you, with over 200 USD in savings around town, for food and shopping.
By foot or bicycle
Not far from the Log Cabin Visitor Information Center is the 49th State Brewing Company. This three-story building offers excellent views. On clear days Mount McKinley/Denali can be seen from the rooftop dining area. The beer and food are excellent. Try the local king salmon that they blacken and serve atop a salad or halibut fish and chips. They also serve yak, which is raised in Alaska, on a slider. Pizza, burgers, and of course beer are offered as well.
Anchorage is a pedestrian-friendly town. If you stay in the downtown area, take a walk through Delaney Park. This park was once a bush plane landing strip but now is filled with activities all summer long. Delaney Park is a great place for Frisbee tossing, picnicking, or just a stroll on a long warm day in summer. Take time to see the war memorial and civil rights memorial in the park if you have time. On Tuesdays in the summer, next to the DHHS building, check out the food truck gathering just across from Delaney Park. Live music and good food await those who stop by.
Plenty of activities
If you are in town during fishing season, try your luck at Ship Creek right near the center of the city. King salmon run this creek in May and June then silver salmon show up in August. A fishing license is needed and rates vary depending on how many days you want to fish.
Several bush plane operators fly scenic flights out of Anchorage’s Lake Hood. Rust’s Flying Service is one of the oldest and most trusted and offers bear viewing, fly-out fishing trips, and glacier scenic flights to name a few. A flight over the Knik Glacier gives passengers a close-up view of this majestic river of ice. On a typical flight, bear, moose, and Dall sheep are seen in their natural habitat. A float plane trip is a highlight for most visitors to Alaska and something you’ll never forget.
Right next to Rust’s Flying Service is the Alaska Aviation Museum. Don’t miss this museum where bush pilot history comes alive. See several bush planes and climb the old Lake Hood control tower to view float planes taking off and landing right in front of you. Admission is 15 USD for adults, 8 USD for children 5–17 and only 40 USD for families with up to 2 adults and 3 children. They also have a hands-on flight simulator, fun for all ages, which is included in the price of admission.
Take the train north or south
Anchorage is also a place where you can take the Alaskan Railroad north to Denali or Fairbanks. The train station near downtown is where many tourist take excursion trains from. In front of the station is the first engine the railroad used and is a good photo op. Each day in the summer, hop aboard the Denali Star for a ride to the most recognized feature in Alaska, Mt. McKinley/Denali. On clear days, the ride offers spectacular views of Alaska’s most famous mountain. The Alaska Railroad also has a southern route to Seward and Whittier where passengers can disembark for day cruises at either the Kenai Fjords National Park or Prince William Sound.
Anchorage is a modern city and has most of the shopping outlets you would find in the lower 48 states. If your trip will continue out of Anchorage into the bush, stock up on provisions at Costco (membership needed), Fred Meyer’s, or other big name stores. For outdoor gear, there’s a Sportsman’s Warehouse, 6th Avenue Outfitters, Cabela’s, or Alaska Adventure Gear to set you up properly. Several gift shops are in the downtown area to buy specialties like qiviut (musk ox fur), ulu knives, wild berry jams, and other Alaskan items to take home.
On the south side of Anchorage is Potter’s Marsh. Take a hike here on the raised boardwalk and view several types of waterfowl. This is a mostly flat and easy hike for all abilities, and is even wheelchair friendly. Within just a few minutes outside of Anchorage, find trails like Flattop Mountain, Crow Pass, or Bird Ridge for those hikers in good shape that want a calorie burning workout with a view.
Give it a day or two
If you give Anchorage a day or two before shoving off to points beyond, I think you’ll find it worthwhile. It would be a shame to only see it on your flight into Alaska.
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