Alaska is known as The Last Frontier.
Are you wondering how to experience the real Alaska, but you don’t know how to go about it or you don’t want to spend a fortune with an expensive Cruise Tour?
We can help you out.
We have put together the Best Tips to help you plan how to make the most of your precious time in Alaska. We’ll show you how you can inexpensively see a lot of what has to offer from Anchorage. We even have tips to Help You Choose Your Alaska Cruise, plus Budget Tips which will save you money – you don’t have to take an expensive tour.
Anchorage is the one place where you can see it all in one place – glaciers, wildlife, mountains, culture and history. Cross it all off your life-list by visiting Anchorage.
We’ll show you how to use Anchorage as a handy base and gateway for your Alaska Adventure, keep reading to learn more.
Are you planning a cruise around the inside passage or panhandle area of Alaska? Before you book your cruise check out How can I see as much of Alaska as possible on my Alaskan Cruise.
Most of the cruise ships stop at the same places. Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan are all located in the panhandle and it can get pretty crowded during cruise season. Did you know that Juneau will see over a million visitors between April and October and that there will be at least one ship docked there almost every day?
Hmmm, I’m guessing that you’re looking forward to visiting a remote, quiet Alaskan town and that your dream does not include arriving with upwards of 2,000 other people.
We’re not saying don’t take a cruise because cruises are great, but if you want to see more than the crowded cruise strip, let us help you with some additional options to see the real Alaska.
As you can see on the map, Anchorage is very well placed in the southern area of Alaska for accessing the Denali National Park and the Kenai Fjords, but did you know that Anchorage has 2 of the best glaciers in Alaska that you can drive right up to and hike around, so you don’t need to take an expensive boat trip? We’ll also tell you how to get to a spectacular glacier by The Alaska Railroad, hike the trails around the glacier and kayak through icebergs.
If you are taking a north – south Cross Gulf Alaska cruise, then you will start or finish in either Seward or Whittier. From either or these ports you can ride the famous Alaska Railroad, which has domed ceilings to enjoy the panoramic views just like the Canadian Rocky Mountaineer. Ride the rail to Anchorage and if you wish, venture further north into the wilderness of the Alaskan interior.
If you are planning a cruise, see why we recommend a Cross Gulf Cruise to see more of Alaska. – How can I see as much of Alaska as possible on my Alaskan Cruise.
Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska and is home to around 40% of all Alaskans.
In a uniquely interesting piece of Americas history, Alaska was purchased from Russia in 1867 for only around 2 cents per acre, making Alaska one of history’s greatest bargains.
Sitka was the capital of Alaska when the territory was part of Russia. In 1906 the capital was changed to Juneau, mainly due to the thriving mining industry. At this time Anchorage and Fairbanks did not exist.
Anchorage was developed in 1914 as the company town for The Alaska Railroad. The Klondike Gold Rush brought non-Native settlers seeking quick fortunes and the Railroad gave access to Alaska’s interior, passing the coal deposits in the Matanuska Valley. Construction headquarters was at the mouth of Ship Creek in present-day Anchorage.
Alaska has a unique strategic location. After the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, the military poured $3 billion into facilities and 300,000 military personnel into Alaska. During the Cold War years, bases in Alaska were final refueling stops for the Air Force.
Kincaid Park, on the southwest tip of the Anchorage Bowl, is the site of a former Cold War missile base. Now a 1,500 wilderness-like setting, you can stroll, hike, cycle, fish, practice archery, play golf or spot moose, black bears and eagles.
Oil was discovered on the Kenai Peninsula in 1957 and the Trans Alaska Pipeline was constructed in the 1970’s, fueling the next economic boom for Anchorage. These days the main contributors to the economy include oil, commercial fishing and tourism.
The name “Anchorage” comes from the name of a hardwood store operated from a boat and refers to a place where a ship can lay anchor.
7 Top Tips for Anchorage
In Anchorage itself you can cross off your list:
- scenic hikes and bike rides
- mountain views and wildlife spotting
- learning about Alaskan culture and wildlife
- find authentic artisan Alaskan souvenirs and gifts
- have an Alaskan fishing experience and sample fresh seafood
1. Anchorage Log Cabin Visitor Center
Make the pretty log cabin Visitor Center your first stop for everything there is to know in the area – where to go, what to do and what’s on.
Ask them about Kincaid Park and other spots to see wildlife like moose, bears and eagles.
Get maps and directions for the many trails to walk or bicycle, particularly Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and spots along Turnagain Arm where you might see Beluga Whales.
With pretty flowers outside they have free postcards that they will post for you. Two trolley services depart from the Visitor Center, keep reading to learn more.
If you have any questions whatsoever about visiting Anchorage, just fill out the form on their website or message them via their Facebook and you will get a personalised response from a real, live travel expert in Anchorage.
Anchorage Log Cabin Visitor Information Center located at 524 W 4th Ave, Anchorage, AK 99501 Phone +1-907-276-4118 Open every day 8am to 7pm
2. Take a trolley to get your bearings
From the Anchorage Log Cabin Visitor Information Center you have the choice of 2 trolleys that will help you get your bearings around the city.
The tourist Anchorage Trolley operates May – September and costs $20
The free vintage trolley to the Ulu Factory operates June to August and takes you for a 5 minute trip to The Ulu Factory near Ship Creek. The Alaskan Ulu (OO-loo) is an all-purpose cutting tool traditionally used by Inuit women. Dating back to 2500 BC an Ulu is said to contain ancestral secrets and so is passed from generation to generation. Whilst the Ulu Factory is primarily a store, try to visit Monday to Friday during working hours to see a demonstration and Ulu artisans making the knives. Perhaps they can explain to you what it means to be in a subsistence lifestyle and what the salmon means to Alaskans.
An Ulu knife, bowl or grabber can make a great gift for the foodie in your life.
3. Ship Creek Trail, fishing and fresh seafood
Now that you have very handily arrived by the free Ulu Factory trolley, head behind the Ulu Factory to Ship Creek. This area is a great for walking, to try your hand at fishing or to dine on fresh seafood.
Look for the paved 5.2 mile Ship Creek Trail, which is primarily used for walking, running and biking.
Salmon swim up Ship Creek in summer and from the bridge you can see local anglers fishing. Cross to the other side and you will see The Bait Shack which has fishing licenses and equipment for hire.
If you would rather eat fish than catch them try the popular Bridge Seafood Restaurant.
4. Buy quality Alaskan Art like a local
Locals Tip – A Hidden Gem!
The Alaska Native Medical Center Craft Shop
Do like the locals do! Off the beaten path, visit the Alaska Native Medical Center Craft Shop located inside the Alaska Native Medical Center to find high quality, handmade, Alaskan Native arts and crafts on display and for sale. This is where you may find great, authentic souvenirs or gifts.
The shop is run by knowledgeable volunteers, and you can feel good that your purchase provides income to the Alaska Native Arts community.
The medical center has many items from their art collection displayed throughout 5 floors. Take the elevator located near the gift shop to the top 5th floor, and then make your way back down to the first floor via the stairs, where the art is displayed in vignettes. Then you could even stop by the cafe and sample the “fry bread” which is a Native Alaskan delicacy.
They only take US cash or cheques, no credit cards, however there is an ATM in the cafeteria. Be mindful that your country may not allow importation of some items. Current opening hours are 10am to 2pm or 11am to 2pm on the first and third Saturdays of each month.
When you are at the Visitor Center double check the opening hours and ask about the buses that run to the Medical Centre – currently Line 20 and Line 25 fare $3. You could get an Uber for around $30, but this is a great opportunity to use public transport and be with the locals!
The Alaska Native Medical Center Craft Shop, 4315 Diplomacy Dr, Anchorage, AK 99508-5926 Phone (907) 729-1122
5. Learn about the history and culture of Alaska
Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center
Visit the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center which is the largest museum in Alaska. Located in the heart of Anchorage, this museum is dedicated to studying the land, peoples, art and history of Alaska. This is also where you can learn about the gold rush and how Alaska’s earliest people survived sub-zero temperatures. Check the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center schedule for current exhibitions and programs.
Alaska Native Heritage Center
The Alaska Native Heritage Center is a premier cultural center which shares the rich heritage of Alaska’s major cultural groups. Take a journey through 10,000 years of Alaska Native history and culture through art, dance and native demonstrations, exhibits, traditional dwellings, movies and more. The Heritage Center is located in 26 wooded acres, ten miles from downtown Anchorage.
Take advantage of the free shuttle that runs from downtown to both Centers.
The Culture Pass which provides admission to both attractions for $32 is great value as separately the Heritage Center costs $24.95 and the Anchorage Museum is $18.
Plan your visit here to make the most of your opportunity to feel the heartbeat of Alaska’s Indigenous People. Hear their stories. Explore their history. Take a free guided village tour and discover a cultural heritage still living and thriving today at the largest cultural center in Alaska.
6. Learn about the wildlife of Alaska
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a non-profit organization that takes in orphaned and injured animals from the wild and provides refuge for them.
Resident animals include brown bear, black bear, moose, muskox, caribou, wolves, birds, porcupine, wood bison, elk and more!
Daily animal programs that show in-depth interaction between animal care staff and resident animals, like bear feeding, are included in your $16 admission ticket.
You can choose to stroll through the beautiful landscape or drive the 1.5-mile loop. AWCC is open all year round, however times vary so check their schedule. The current program sessions are 11:30, 12:30, 1330 and 1530.
During the summer for $100 a 90 minute Walk on the Wild Side Tour is available 9am and 2pm. At 5pm June through to September a 30 minute Bear Encounter is $85 . Both of these tours include the price of admission. Learn more
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is located at Mile 79 Seward Highway, Portage, Alaska 99587 which is an hours drive from Anchorage or 20 minutes from Girdwood. If you take the Glacier Discovery Train from Anchorage to Portage ($87 each way) then it is approximately a 20 minute 1.4km walk from Portage Train Station. Unfortunately Girdwood does not have a taxi service. Several tour companies include a stop at AWCC.
Have a look at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center Facebook Page for the latest news.
If you download the very handy Alaska App, it includes audio and physical guides to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Instructions here
7. Hike or cycle to enjoy stunning views
There are a lot of hiking and bike trails around Anchorage.
At the peak of summer Anchorage enjoys 22 hours of sunlight, giving you plenty of time to enjoy leisurely strolls or bike rides around the many trails around Anchorage.
Only 20 minutes from Anchorage is the most popular hike in the area, Flattop Mountain. Great for all abilities it offers stunning views of the city and the surrounding mountain ranges. Flattop Mountain Shuttle offers round trip transport to the mountain for $23.
A $5 fee is charged for parking if you drive yourself.
Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
The Tony Knowles Trail starts at Second Avenue in downtown Anchorage and runs for 12 miles to Kincaid Park at the southern end. You can however you can pick it up from several points in Anchorage and hike as little or as much as you desire. As this trail is mostly flat it is perfect for a leisurely stroll or bike ride.
The Tony Knowles Trail provides extraordinary views of downtown Anchorage, the Chugach Mountains, Denali (Mt McKinley), Mount Susitna (Sleeping Lady) and Fire Island.
Bike riding is a way of life in Anchorage and you will find vendors renting all types of bikes close to the city’s network of paved and unpaved trails. Downtown Bicycle Rentals is one of the companies that rent bikes or you can even join a guided tour with Alaska Trail Guides.
With great places like Point Woronzof Park to stop and take in the scenery, it’s a good idea to take water, snacks and even a picnic with you. Make sure you go to the overlook as it is a favourite place to spot whales.
Kincaid Park and its network of trails is at the southern end of the Tony Knowles Coast Trail. The site was a former Cold War missile base which has been returned to a 1500 acre wilderness. With areas for outdoor sports, there are around 40 miles of groomed trails and at least 12 miles is lit at night.
This gem that is so close to downtown Anchorage, is great to stroll and cycle. For a bit of variety you can even practice archery, engage in Hundesport dog training, fish for stocked rainbow trout or paddle in the lake.
The Kincaid Park trail network makes it easy to get deep into the woods. Look out for moose, especially in spring when they give birth to their calves. Moose and black bears are often spotted along Raspberry Road which leads into the park. Along the coast you might see beluga whales and soaring eagles.
Further out of Anchorage there are great hikes around Girdwood, Thunderbird Falls Trail, Portage and Spencer Glaciers. We have included details about these trails in our tips for 5 Day Trips near Anchorage.
Are you feeling excited to explore the area around Anchorage?
Sparkling winter lights and long summer days with 17 to 19 hours of daylight, means more fun can be packed into each day.
Before you take a look at our Best Tips for Day Trips Around Anchorage take a look at this video which shows some of the beauty the area has to offer.
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