“Big Wild Life.” That’s the new slogan of the city of Anchorage, and whether you choose to interpret it as living a big, wild life or viewing the big wildlife that Alaska is famous for, Anchorage is the place to do both. Here are the eight best things to do in Anchorage.
Anchorage Trolley Tour
Get properly introduced to the city on an Anchorage Trolley tour, an hour-long loop around town on a jaunty red trolley. A local guide onboard will regale you with facts and stories about past and present-day Anchorage. Make this tour one of the first things you do upon arrival, as it will give you a good sense of how Anchorage is laid out, and plenty of ideas of things to do during your visit.
Flattop Mountain Hike
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It’s easy to see why Flattop Mountain is the most hiked mountain in all of Alaska. It’s located just outside downtown Anchorage, and has a relatively easy trail to the summit that can be completed in just a few hours—no Denali-esque mountaineering skills required. If you’re here during the right time in summer (generally the end of July through September), you can pick fresh blueberries from the side of the trail to have as a hiking snack while you admire the Anchorage city skyline.
See a Bore Tide
You probably don’t even register most tides you’ve seen, because they come in so slowly and uneventfully. A Bore tide, however, is worth planning your day around. This natural phenomenon occurs after extreme minus low tides (ones that have at least a 27-foot difference from high tide) created by a full or new moon. In Turnagain Arm, a coastal area just outside Anchorage, you can watch a bore tide from a number of pull-off spots along the road (try Beluga Point to see surfers, or Bird Ridge for a wider view). Pull up a spot and watch patiently—all of a sudden, you’ll see a massive 10-foot wave coming in horizontally across the sand, at about 10 to 15 miles per hour. Local surfers will often suit up in a dry suit and paddle out just to have one shot at catching this ultimate wave.
Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
It’s so surprisingly easy to get out into nature from downtown Anchorage. Simply rent a bike from one of the shops in town, and head to the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. This 11-mile trail starts right in the city (near the railroad station) and ends out at Kincaid Chalet. The smooth, paved trail is well-maintained and will take you through dense forests (keep an eye out for moose and other wildlife), and along the water. On your way back, you’ll have gorgeous skyline views of Anchorage to guide you.
Alyeska Aerial Tram
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Take a five-minute tram ride 2,300 feet up to the top of Mount Alyeska, where you’ll find stellar views of seven hanging glaciers, the Chugach Mountains, and Turnagain Arm. At the top, relax and enjoy the scenery from the observation deck, or hit the hiking trails to get up even higher. Some of the best sights are to be had on the tram ride itself though, as moose and bears are easy to spot from above.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
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You might have the perception that you’ll see wild animals just roaming around everywhere in Alaska, but encounters are rarer than you think, as most animals tend to avoid humans. For a guaranteed wildlife sighting, head to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where you’ll see native animals that have been rescued. (Animals have been brought here after they’ve been orphaned, injured, or otherwise unable to live on their own in the wild.) The creatures here have plenty of space to roam, unlike at a zoo, so you can see them in more of a natural habitat. Bears, moose, lynx, muskox, bison, wolves, porcupines, and more all live on the over 200 acres here.
To truly understand Alaska, pay a visit to the Anchorage Museum. It’s one of the best things to do in Alaska to learn about the state’s past, present, and future. Exhibits range from Alaska Native art to modern art to historical displays to photography. There’s also a planetarium and a marine life tank on site. Don’t miss the interactive scientific exhibits that help kids and adults learn about everything from earthquakes to volcanoes.
Potter Marsh Wildlife Viewing Boardwalk
The Potter Marsh wildlife viewing boardwalk is a bird-watcher’s paradise. Located right off the New Seward Highway, this flat, wooden boardwalk is accessible to everyone. The 564-acre marsh attracts over 130 species of birds, as well as moose, bears, beavers, and salmon.
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Caroline Morse Teel was hosted by the Alaska Tourism Board. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos of the best things to do in Alaska and the rest of the world.
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