Washed over by the icy North Pacific and beset by the snow-mantled peaks of the Coast Mountains, Anchorage – Alaska’s most populated city – really is a place shrouded on all sides by wilderness. Earthquakes have rattled it, oil industries, gold rushes and railroads have all boomed between its streets, while the settlements of native Dena’ina people have flourished along its rivers and ice creeks for far longer.
Proximity to the great outdoors is the most obvious reason to visit Anchorage. The city is just a short drive from major hiking spots, ski areas and national parks, so stretch your legs along the popular Tony Knowles Coastal Trail or cast your line for dinner at salmon-swamped Ship Creek. Don’t be too quick to head out of town, though; Anchorage hosts numerous fascinating and family-friendly attractions. If you’re an avid museum-goer, make some time for the Alaska Aviation Museum or, if you’ve got little ones in tow, the Alaska Native Heritage Center is home to interactive exhibits that spotlight Alaska’s history and culture.
Native Heritage Center
The Alaska Native Heritage Center explores the cultures of the 11 indigenous groups. Six traditional dwellings surround the small Lake Tiulana, with each demonstration village displaying artifacts and offering various experiences. Visitors can take in cultural dances, games, and artist demonstrations, with knowledgeable guides providing details and answering questions. The center also looks at modern times and some of the changes and challenges communities face.
Chugach State Park
Few cities in the world can boast such a beautiful back garden as Anchorage, and the Chugach State Park is the jewel in the crown of this city’s wilds, encompassing the urban sprawl to the south, east and north. It is home to soaring mountains and empty valleys, icy lakes and alpine forests; all of which make for some fine hiking and biking! There are countless marked trails currently weaving into the hinterlands here from the city too. Favourites include the Lakeside Trail, which cuts along the edges of Eklutna Lake and across the ice fields to Girdwood in the east.
Hilltop Ski Area
Draped over the small foothills of the Chugach ranges just a short 15-minute drive from the heart of the Anchorage downtown, the Hilltop Ski Area is a fine place to strap on the skis or wax down the snowboard while visiting. Suited perfectly to beginner skiers, the resort has just one piste, a humble chairlift and a couple of drags. There’s also a small terrain park for adrenaline-seekers on-site, along with a ski school and rental facilities if you’re in need of gear. And if the terrain here just isn’t challenging enough, then be sure to shoot southwards out of town to Alyeska.
The Alaska Zoo is a 25-acre facility with a variety of native wildlife species, including brown bears, wolves, musk oxen, Dall sheep, and reindeer. This Anchorage tourist attraction also has a small collection of exotic animals, including Amur Tigers and Bactrian Camels. The zoo offers a wide range of events and special encounters including Zoo Lights and opportunities to help feed the wolves. Visitors can combine a trip to the facility, which is located southeast of the town center, with driving the Seward Highway.