You’re not doing a vacation to Alaska right if you’re not outside at least 90% of the time. Rain or shine, winter or summer we Alaskans embrace outdoor culture; whether we’re cruising down the coastal trail in Anchorage for scenic views or hitting some rugged slopes for a good day of hiking, we live life outside. After living in Alaska for 26 years I have compiled my favorite outdoor activities and things to do around the Anchorage area, including some of my local secrets you won’t find on major touristy sites. If you’re visiting Alaska in the summer capitalize on our 20 something hours of daylight with multiple outdoor activities in one day or if you’re coming up for a winter wonderland, get ready for the ski trip of a lifetime. So, let’s get moving to the best outdoor things to do around Anchorage, Alaska!
The Anchorage area is HUGE. It is almost 2,000 sq miles. So, while most of these activities are accessible from downtown Anchorage, a few of them are a good distance from the city proper. This guide covers everything from Eklutna to Whitter, which are about 1.5 hours either way from Downtown Anchorage. I recommend renting a car if you have the time to see as much of our beautiful outdoors as possible. There are plenty of companies that will also pick you up for some awesome outdoor adventures near Anchorage and provide you with all the gear you need. So, if you’re new to the outdoor lifestyle that might be the best way for you to go.
General Safety about Alaskan Wilderness
Anchorage may be a city, but we share our city with over 1,200 moose and hundreds of bears. I’ve been on a hike where I’ve run into a bear and a moose, all in one go. If you go hiking on your own, you should carry a bear bell or bear spray if you know how to use it. Stop by our local REI store to get properly outfitted. Always stay on marked trails and let someone – like your hotel front guest know where you’re going.
1. Go Hiking: Hiking Trails in Anchorage
The hiking trails around Anchorage are numerous, too numerous to cover in one post. I’ll just touch on a few of the most popular, some of my hidden favorites and then provide you with the resources to plan your own trip. Remember trails in Alaska are often full of wildlife, including dangerous bears and moose. Practice caution. Always tell someone where you’re going and pick up a bear bell or two for your packs. Many of the trailheads are in state parks, always make sure you pay for parking and don’t park illegally.
The Glen Alps trailhead and parking lot lead to one of the most popular hikes in Anchorage, Flat Top, but there are quite a few great hikes around this area and even a wheelchair accessible scenic lookout. These three trails are near Anchorage and you can catch the Flat Top shuttle for only $23 FT. Reserve Your Spot Now!
Flat Top: The most summited mountain in Alaska, the 1,350 ft vertical climb can be a bit challenging, but it’s short and the views are worth it. In about an hour you can summit with the best view of the Anchorage skyline, including views of Denali on a clear day, and the sparkling waters of the inlets. The hike starts out with easy enough switchbacks, then moves to stairs and ends with a bit of rock scrambling to the summit. With so many people on this trail, the chance of you running into a critter is very low.
Williwaw Lakes: For a full day hike, traverse through stunning meadow valleys out to the Williwaw Lakes. This is an out and back hike with a RT total of about 10 miles. So, pack food, water and let someone know where you are headed. The trail can get muddy and be hard to track at times, so exercise caution. The terrain isn’t particularly difficult, as it involves more cross country than straight up hiking, but the end view of the lakes is fantastic. This trail is accessed from the left of the Flat Top trailhead.
O’Malley Peak: This is a 7.8 mile out and back trail that starts on the same winding trail as Williwaw Lakes, but it branches off to the right to tackle the uphill climb to O’Malley. This hike is between moderate to hard, so come prepared. Fog is likely to roll in from time to time as well. Sometimes I just make it out to the base of the steep loose gravel that begins the ascent to the peak before heading back. There are lots of marmots and other critters out here, so remember you’re sharing the trail.
Tips From Local: If you happen to be in Alaska during summer solstice it is quite common to climb flat top the night before the longest day of the year. There is often a solstice party at the top, so bring beer. We have almost 23 hours of daylight on this day and it’s pretty cool to be hiking at midnight!
Rabbit Lake: Rabbit Lake Trail is a relatively easy 9-mile trail with minimal elevation gain. The trailhead is located in a different spot from the Glen Alps trails listed above. You need a decent car to reach it as it is a steep and narrow gravel trail. Once you park, the trail continues up a gravel walking trail until it opens up into a sweeping Valley. Continue on your way until you reach Rabbit Lake. Wild camping is popular here, so if you want to set up for the night go right ahead. The area can get very windy due to the location, so bring a good windbreaker and warm clothing in your bag just in case. I have always seen moose on this hike, so hike with caution.
Arctic Valley: Arctic Valley is a great hidden gem of a hiking area. In just about 45 minutes you have panoramic views over the Anchorage bowl and on a clear day you can see Denali. The trails aren’t easily marked here, but as long as you stay in the main bowl you’ll always have eyes on the visitor center.
Eagle River Hikes
Eagle River is where I grew up, and it is about a 25 min drive from downtown Anchorage. There’s plenty of great hiking in the area and well worth the drive if you love the outdoors!
Eagle and Symphony Lakes: is a longer, but an easy 12-13 mile out and back trail. The trail has low elevation gain but does require some bouldering scrambling toward the end due to rocky glacier deposits. Once you reach Eagle and Symphony Lakes you’ll be treated with two gorgeous lakes. Though side by side one, Eagle, is fed by glaciers and is bright teal and the other, Symphony, is fed from snowmelt and groundwater and is a duller blue.
Mt. Baldy: Baldy is the most popular hike in Eagle River and is a quick, but challenging hike for panorama views of the Eagle River/Anchorage area. All up, the trip is under 5 miles and you can summit in about an hour. This is a steep trail and really gets your heart pumping. There is a longer route that winds up the side of it that is a bit less steep. I recommend going up the steeper part and down the long path, it’s easier on the knees and going down the steep part involves loose gravel.
Ptarmigan Trail: A less popular hike this is a short three-mile moderately easy hike in a more rural part of Chugiak/Eagle River. Most of this hike is in the woods, so bring your bug spray! If you want to challenge yourself this can connect to Baldy, but consult a map or hiking guide first.
Turnagain Arm/Girdwood Hikes
The entire drive along Turnagain Arm to Girdwood is both stunning and littered with trailheads. At just about every turn off you’ll see a hiking sign with another trailhead. Continue all the way to Girdwood for a day of hiking and even stay overnight to enjoy the laid back atmosphere of one of my favorite towns.
Turnagain Arm Trail: This is an incredibly customizable hike. Start at McHugh and continue to Rainbow trailhead, turn back early or keep on trucking. This hike is best described as a traverse that follows the scenic highway below. It is relatively easy and flat with a few rolling peaks and valleys. The views of the inlet are stunning.
Bird Ridge: If traversing isn’t your thing, hike the challenging Bird Ridge, for some amazing birds-eye views of Turnagain Arm. This trail is about 5 miles out and back trail up a fairly moderately steep mountain. The trail starts in the woods and then emerges above treeline. Eagles are often soaring high above the peak, so bring your camera! Rainbow peak is a similar trail, closer to Anchorage that offers great views as well.
Winner Creek Trail:
If you’re in Girdwood for the day, make sure to hike Winner Creek Trail. The best part of this trail is the hand tram. You load yourself up on a little tram going over a gorge and then pull yourself across with a rope. See the picture. This is an easy half day trip, with a flat trail, within the Girdwood area. If you want to continue this trail plan for a full hard day’s hike of about 10 miles to Upper Winner Creek Trail.
Mt. Alyeska: Girdwood’s popular ski slopes turn into gorgeous and seemingly endless medium to advanced level hikes. Trek up the steep and thick forested North Face or ride the gondola to the top and take some easy leisurely walks around the top of the mountain.
Glacier View Hikes
If it is awesome glacier view hikes you are after, check out these 6 easy to medium glacier view hikes that get you up to, on top of, or in-sight of some of the Anchorage area’s best glaciers.
2. Kayak, SUP, Or Rafting Near Anchorage
Kayaking in Alaska is simply unbeatable. Imagine Kayaking in bright green glacial water, or even among glaciers! Some of these recommendations require you to rent your own kayak and get to the location with your own transportation, but I suggest plenty of options that can take you on guided tours or rent kayaks out on spot for your convenience.
Eklutna Lake: One of the best glacial lakes, Eklutna is hidden away in a scenic valley, out past Eagle River. Spend the day kayaking the green waters or split your time between cross country biking and kayaking with the help of Lifetime Adventures they offer tours and rentals on spot out at Eklutna.
Spencer Glacier Kayaking: This is your opportunity to kayak or raft among glaciers! Alaskan Rafting has fantastic tour packages including trips from both Anchorage and Girdwood, transportation included. The best part is the transportation included is one hell of a scenic train ride! Trust me, this is a once in a lifetime, only in Alaska experience! They also offer pack rafting experiences.
Ocean Kayaking Out of Whittier: The town of Whitter is charming, to say the least. A 1.5-hour drive from Anchorage or a short drive from Girdwood this fishing down has some amazing ocean kayaking. Contact Alaska Sea Kayakers to plan your day or multi-day ocean kayak trip! While you’re in Whittier, don’t miss a short hike up to the Portage glacier lookout!
West Chester Lagoon: If you want to stick to downtown Anchorage contact Alaska Outdoor Gear Rental to rent some SUP boards and Kayaks. Take them down to West Chester Lagoon for a leisurely activity.
Whitewater Rafting: If you are looking for a serious whitewater rafting experience in class IV rapids, then book through Chugach Outdoor Center
3. Ride Bikes: Best Bike Trails in Anchorage
Cycling and biking is great no matter the time of year in Alaska. In fact, did you know that the modern fat bike was created in part of the iditabike race in Alaska! Don’t worry though, if you’re here for those long summer days, there’s plenty of trails to keep you busy all day and night long. Rent your bikes from my recommended Downtown Bike Rentals who also provide the Flat Top Shuttle Service. Pablo’s Bikes is ideal if you are renting to ride the Coastal Trail as they are right downtown at the start of the trail. There is also a Trek store that rents cycles for those looking for top quality bikes.
Coastal Trail: Probably the best trail for length and scenic views this trail runs from West Chester Lagoon out past our airport and on to Kincaid Park. It is along the Cook Inlet, so you’ll enjoy scenic views of the ocean and the Anchorage skyline. You also ride through Earthquake Park, where you can learn about the impact of the ’64 quake on Alaska.
Bird To Gird: A scenic 24 mile RT ride along the winding highway that connects Anchorage to Girdwood. Park your car at the Bird Ridge parking lot and hit this flat paved trail that parallels the highway until you reach Girdwood. There are lots of education signs and geological features along the way and keep an eye out of the endangered Turnagain Arm Beluga Whale. Grab a beer at Girdwood Brewery before heading back to your car.
Anchorage to Eagle River: Not the most scenic hike, this is a good option for those just looking to get some miles. This trail starts along Ship Creek and continues until you’ve reached my home town of Eagle River. There is a massive hill just before you cross the actual Eagle River, so make sure you are willing and able to get back up before you cruise on down. The trail is about 18 miles one way and you can turn around whenever you please.
This is probably a local best-kept secret. This trail runs through the heart of Anchorage in what we call the Campbell Creek Green Belt. The trail starts (or ends) at Cambell Lake continues through Taku Lake and ends when you hit Dr. MLK Blvd. The entire way you follow Campbell Creek and wind through parks and small lakes. It is about 7.5 miles one way.
Downhill & Single Track Mountain Biking
For a serious adrenaline rush grab a full suspension downhill mountain bike from the Alyeska Hotel in Girdwood and bring your bike on one of the lifts to get to the top. Follow any of their designated mountain bike trails to get to the bottom and do it again! They also rent cross country bikes for the various trails at the foot of the mountain.
If you want a less intense adventure closer to Anchorage you can choose from single track cross country at Hillside STA just above Hilltop or Kincaid Park single track. Rent from any of the places I mentioned above and have them help you plan out an adventure suitable for your needs. Typically Kincaid is better for beginners.
If you’re visiting in winter and are itching to get on a fat bike to cut through the snow. The above-mentioned Downtown Bike Rental rents Fat Bikes for about $25 for the day and they can give you suggestions for winter tails, but everything from Campbell Creek to the Coastal Trail is still open year round.
4. Visit Outdoor Nature Centers in Anchorage
Wildlife Conservation Center
The Wildlife Conservation Center is one of my favorite places in the Anchorage area. This organization focuses on rehabilitation and the preservation with the goal to release animals back into Alaska’s eco-system. They successfully introduced the once native wood-bison to Alaska. They have moose, lynx, brown and black bears, eagle, elk, and much more. The center is located just outside of Girdwood near Portage and is a great addition to a trip to Girdwood or Portage. The center is located along the Turnagain Arm and at the far end of the center you are treated with stunning views. Mobile visitors can walk from habitat to habitat, or there are shuttle options for those with limited mobility. Say hello to JB and Tequila for me (the brown bears).
This center is ethical, cruelty-free, and is devoted to the preservation and appreciation of Alaska’s ecosystems and wildlife.
Eagle River Nature Center
This is such a great escape into nature and the drive out there is quite scenic. Located up Eagle River Valley, the nature center is at the end of a winding mountain pass. You need to pay $5 for parking and then you can enter the visitor center where you can learn about various Alaskan animals and pick up a map from the friendly staff. This is a great area for the whole family with easy walking trails for kids and elderly. There is a 30-minute loop or a more extensive walking trail. Along the path, you will find nature facts and resources about how the valley was carved out by glaciers and about the wildlife in the area. This used to be an extensive beaver habitat, but they have since moved on up the river, but you can still see remains of the dam and learn about this critter.
If you are a birder, I’m sorry. Just kidding. I love bird watching and this is THE place to do it in Alaska. Thousands of birds pass through or nest in this wildlife refuge as they migrate or hatch their young. Some of the birds you will see during the summer are Canada geese, northern pintails, canvasback ducks, red-necked phalaropes, horned and red-necked grebes, and northern harriers. Gulls, Arctic terns, shorebirds such as yellowlegs, and occasionally trumpeter swans are present during spring and fall migration.
There are also a few Eagle Nests in the area and if you look up you can see Eagles scanning for prey high above. Moose also love this area for the tasty grass and plentiful water source. If you look in the water you may see muskrats swimming or some of the many fish heading upstream including chinook, coho, humpback salmon from May-August.
There is about a mile of boardwalk that is accessible from a parking lot and this is a great spot for families and those with limited mobility. Bring your binoculars and camera!
Campbell Creek Science Center
The Campbell Creek Science Center in Anchorage is a nice little hidden gem owned by BLM. The science center focuses on adult and child education of outdoor and adventure activities and topics. You can come to explore 730 acres of native wilderness in the heart of Anchorage and learn about local flora and fauna while getting some fresh air. Along with the educational nature area, they offer educational classes for outdoor enthusiasts, like backcountry skiing survival and fun events for the whole family like family outdoor play for Moms, Pops, and Tots.
Thirsty from all these outdoor activities and things to do near Anchorage, Alaska? Then grab a beer at one of Alaska’s 30+ microbreweries.
5. Go on a Scenic Walk Around Anchorage
You can enjoy flat scenic walks along Campbell Creek, The Coastal Trail, Eagle River Nature Center, Winner Creek Trail in Girdwood among others
6. Wild Camp Overnight Near Anchorage
The wild nature surrounding Anchorage offers plenty of overnight options from wild camping in a tent to cozy cabins with a sturdy roof over your head – providing bear proof accommodation. Sleeping in the wilderness is one of the best outdoor activities near Anchorage and really gives you a sense that Alaska’s largest city is totally surrounded by nature.
When I travel home to Alaska I often bring my outdoor backpacking bag along with my and ultra lightweight camping equipment, so if you have the gear I suggest you bring it because you will get some use out of it if you are an outdoor lover, such as myself. However, if you don’t have the gear or the room to pack it there are a few places, such as Outdoor Gear Rental that will hook you up for wild camping. A really easy spot for first timers is Rabbit Creek. You can hike out to Rabbit Lake just outside of Anchorage, set up your tent near the lake and spend a night in the wild. For more advanced hikers, you can overnight on the Crow Creek Pass which runs from Eagle River to Girdwood and you will need someone to pick you up from one end or the other. You can camp almost anywhere in Alaska, as long as you are not on private land. You should not start a campfire in forested areas.
If you prefer to camp in an official camping park with your own fire pit and surrounded by other campers. Anchorage has plenty of camp groups including Eagle River Campground and Bird Creek Campground.
If you prefer four walls and a roof over your head book any of the rustic and cozy cabins or yurts around Alaska. These cabins typically cost about $60 a night and must be booked in advance. You can find the right cabin for your needs, here. Continue onto the booking site to reserve your spot.
7. Go Fishing: Best Fishing Spots in Anchorage
There are plenty of fishing spots near Anchorage, but you will need a permit and an additional stamp for King Salmon fishing. You are not legally allowed to fish without one and please don’t come and take advantage of our resources. If you want to rent high-quality gear visit Mountain View Sports Fly Shop to rent your rods, reels and other fishing accessories. You can also get your fishing license here if you are unable to do so online. The Bait Shop over Ship Creek has lots of bait.
Anchorage has dozens of stocked lakes which means that fishing right in the heart of Anchorage or just a scenic drive away there are plenty of options for trout, arctic char, landlocked salmon, dolly and silvers. You can fish at Little Campbell Lake in Kincaid, Sand Lake, Jewel Lake, Eklutna Lake (outside of Anchorage), or Rabbit Lake (7-mile hike outside Anchorage).
You also have options for river or creek fishing. Campbell Creek, with rainbow trout, pink and silver salmon, is just a short walking distance from a parking lot and runs right through Anchorage. Ship Creek is great for salmon runs and is right in downtown Anchorage. Bird Creek has tons of pink and silver salmon which often means there is a lot of combat fishing and be prepared to fight for your food.
8. Pan for Gold Near Anchorage
There are two great spots for outdoor gold panning near Anchorage, Alaska. The historic Crow Creek Mine is my personal recommendation as a local. They have a fantastic historic open-air museum with buildings dating back to the 1890s littered with rusted old mining equipment contrasted with blooming colorful flowers. You can meander the grounds before heading to the river for real authentic gold panning. Crow Creek still has gold in it, but you can try your hand in premade pay dirt or rent your own sluice box. This is a fantastic day trip from Anchorage or activity to add when in Girdwood.
Another option is Indian Valley Mining also offers pre-made pay dirt buckets to try your hand at gold panning.
9. Go Berry Picking
If you are visiting Anchorage during my favorite times of the year, autumn, you can try your hand at berry picking! August is prime season for berry picking, but you might have some luck in late July and early September. Alaska is bountiful with blueberries, raspberries, highbush cranberries, and salmonberries – which are orange looking raspberries. Avoid any white berry or solid red berries with a black dot in the middle.
The best places for blueberries is Arctic Valley, between Anchorage and Eagle River or Hatchers Pass – which is a long day trip from Anchorage. You can find blueberries, raspberries, and salmonberries if you take the Glacier Discovery Train with the Alaska Railroad.
10. Eco-Wildlife Excursions
Alaska is one of the best places in the world for wildlife viewing and there are plenty of ways to see wildlife ethically and eco-friendly in their natural habitat. My personal recommendation for an awesome day trip from Anchorage is to see brown bears in the wild in the wilds of Alaska. During this trip, we also saw Belugas, a wolf, and eagles. Taking the Alaska Railroad also offers opportunities to see mountain goats, bears, eagles, moose, and more! If you find yourself well outside of Anchorage in Seward, take Major Marine Tours for Alaska’s marine wildlife.
You can also visit the Anchorage Wildlife Conservation Center for more outdoor wildlife interactions in an ethical rehabilition center.
11. Snowboard or Ski at Alyeska
Alaska has some of the best skiing and snowboarding anywhere in the world. I might be biased since I grew up snowboarding Alyeska, but I find myself missing my home mountain living here in Europe. Alyeska Resort in Girdwood offers world-class luxury riding with amazing views of Alaska’s glaciers, mountains, and picturesque inlet. There is 1,610 skiable acres, 76 named trails and over 669″ of snow annually. Alyeska Resort has 7 lifts which take you to a vertical rise of 2,500ft: 2 high-speed detachable quads, 2 fixed quads, 2 magic carpets, and a 60-passenger Aerial Tram. There are off-piste areas to ride among the trees and groomed small slopes for beginners. Go out all and stay at the Hotel Alyeska, one of Alaska’s nicest hotels, or rent a local cabin with your private hot tub.
12. Golfing or Frolfing in Anchorage
If you want to grab a 6 pack of local brews and hang out with some friends with a casual game of frolf (frisbee golf). Or if you prefer to suit up in a polo and head to the driving rang, Anchorage has lots of great options. Anchorage has several frolf courses, but some the best ones are at Kincaid and Russian Jack.
One of the best parts about golfing in Anchorage during the summer is we have so many hours of daylight, so you can get a tee time much later than in other locations around the world. Anchorage has two golf courses Moose Run and Anchorage Golf Course.
13. Take the Glacier Discovery Train
The Glacier Discovery Train is one of my top recommendations for outdoor things to do near Anchorage – though to be honest, you’re inside a train for half of the time, but shh…. This train runs from Anchorage with multiple stops along the way and you are able to get out and explore nature and walking trails to go berry picking or get up close and personal with some of Alaska’s glaciers. This is a great option to see a lot of Alaska without a lot of effort. The staff at the Alaska Railroad always go out of their way to make this a personalized trip- stopping along the way for wildlife and helping you customize your experience.
14. Go on an ATV Adventure
ATVs are a huge part of Alaska life. Many people remote villages and even in the city use these vehicles to get around due to the high cost of fuel and lack of roads. So, jumping on an ATV and experiencing Alaska’s wilderness on an ATV gives you insight into life as a local! Alaska ATV adventures offer lots of options from gold panning ATV combos or a half day tour from Anchorage to Bird Creek.
15. Go Rock or Ice Climbing
If you are a rock climber, Alaska is a gold mine for you. We have ice climbing and rock climbing galore. Unless you are an advanced climber, I suggest booking with Ascending Path, Alaska’s extreme sport specialists who are willing to work with you to create a trip that is right for your abilities. They even offer trips for those who want to learn to climb.
16. Go Innertubing
Head up to Arctic Valley in the winter Wednesday-Sunday for a snow filled day including an epically long downhill innertube ride. There is also a handfull of ski lifts available for a day of skiing or snowboarding.
17. Cross Country Ski
Anchorage is one of the best areas for cross country skiing with hundreds of kilometers of groomed maintained trails. Check out Beach Lake and Chugiak ski trails in Eagle River, Kincaid ski trails, or the UAA ski trails among many other options.