Alaska Visitors Guide

Getting your outdoor adventure fix in Southcentral Alaska

  • Author: Josh Niva
  • Updated: May 2
  • Published May 2

A biker swerves back in line for the lift after going down Chips N Salsa trail at the Alyeska Bike Park. (Sarah Bell / ADN)

Biking and cycling: If you're passionate about pedaling or just want to tour Alaska at a different pace and perspective, hop on a bike! A bike ride is one of the easiest, most intimate and cost-effective ways to explore Anchorage, which boasts one of America's best systems of paved and unpaved trails. Trails span the city, climb into the mountains, cruise by the water and disappear into the woods — and there are rides for all levels of pedalers. In Anchorage, the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is a scenic gem with plenty of opportunities to pull over for a picture or snack. Woodsy Kincaid Park has miles of unpaved trails. A locals' favorite is a scenic paved ride from the Indian/Bird area to the town of Girdwood, where you can enjoy a post-ride meal. Left your bike at home? No worries. A handful of Anchorage area bike rental shops will hook you up and some even offer guided tours.

Bird watching: If bird is the word for your Alaska visit, you'll want to fly over to Potter Marsh and Westchester Lagoon, where birds of all sorts of feathers flock together. Alaska's skies, branches and ponds host a diverse range of winged wonders, some arriving seasonally, some full-time residents. Your binoculars will be busy.

Camping: Connecting with nature is as easy as taking a short drive from Anchorage and pulling over at one of the countless classic campgrounds in scenic Southcentral Alaska. You can do it up big by renting an RV or booking a public use cabin, or keep it simple by throwing a sleeping bag, tent and cooler in the back of a rental car. Adventurous types can even strap the gear to a backpack and hike to a sweet, flat sleeping spot somewhere in Chugach Mountains. No matter where you pitch your tent, pack and dress appropriately, follow campground/park rules, pay any posted fees and always be bear and moose aware.

Rock and ice climbing: Southcentral Alaska's natural geology makes it a haven for climbers, with fields of rocky fun just north of town in the Birchwood and Eklutna areas and south of town along the Seward Highway. If you have ice in your veins and an ice axe in hand, ice climbing ascents of all levels can be found once the water freezes in and around Chugach State Park. Need a little practice before you climb? Visit the Alaska Rock Gym, where you can get in a workout and visit with the locals about outdoor opportunities.

Olivia Pittman climbs up one of the Shot Rock routes as MiKylie Stephen rappels down along the Seward Highway south of Anchorage. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

Cruise by boat, bus or train: If you want to soak up as much scenery as possible, let someone else do the driving! It's easy to do, because there are boat and bus cruises and train rides that will take you to Alaska's sensational sites. You'll lose count of the glaciers you encounter on most boat cruises out of Whittier or Seward. Ice isn't the only attraction on these boats: keep an eye out for whales and wildlife, puffins and porpoises, too. Staying on land, a bus or train ride along Turnagain Arm or north to Talkeetna or Fairbanks will bring the Alaska landscapes and wildlife you've dreamt about to reality. There are plenty of options for length and location, so do your research and find a cruise that best fit your desires.

Dog mushing: Some of the world's toughest athletes call Alaska home — they're fast and furry, cute and canine. Their owners are pretty rugged and hospitable, too. Alaska's dog teams take the spotlight in the winter as distance runners pull sleds across the state in epic events like the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Lucky for you: watching dog mushing is free and spectator-friendly. Want to feel that dog-power? Visit a nearby kennel, most of which are run by racing legends, for a ride you'll never forget. In summer, some of Alaska's best teams offer kennel tours. You can even ride along on training runs and cuddle with some of racing's future stars — aww, puppies!

Anglers try their luck while fishing for red salmon on opening day of fishing below the Russian River Ferry crossing on the Kenai River. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Fishing: Fishing fanatics fantasize about netting the inhabitants of Alaska's lakes, rivers, streams and waterways. Hulking halibut, spectacular salmon and radical rainbow trout are among the shiniest stars, but fishing fun can be found in practically every waterway of the state. In fact, there's some primetime fishing in Anchorage, along with many outfitters who will gladly provide tips and gear. Take a walk in downtown Anchorage to Ship Creek to join the anglers going after king or silver salmon. You can hire a guide who will take you to the hot spots, whether in Anchorage or in the deeper waters of Seward, Kenai, Homer and Whittier. Or you can treat yourself to a once-in-a-lifetime fly-in trip to a wilderness lodge where you'll fish all day and relax in rustic luxury all night. Don't forget to always purchase a fishing license and follow regulations for each area.

Flightseeing: Want the biggest bang for your eye-candy buck? Hop in a plane and let pilots take you up-close-and-personal with the kind of majestic Alaska landscapes you've only seen on postcards. Glaciers, mountains — including Denali — endless natural scenery, the occasional wildlife and all of Alaska's mile-high and alpine air magic are all short flights away from Anchorage's Lake Hood and Merrill Field. Most flights feel like all-access, V.I.P. experiences, but some come at refreshingly reasonable prices. Shop around for deals and trips that best fit your flying fancy and budget. (See our guide to flightseeing.)

Glacier viewing and trekking: Alaska's gallery of glimmering and gigantic glaciers might seem impossibly massive and distant, but the reality of traveling in Alaska is that you can literally get so close to a glacier you can touch it. Cruise boats take day trips to some of Southcentral Alaska's biggest and brightest glaciers, which send chunks the size of cars into the water with dramatic splashes. But you can also drive to glaciers that you can hike on/around or paddle a kayak alongside (Matanuska, Spencer and Exit glaciers are the most popular and accessible). Tour operators offer safe and exciting on-ice adventures. (Check out our guide to 11 glacier adventure near Anchorage.)

Hiking: Now that you've landed in Anchorage, it's time to get out … on the hiking trails, that is! You could spend an entire vacation, or a lifetime even, exploring Southcentral Alaska's trails and mountains, which lead to million-dollar overlooks of urban and rural landscapes, as well as secluded peaks and lakes. Anchorage is a hiking hub with at-your-doorstep access to one of Alaska's biggest and best alpine playgrounds: Chugach State Park. And you don't need lungs and legs of steel to enjoy hiking here. There are hikes, walks and views in every corner of Anchorage and the Chugach, and something for all fitness and adventure levels. There are also guides who will cater to your hiking hopes. (See our guide to hikes around Anchorage that you can do, whether you have three hours or a couple days.)

Horseback riding: Giddy on up and get on out and about on horseback around Southcentral. A handful of operations lead guided trail and wilderness rides in the Anchorage area, while others will take riders deep into Denali Park. Saddle up and for a moment, maybe even close your eyes, breathe in the air and, if you really have an active imagination, picture yourself atop a moose!

Lisa Sinnott and Anna Rix kayak in Eklutna Lake. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Kayaking/rafting: Radical rapids and wild whitewater. Calm cruising and peaceful paddling. Want water? Southcentral Alaska has kayaking and rafting adventures that whet, and wet, all varieties of aqua addictions. Rent a kayak and take an easy paddle around many lakes in Anchorage or even in the beautiful bays of Seward, Whittier, Homer and Valdez. Or get wild on rafting adventures on Interior, Kenai Peninsula and Mat-Su whitewater. Kayak rentals and kayaking and rafting guides are plentiful. Always understand your skill level and the conditions, and pack a snack and a camera — when the conditions are perfect on the water, you won't want to return to shore. (See our primer on boat trips for more information.)

Downhill skiing and snowboarding: If you love winter and you're itching to get your alpine groove on, the Anchorage area has plentiful powder and a mix of mountains that will make skiers and snowboarders snow crazy. There are three ski areas nearby — Hilltop and Alpenglow are in town; the world-renowned Alyeska Resort is less than an hour south in Girdwood — with slopes for beginners, intermediate and epic. There are also limitless backcountry opportunities just a short drive and hike away from Anchorage. For hardcore powder-hounds looking for a dream adventure, heli-skiing and snowcat options in the Chugach Mountains make skiers' and snowboarders' dreams come true.

Cross-country skiing: Anchorage is a world-class cross-country skiing community with an expansive trail system highlighted by two amazing Nordic playgrounds — Kincaid Park and Hillside Park. And unlike most Nordic trail systems across the U.S., cross-country skiing on Anchorage's trails is free and easily accessible. In most areas of town, there's a trailhead or connector and even an occasional post with a map. There are plenty of places to rent or buy gear and there are also plenty of chances to have a brush with greatness — many past, present and future cross-country skiing Olympians grew up, train and reside in Anchorage.

Ziplining: Extreme ecotourism has reached the Last Frontier, where a handful of relatively new zipline outfits operate just north of Anchorage. Hold on tight for fast and furious rides through the wilderness or near a shimmering glacier. (There are also a few zipline operations in Southeast Alaska, if your travels take you there.) Look — you've got helmet hair and a big smile!