Editor’s note: This story was written before the COVID-19 pandemic, and some information might be out of date. With the situation continually evolving, we strongly encourage you to check ahead to determine the status of any business, park or activity you are interested in. To find the most up-to-date information about current health and travel mandates, check with the state of Alaska online and adn.com.
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One of the best ways to appreciate Anchorage’s unique access to natural spaces is to set out on foot or by bike and tackle the city’s incredible network of trails.
Anchorage boasts more than 120 miles of paved bike and multi-use trails, not to mention 130 miles of plowed winter walkways, 105 miles of maintained ski trails and 87 miles of non-paved hiking trails — and that’s just within the municipality! Many trails take you farther and beyond city lines, connecting to the mountainous Chugach State Park, where you can wander high into the alpine tundra to access some 495,000 acres of jaw-dropping scenery.
Within town limits, Anchorage’s award-winning trail system meanders along the stunning city coastline, follows pretty creeks and streams through woodsy forested area and ducks via tunnels beneath busy roadways. It’s a comprehensive system that active commuters capitalize on year-round, and is an ideal entrée for visitors who want a taste of life in a city known for its alluring proximity to nature.
The crown jewel of the system is the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, a recreational conduit that in warmer months teems with walkers, bicyclists, runners, in-line skaters and more. The trail stretches nearly 11 miles from one of downtown’s most historic neighborhoods on Second Avenue to the multi-use chalet at Kincaid Park. Its mostly level terrain means it’s incredibly accessible, popular with all ages and families. Because there are multiple locations throughout where you can park and access this lovely route, it’s a customizable trail to whatever experience you’re seeking – from a short stroll to a multi-hour outing.
Westchester Lagoon is a perfect place to start your Coastal Trail jaunt. Just 1.6 miles from the trail’s downtown beginning, the lagoon has plenty of parking. The park itself is worth a visit. It offers stunning views of the Chugach Mountains, glittering stretches of serene water, picnic tables and benches for contemplative breaks and a lively playground for the kids. Birders will appreciate the flocks of waterfowl, migrating shorebirds, mallards, grebes, swallows and more. In the summer, the pond makes for a pretty paddle, and there are typically flotation devices on hand. In the winter, the iced-over lagoon is a popular skating spot.
From Westchester, you can travel 9 miles on the Coastal Trail to Kincaid Park, or access the eastbound 4-mile-long Chester Creek Trail. The Chester Creek Trail follows its namesake waterway, and passes by Valley of the Moon Park, another park worth a visit. It features a sprawling playground, picnic areas and huge grass fields.
Chester Creek Trail ends at Goose Lake Park, near the University District. If you’re not ready for your walk to end, follow the 3-mile paved trail surrounding this scenic lake. On a sunny day, this popular swimming spot makes for a respite from the high Alaska sunshine. For-rent paddleboats provide opportunities for fun and exercise, and closer viewing of loons, Canada geese, mew and herring gulls, American wigeons, and a few songbirds. There is an on-site snack cafe, a playground area, and municipal life guards on duty during sunny summer days.
Another popular entry point or rest stop along the Coastal Trail en route to its Kincaid terminus is Earthquake Park. Famous for the long-gone houses that slid into the sea with the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, the park today is a modest lot abutting the Coastal Trail, with a few interpretive signs and a photo-op view of downtown Anchorage backdropped by the Chugach front range. On clear days, you may even see Denali on the northern horizon.
If you want to try biking the trail system, multiple downtown vendors rent bikes all year round. Rates and lengths of rentals vary from hourly to by the day or even the week. Downtown Bicycle Rental, Sales and Repair (333 W. Fourth Ave.; 907-279-5293) and Alaska Pablo’s Bicycle Rentals (415 L St.; 907-277-2453) are two options to check out.
Don’t forget: When using Anchorage’s trail system, it’s important to remember some basic rules around safety and courtesy.
The municipality reminds users that trails are usually multi-use and not intended for racing, so people should be aware of their surroundings, travel at safe speeds and never take up more than half the trail, leaving space for other users.
Keep right, except to pass. Listen for others upon approach; it’s common for bicyclists and others to have bells on, or to verbally warn those ahead of their approach by saying things like, “On your left!”
Pets must be leashed and the law requires any animal or human litter be picked up and disposed of. Even so, keep an eye out for meandering pooches as you navigate turns and tighter corridors.
Also, be aware of wildlife. Moose, bears, coyotes and other animals share city trails, and that’s especially true the farther one travels from downtown. Be alert and give wildlife plenty of room. When traveling in bear country, be mindful of making noise, traveling with one or more people whenever possible, and staying observant.
Also of note: A perennial issue in Anchorage are homeless camps along city greenbelts, particularly in more urban areas. Daytime is the best time to access the trails, and as always, be aware of your environment and exercise caution when traveling, especially if you’re solo.