To authentically experience what it’s like to live, work and play in Alaska’s largest city, tackle Anchorage’s terrific trail system, an award-winning network of routes that connect the city’s various neighborhoods.
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, 36 miles of dog mushing trails, and 87 miles of non-paved hiking trails — and that’s just within the municipality! Many routes ramble beyond city limits, connecting outdoorsy adventurers to Chugach State Park, with its scenic alpine tundra and access some 495,000 acres of jaw-dropping scenery.
Within town limits, Anchorage’s impressive trail system meanders along the city’s coastline, threads through thick forests, and connects pretty parks and a multitude of neighborhoods. Sturdy tunnels barrel beneath busy roadways and wood-planked bridges span creeks and streams. This comprehensive system is foundational for recreation, exploration, relaxing, and in some cases, is the route people commute to work. Overall, the trail system is an ideal entrée for visitors venturing for variety in a city known for its natural surroundings.
The crown jewel of the system is the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, a recreational conduit for walkers, bicyclists, runners, roller bladers, and more in its popular summer months. The 11-mile trail connects downtown’s historic Second Avenue sector to the multi-use chalet at Kincaid Park. The generally flat grade affords easy access and use for all ages and abilities. There are multiple locations to access this picturesque route, making it a scalable and customizable experience.
Begin or pause your Coastal Trail outing at Westchester Lagoon. Just 1.6 miles from the trail’s downtown start, the lagoon features plenty of parking and an expansive park, with Chugach Mountains views, serene water, picnic tables and benches for contemplative breaks and a nice playground for kids. Birders will appreciate flocks of waterfowl, migrating shorebirds, mallards, grebes, swallows and more. The lagoon lends to a pretty summer paddle, and when iced over in winter, transforms into a popular spot for skating and hockey.
From Westchester, travel 9 miles on the Coastal Trail to Kincaid Park, or hop on the eastbound 4-mile-long Chester Creek Trail. The Chester Creek Trail is paved, flat and fun, following its namesake creek. Stopping-off points include Valley of the Moon Park, another spot worthy of picnic or play on a pleasant summer day.
Chester Creek Trail ends at Goose Lake Park, in central Anchorage near the University District. If you’re not ready for your walk to end, follow the 3-mile paved trail surrounding this scenic lake. Warm summer days draw swimmers here, and everyone can enjoy views of pretty birds and geese. There is an on-site snack café, a playground area, and municipal life guards are 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 and viewpoint with interpretive signs and photo-ops of downtown Anchorage. On clear days, you may see North America’s tallest peak, Denali, and its companion mountains on the northern horizon.
If you want to go big, consider tying all these trails together and attempting the growing-in-popularity Moose Loop. The Moose Loop is an inventive construct, a hodge-podge amalgam that creatively links Anchorage’s various trails into a route that, creatively, might be viewed almost kind-of sort-of like the shape of a moose head.
The route is 32 miles and it covers it all — from parks to schools, trails to neighborhood streets, past businesses and homes, in quiet woodsy areas and crossing highway overpasses. It’s a buffet of Anchorage biking and an epic ride. The major trails that cover the Moose Loop do not seamlessly link, so riding this route demands paying attention to location and being nimble in making one’s way.
For those eager to bike 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 (333 W. Fourth Ave. #206; 907-279-5293) offers all kinds options and accessories, including complimentary bear spray. Alaska Pablo’s Bicycle Rentals (415 L St.; 277-2453) is also open for the 2022 season.
Anchorage’s trail system is busy and full of people of different skills and abilities traveling at different speeds using various methods, so it’s important to remember some basic safety and courtesy guidelines.
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. The law requires any animal or human litter be picked up and disposed of. Even so, keep an eye out for meandering dogs as you navigate turns and narrow spaces.
Wildlife awareness is key. 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 — moose, in particular, often show up on or near the trails.
Applying bug spray and carrying bear spray are smart moves. When traveling in bear country, be mindful of making noise, traveling with one or more people whenever possible, and staying observant. It’s also smart to carry water and make sure someone knows your route plan.
Of note: there are homeless camps present along some of the Anchorage greenbelts that are off the trail system. Daytime is the best time to access the trails, and as always, be aware of your environment and exercise caution when traveling, especially when solo.