To authentically experience Anchorage life, tackle the city’s extensive and impressive trail system. It’s an award-winning and intertwined network of routes connecting 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 makeshift routes wander into woodsy stands within neighborhoods. Or, ramble beyond and connect 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 borders the city’s watery coast, travels thick forests and connects pretty parks and multitudes of neighborhoods. Pedestrian tunnels barrel protectively beneath busy roadways, and wood-planked bridges span creeks and streams. This comprehensive system is the foundation for recreation, exploration, relaxing and, in some cases, commuting. Overall, Anchorage’s trail system is ideal for visitors who want to experience Alaska’s largest city from the vantage point of its natural surroundings.
The crown jewel of the system is the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, a recreational conduit for walkers, bicyclists, runners and rollerbladers 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. From this beloved route, users will enjoy views of the downtown skyline, possibly wildlife and Denali, and skirt the fault line of the epic 1964 Good Friday Earthquake.
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 Mountain views, serene water, picnic tables and benches for contemplative breaks and a nice playground for kids. Birders will appreciate waterfowl, migrating shorebirds, mallards, grebes, swallows and more. The lagoon sets the stage for a splashy summer paddle. When iced over in winter, it 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 as it tumbles and burbles over rocky shallows and carves meandering braided paths across silty riverbeds. Popular points of interest on Chester Creek 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 municipal lifeguard schedules are updated on the lake’s website. Adults must be present while children are swimming.
Another popular entry point or rest stop along the Coastal Trail 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 spacious parking lot and viewpoint with interpretive signs pointing out significant peaks. There are opportunities for striking photos of downtown Anchorage, and on clear days, you may see North America’s tallest peak, Denali, and its companion mountains Foraker and Hunter 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 hodge-podge of existing routes and imaginative links 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 of options and accessories, including complimentary bear spray and electric bikes. Alaska Pablo’s Bicycle Rentals (415 L St.; 277-2453) is also open year-round with plenty of wheels for rent.
Anchorage’s trail system is busy and full of people of varying skills and abilities traveling at different speeds, 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 be aware of surroundings, travel at safe speeds and never take up more than half the trail.
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!”
All 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. Leashing dogs is also a good idea due to ever-present wildlife in the area.
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.
When traveling in bear country, be mindful of making noise, traveling with one or more people whenever possible, and staying observant.
It’s smart to carry water and make sure someone knows your route plan. Applying bug spray and carrying bear spray are smart moves. Sunscreen shouldn’t be forgotten in the long summer daylight hours.
Of note: Camps where unhoused people reside are present along some of the Anchorage greenbelts off the trail system, and you may notice them as you go by. 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.