9 things to know before your first trip to Anchorage, Alaska
I’ve lived my whole life dreaming of visiting Alaska… thinking about what it would be like and making a to-do list. So when the opportunity arose for me to make this trip a reality, I knew I had to prepare. Having arrived in a state as large as Alaska, I knew I wanted to make the most of it while exploring. This meant I had to consider an accessible base camp, COVID-19 safety protocols, ways to get around, and where I would get my fix of Alaskan seafood.
I found my home away from home in Anchorage. Located directly on Cook Inlet, this 49th state urban oasis has become the hub of Alaska visitors. Choosing this metropolitan city surrounded by nature was the perfect destination for my Nordic adventure.
You are near dozens of glaciers
If you’ve come to Alaska to see glaciers, there are 60 within 50 miles of Anchorage. Your challenge will be to choose which one you want to see and then plan your day trip. The most accessible in Anchorage, by Alaska standards, is the Portage Glacier; it is a short scenic drive fifty miles south. Once you arrive, you can walk along the shore of Portage Lake and explore Portage Lake before boarding the MV Ptarmigan for a narrated cruise facing the glacier. These cruises run from May 28 to September 6, five times a day. Reservations are recommended.
I’m an adventurer at heart, and wanted to hike a glacier. Something deep inside wanted to see him up close, hear the sounds of moving ice and walk with ice spikes on its face. Unlike the Portage Glacier, which is south of Anchorage, the Matanuska Glacier is north of the city and is thirty miles away! However, the scenic drive was worth it!
Hiking a glacier is not easy, and I recommend that you do your research before you go. Many outfits offer up close experiences without the strenuous hike to the face. Make reservations with one of the reputable companies that offer guided hikes or climbs.
Pro tip: A trip to Matanuska will take you a whole day. There are many stalls where you can take photos and see the glacier as you drive there. Pack a packed lunch along the way as there isn’t much in between.
You don’t have to go far from Anchorage to see the wildlife; you might actually find a moose or two in town!
Moose are more likely to be seen in the morning or evening, and your best bet for seeing them in urban areas is to watch them munching in neighborhood flower beds or at Kincaid Park, one of the largest recreation areas in Anchorage.
If you’ve checked moose off your animal watching list, I’m sure the next one you have on your Alaska checklist is trying to see a black or brown bear. Bear sightings depend on the time of year you come. Since bears hibernate in the winter, they are more commonly seen during the summer months. While I kept my eyes open on my journey, none have ever crossed my path. I’m already planning a return visit and planning to visit some of the best recommended places to see bears including from the sky on a day trip to Katmai National Park or Lake Clark National Park in the center Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center or the Anchorage Zoo. .
You can see the Northern Lights
The Northern Lights – otherwise known as the Northern Lights – are a stunning display of Earth’s magnetic field interacting with charged particles from the sun. It’s beautiful and worth it to brave a cold night when visiting.
If you want to see the Northern Lights, you will have to come from late summer to early spring. The best time for an aurora vacation is February or March, when it is still very dark, but the days are long enough for you to dog sled, snowmobile, and ski. To maximize your chances of seeing this dazzling light show in the night sky, head to Glen Alps Trailhead or Point Woronzof.
Many hours of daylight (and darkness too)
Summer is one of the best times to visit Anchorage. Daylight hours are optimal during this season, and you will have the opportunity to experience all that this city has to offer. Mid-May to mid-September is considered a peak trip; by the time temperatures hit the low 70s, the rivers teem with salmon and wildlife viewing is at its peak.
I loved the extended daylight hours; it gave me a lot of time to do the things I wanted. Upon returning from a day trip I saw the wildlife in the dark evenings and the colorful sunsets were worth staying awake.
Pro tip: You will want to take the weather into account when planning your trip and pack accordingly; otherwise, you might find yourself shopping for the unexpected. Dress in layers when you go for the day, stay casual, and have appropriate footwear.
You can get vaccinated at the airport
While there are no testing or travel requirements for the state, anyone coming to Alaska through Ted Stevens International Airport can take advantage of the free COVID-19 vaccine and testing options. Inside the airport, there is a free clinic for anyone to receive a COVID-19 test upon arrival and those over 12 to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. You will find it on level 2 near hall A from 10 a.m. to midnight.
When visiting Anchorage, unvaccinated visitors are encouraged to wear a mask, and some businesses may require masks for everyone. Social distancing is also encouraged.
Pro tip: For vaccines at the airport, walk-in visits are accepted. However, you can pre-register and registration takes less than five minutes at Alaska Safe Travels.
You are near five national parks
Denali, Katmai, Kenai Fjords, Lake Clark, and Wrangell-Saint Elias National Parks are all available from Anchorage via a rental car, passenger train, or airplane tour on a small plane. Each of these national parks offers something different and diverse; you just have to choose what you want to experience. Deciding will be the hardest part.
Denali looms on the Anchorage skyline and invites visitors to come and see the beauty it offers. I found this national park the easiest to access on a day trip from Anchorage.
Pro tip: Decide before you go which ones you want to see. You will need to pre-book the mode of transport you are using and it will take you a full day to get there and back.
It has the comforts of town with the hospitality of Alaska
Anchorage has everything a modern traveler could want, including a wide variety of places to stay. However, you will want to plan and book well in advance for your trip. You can find accommodation in charming inns, hotel chains or guesthouses.
Food: love it, and didn’t know what to expect when it comes to restaurants; However, you will find that Anchorage’s food scene far exceeds your expectations. Since it’s right on Cook Inlet, you’ll get the freshest seafood you’ve ever had. Try local seafood, like salmon, halibut, or crab, or the unique local dish when you’re here. Kinley’s Restaurant, open only Tuesday through Saturday evenings, is renowned for the best Alaskan halibut cheeks.
Pro tip: Accommodation near Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport was perfect for my trip. This is a great location, close to everything Anchorage has to offer. Even though I was in town, the view from Lakefront Anchorage was magnificent.
The travel options are endless (with some surprising alternatives)
You might be wondering how to explore locally. Personally, I found Anchorage easy to navigate and there were many unique ways to see it all. Of course, you can hire a car, use public transport, or use a taxi service if you want to sightsee and get around in the traditional way; However, you are in Alaska, so why not take some things from the air or by train?
Flying is one thing, and you can take a flight from Anchorage any time of the year to see the incredible city from the sky. There is no other place in the United States with such a unique fleet of small planes. It’s impressive when you look up from the sky and see all the rows of bush planes on the tarmac.
Another way to experience wilderness is the railroad. Board the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage for a day trip to Seward, Talkeetna or Denali.
See the best of Alaska and only unbox once
Make Anchorage your personal launch pad for a trip to Alaska. At your fingertips, you have all modern conveniences, delicious cuisine, stunning scenic drives, and abundant wildlife. It’s the perfect opportunity to experience all that Alaska has to offer from a central base camp location… and you only have to unbox once!
“The mountains are calling to me and I must go,” John Muir once wrote. Can you hear them?