Even for brief getaways, Anchorage packs brag-worthy experiences.
Right now, airfare from Seattle to Anchorage is the lowest it’s been in at least 20 years. Maybe you’ve always planned to take a big Alaska vacation and do something truly epic. But even for brief getaways, Anchorage is perfect, and still packs brag-worthy experiences. At just over a 3-hour flight from Seattle and with a flight every hour, some giant, Alaska-sized experiences are waiting at the end of a pretty short trip.
Hike like a local
Names like Denali loom large in Alaska. But to truly sound like the locals and enjoy some of their favorite places, you’ll need to master a more obscure name: Chugach. Pronounced “CHEW-gatch,” it’s the name of the mountains on Anchorage’s eastern edge. The biggest mountains in the Chugach top out at 13,000 feet, with summits at the edge averaging closer to 3,000 feet. You’re starting the day at sea level, and taking advantage of some of the most popular and best-maintained trails in Alaska. Glen Alps, Eagle River Nature Center and Eklutna are a handful of jumping off points for hikes that range from easy mile hikes to multiday trips over mountain passes. Start with Flattop, a 3-mile hike to a flat summit. It’s only 1,500 feet of elevation from trailhead to top; you can decide how much to elaborate or embellish when you tell everyone you summited a mountain in Alaska.
Float to Spencer Glacier
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The Chugach are dotted with glaciers, around 60 of them in all. A short drive and a walk is all that’s needed to reach the most accessible of them, but for a VIP encounter with a big blue glacier, book a ride on Alaska Railroad’s Glacier Discovery train. The ride drops travelers at a whistle stop deep in the mountains for a day of adventure. When the train pulls away, Spencer is yours for the day. Hike the edge of Spencer Lake in view of the ice, or paddle close enough to icebergs to reach out and touch them. Then you can beach the kayak and climb atop the glacier. Maybe this is exactly the epic trip you’ve been thinking of all along.
Road trip along Turnagain Arm. A 20-minute drive from the city, the Seward Highway runs along the coastline of Turnagain Arm. Dall sheep clamber over the cliffs on one side and the waters of Cook Inlet, with beluga whales prowling the shoreline for fish on the other side. There are plenty of places to stop, take in the scenery and the wildlife, snap pictures, and take a hike. Girdwood, the small mountain town tucked back in the valley, is a popular stop along the way.
Dog sledding. Long after the snow melts, there’s a golden chance to take on the state sport. A team of your new best dog-friends is waiting a quick helicopter ride away on Knik or Punch Bowl glacier. Take a short sleeve ride over the snow with Alaska huskies. Afterward, you can visit the kennel where the dogs live and, if you’re lucky, meet some puppies. PUPPIES!
Sure, we have puppies in Seattle, too. And we have mountains and water, but do we have moose? Bears? Dall sheep? Beluga whales? “What people don’t always realize,” Jack Bonney of Visit Anchorage says, “is how close the wildlife is. On the drive from the airport to the hotel there’s a decent chance you’ll see one of the 1,500 resident moose. That’s not something many cities our size can say.”
Sticking close to the city has perks besides meeting locals with antlers. After a day among the glaciers, on the trails, and nose-to-snout with wildlife, Anchorage is a comfy haven of hotels, B&Bs, restaurants and enough local beer to satisfy parched Alaskans and thirsty travelers alike.
From the sparkling waters of Cook Inlet to the peaks of the Chugach Mountains, Anchorage encompasses adventures and metropolitan appeals that are larger than life. With 1,500 moose, national parks and 60 glaciers a short drive away, it’s a dream destination in Alaska.