Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska and acts as the gateway to the state’s vast and abundant wildernesses. Best known for its preservation of native culture Anchorage is quite unlike any other city in the United States of America. The people, faced with some of the most adverse weather in all of North America are hardy but welcoming and incredibly friendly.
While exploring Anchorage city itself the Alaska Native Heritage Center is not to be missed nor the Anchorage Museums. Although there is a lot to explore in Anchorage itself, it makes for a fantastic base for day trips across the state.
I have live in Anchorage and have explored the most popular destinations in all of Alaska. Here is my list of the best day trips form Anchorage.
1. Turnagain Arm
Turnagain Arm is one of the most popular outings for day trippers from Anchorage. This waterway, that feeds into the Gulf of Alaska, draws its name from the misfortune of James Cook, the pioneering British explorer. Cook had no option but to ‘turn again’ when the hearsay of a Northwest Passage turned out to be just that, hearsay.
You can hike along the scenic byway taking in the breathtaking views of the water below and the jagged peaks in the distance. Popular trails include Bird and Rainbow. McHugh Creek, is another beautiful adventure. Hikers are welcome as are mountain bikers.
2. Chugach National Forest
The Chugach National Forest is one of the most accessible day-long excursions from Anchorage, both in terms of proximity and affordability. Incredibly the Chugach National Forest is the second largest national forest in the United States of America, narrowly missing out to Tongass across state.
There is a wealth of natural beauty to be experienced in Chugach National Forest and a heap of ways to enjoy it; from hiking to biking, from kayaking to ATVing. The most accessible hiking trails start just a 20 minute drive from downtown Anchorage. If you want to head further afield, I suggest to travel to the northern tip of Chugach where you can kayak on a glacial lake; not to be missed.
There’s a great guided tour available I recommend: Wilderness Wildlife Glacier Experience
3. Katmai National Park
Many of Alaska’s best national parks are accessible from Anchorage by seaplane and none so true of Katmai National Park. This national park is home to paradise like vistas featuring glaciers, volcanoes, lakes and, of course, dense forest too. If you want to catch a glimpse of Alaska’s grizzly bears, Katmai National Park is the place to visit.
Best bear sightings occur in July and September but they can be spotted as early as May. The grizzly bears migrate to the Brooks River to thrash in the powerful river flow snapping salmon travelling upstream left, right and center.
Read also: 15 Best Things to Do in Anchorage
4. Portage Valley
Portage Valley features one of Alaska’s most popular and picturesque glaciers, the aptly named Portage Glacier. Standing a proud ten stories tall and spanning the same distance wide the Portage Glacier can be found at the far end of Portage Lake. For best access to Portage Glacier I recommend to hike along the Byron Glacier Trail that takes you to the foot of the phenomenal icy formation.
This trail is less than a mile in length and is enjoyable for even the most unenthusiastic of hikers. You can couple a trip around Portage Valley with a visit to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to add a more educational element to your day. I found on Viator that this is included in their Valley of Glaciers Experience.
5. Alaska Railroad
The Alaska Railroad snakes through the magnificent North American landscape with such poise and ease one may feel like they are floating. This is a relaxing and enchanting experience that offers you the opportunity to take in the beauty of astounding, awe-inspiring Alaska.
They offer one-day railroad excursions that take you from Anchorage due south towards Seward. Alternatively you can travel further south towards Whittier onto the Kenai Mountains and Spencer Glacier. If you wish to experience Alaska’s frozen north then I suggest to jump aboard the Denali Star that will transport you to Talkeetna, Denali National Park and onto far flung Fairbanks.
6. Eagle River Nature Center
Hikers, bikers and all round avid explorers will love Eagle River Nature Center. Nestled deep within Chugach State Park, that neighbors Chugach National Park, the Eagle River Nature Center is a not-for-profit that offers the average Joe the opportunity to engage with nature in a mindful way.
The Eagle River Nature Centre focuses on getting the wider community reconnected with nature through resource protection, outdoor adventures and interactive educational opportunities. Open throughout the year there are over 10-miles of hiking trails to choose from with varying difficulty.
Situated just a 40-minute drive from downtown Anchorage this is a particularly great day trip if you’re short on time.
Related: 28 Amazing Hidden Gems in Alaska
7. Rendezvous Peak
Should you be seeking an active and adventurous excursion then do seriously consider Rendezvous Peak. As one of the first great peaks of the Chugach Mountains in the Arctic Valley, Rendezvous Peak is a great introduction to mountainous hikes in Alaska.
To summit Rendezvous Peak one must embark on a 4-mile round trip towards the 1,500 ft peak elevation point. This is a steady incline that naturally steepens towards the pinnacle. From the top explorers are rewarded with breathtaking views of the Cook Inlet and the Anchorage Bowl below.
In the summer months, in particular, you can hike and simultaneously snack on berries that adorn the valley’s hedgerows.
8. Kenai Fjords National Park
The Kenai Fjords National Park is quite possibly Alaska’s most iconic landscape and is the source of wanderlust for many who visit the northernmost state. A day long cruise of the fjord is without a doubt the best way to experience and connect with this inspiring landscape. You will jump aboard your small cruise liner in Seward and head out onto the eerily still waters.
During the course of the cruise, and dependant on the season of your visit, you will have the opportunity to observe some of nature’s greatest achievements both in terms of flora, fauna and geography. Orca, Humpback and Minke Whales regularly frequent these waters and put on quite the performance. There are several multi-day tours available but I went by car on my last visit, it’s about a 2.5 hour drive.
9. Alyeska Resort Aerial Tram
The Alyeska Resort Aerial Tram is one of the most incredible experiences you can have in Alaska and its perfect for lazy travelers. No need to get hiking or skiing, least not if you don’t want to, head to the Alyeska Resort and ride the aerial tramway to the top of Mt. Alyeska.
Look up, look down, look all around for the Alyeska Resort Aerial Tram offers unrivalled panoramic views of the imposing mountain peaks and densely vegetated valley below. You can take a few snapshots at the top and come back down, drop into the Alyeska Resort fine dining restaurant or hit the ski slopes.
Further reading: 15 Best Small Towns to Visit in Alaska
10. Crow Creek Goldmine
Established in 1896 the Crow Creek Goldmine is a world famous gold mine that used pioneering hydraulic technologies to extract the precious metal from the earth. Still a thriving, working gold mine today, a visit to the Crow Creek Goldmine sees you learn about the mining process, the history of this famous business and the amazing products it has produced.
During your visit you can pan for gold yourself, to learn how to sift and sluice the gold from the experts. You can also take a tour around the goldmine village and admire the quaint miners cottages that are perfectly preserved.
11. Roundhouse Museum
The Roundhouse Museum is proud to be the only mountain top museum in all of Alaska.
Sitting a whopping 2,280ft above sea level the Roundhouse Museum is octagonal rather than perfectly round and was built in 1960. The Roundhouse Museum features dozens of exhibits and artefacts and has most recently opened the ‘The James Girdwood Collection: Photos from 1896-1904’. The museum was renovated in 2003 and received an investment of $1.9 million from the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Corridor Communities Association.
You can couple a visit to the Roundhouse Museum with a ski day at the Alyeska Resort and of course a ride on the Alyeska Resort Aerial Tram.
12. Prince William Sound
Prince William Sound is quite possibly one of the most breathtaking ocean inlets in the world. The Prince William Sound is best experienced on a mini cruise liner. You can see icebergs crack and crash into the calm waters below. As you cruise through the sound you will push floating masses of ice to the wayside and power on to the next awe-inspiring viewpoint.
Otters, seals and sea lions are regularly sighted in the Prince William Sound and are almost a guarantee. Avid ornithologists will be blown away by the migratory sea birds that frequent the area throughout the year. Highlights of a day cruise include Barry Glacier and Blackstone Bay.
Read also: Amazing Waterfalls in Alaska
13. Matanuska Valley Glaciers
The opportunity for adventures within the Matanuska Valley Glaciers is almost endless. Whether you explore the ice with crampons and hiking poles, with a paddle and a kayak or even aboard a bush plane, be prepared to be blown away and entirely awe-struck.
Sitting just off the Glenn Highway is a gentle one mile hiking path that takes you through a sprawling aspen forest and out towards the Matanuska Valley Glaciers that is not to be missed. Even in the summer these glaciers are snow topped, so be sure to reignite your childish side and indulge in a fun and frenetic snowball fight.
14. 6-Mile Creek Rafting
Alaska is famed for its white water rafting and one of the most famous spots of all is 6-Mile Creek. If you want to embrace the wild waters that surround Anchorage then Lower 6-Mile Creek should be your first port of call. Featuring both IV and V rapids this is not for the faint hearted.
Get ready for an adrenaline packed adventure that sees you race through narrow water runs, down steep, stomach clenching drops and out the other side. There are a number of reputable rafting companies who offer full day and half day excursions throughout the year, for example novalaska.com. I advice to wear your thermals in winter though.
15. Dog Sledding
Dog Sledding has been a pivotal part of Alaskan culture for centuries. Come rain or shine, summer or winter, these dogs are ready to rock and roll; so you better be ready for an adventure. More than just dogs, these are full time athletes who are in the prime of their life.
Depending on your chosen tour company you can sled through the snowy mountain passes, the gravely river banks or through the meadows. You can even learn the art of mushing at the Alaska Mushing School. Although it takes years to master the technique and build trusting bonds with the dogs in the course of a day you can get to grips with the basics and learn more about this amazing tradition.