things to do anchorage, Alaska

Anchorage may be the largest city in Alaska, but with the steep and jagged Chugach mountains surrounding the city, Anchorage is a haven for outdoorsmen/women and there are so many epic things to do. While I personally don’t dream of living in a big city, of all cities in the United States, this is definitely one of the best basecamps for an adventurer.

Why go to Anchorage: Tips for Visiting

Here’s the deal, you don’t go to Alaska for Anchorage itself. Anchorage is just a basecamp, a really freaking good one at that, because the reason you should be visiting Alaska is for the great outdoors. There are few places with nature as raw as Alaska’s and I don’t think that will ever change.

The mountains of Anchorage have hundreds of different trails to choose from and most are a short drive from city center which means you can spend half your day bagging peaks and the other half chilling with some of the best artisan foods Alaska has to offer.

The opportunities are truly endless. Within a 30 minute drive of Anchorage, you can explore coastal forest trails, the condensed mountain valleys of Hatcher Pass and hike to old mines. There’s Turnagain Arm, the ski town of Girdwood, Wasilia, and gorgeous glaciers of Portage Pass. It’s adventures of all sorts, not just hiking. There’s fishing, SUPing, kayaking, climbing, and mountain biking. Anchorage is an up and coming mountain bike town and it shows with it’s smooth singletrack and long distance rides nearby.

Tips for Hiking near Anchorage

  • Carry Bear Spray – You don’t hike in Alaska without bear spray, that’s just an absolute. If you’re flying into Anchorage, you can pick up bear spray at REI, Costco, or Cabella’s. If you’re driving, you buy some online ahead of time.
  • 10 Essentials – Since this Things to Do list contains so many hikes, you’ll want to be prepared with the 10 essentials.
  • Get an Alaska State Parks Pass – A lot of these activities start within Alaska State Parks. Each time you park at one of these it’s $5 for the day. I highly recommend picking up an Alaska State Parks Pass which is $50 for the year. You can order one online here or you can purchase one at the REI in Anchorage, art the Mat-Su/Copper Basin Area Office in Wasilla, or at the Chugach State Park Office.

Adventurous Things to do in Anchorage

1 | Camp at Eklutna Lake

On the northeast side of Anchorage, 9 miles into Chugach State Park is a campground of peace, solitude, and a perfectly blue lake.

This one made our top 10 best campgrounds list for a good reason. Not only are the actual campsites beautiful, they are spacious and only a few minute walk from a gorgeous alpine lake. Even if you don’t camp, it would be worth spending a few hours here at the lake to soak in the turquoise water and surrounding mountains.

2 | Hike the Twin Peaks Trail

Trailhead: Eklutna Lake
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Distance: 5 miles roundtrip, 1800 feet elevation gain

From Eklutna Lake there’s more than just camping. At Eklutna Lake you’ll find the trailhead for the Twin Peaks which delivers incredible views of the lake from above. This 5 mile roundtrip takes you up to an overlook where you can see the amazing colors of Eklutna Lake plus the mountains surrounding.

Twin Peaks Trail, Things to do in Anchorage
Soaking In the views of Eklutna Lake from Twin Peaks Trail near Anchorage

The trail is steep but moderately easy compared to many Anchorage hikes. The trail switchbacks through pretty birch forests before finally cresting the treelike after 1 little more than an hour.

Eklutna Lake Ovelrook, Things to do in Anchorage
The incredible icy waters of Eklutna Lake are far more striking when seen form above

While the views are incredible from here, you also have the option to extend this hike to East Twin Peak, Pepper Peak, or tackle the Eklutna High Ridge Traverse, all of which involve exciting scrambles and are definitely some of the best hikes in Alaska.

3 | Explore Portage Pass

Trailhead: Portage Pass Trailhead, Whittier
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Distance: 2-4 miles roundtrip, 800 feet elevation gain

This is the most bang for you buck hike near Anchorage but it does cost a few bucks. In order to get to the trailhead you’ll need to drive through the one way road through Portage Tunnel which costs:

  • $13 for Passenger vehicles and RV’s under 28 feet (no trailers)
  • $22 for RVs over 28 feet or passenger vehicles with trailers
  • $38 for large trailers (AKA 5th wheels) or RVs that are towing trailers

Note: Prices include roundtrip travel and are not discounted for one way travel.

The tunnel alternates direction every half hour.  Currently the summer schedule allows traffic from Bear Valley (Anchorage side) to Whittier on the :30 and traffic from Whittier to Bear Valley on the :00. Keep in mind that the tunnel only allows traffic for 15 minutes at a time since the tunnel takes so long to drive through which means you could have to wait for up to 45 minutes. Click her to see the current tunnel schedule.

Portage Pass Hike near Anchorage
Portage Lake is gorgeous but views of the port town of Whittier are almost better

Once through the tunnel, you’ll immediately turn right to the Portage Pass Trailhead. You’ll make another right at the next dirt road however this dirt road is a little rough for RVs getting to the trailhead as of 2019 so we just parked on the first dirt road and hiked an extra 0.1 miles. If you are towing a trailer, park across the highway at the Portage Campground since there is limited room to turn around at the trailhead.

From here, now the fun begins! The Portage Pass hike is the best bang for your buck hike in probably all of Alaska and though it’s in Whittier, it’s only a 1 hour drive form Anchorage.

This hike is a short, steep one mile trail to get to the summit of Portage Pass and the overlook where you’ll get perfect views of the Portage Lake and Portage Glacier. If you want to extend the hike and are in search of a little more solitude, hike a mile further down to the shores of Portage Lake where you can see the beautiful moraine colored water up close. The area by the lake makes a great picnic spot.

4 | Summit Mount Baldy

Trailhead: Mt Baldy Trailhead, Eagle River
Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 3-4 miles roundtrip, 500 feet elevation gain

Due to Anchorage’s mountainous features, most of the hikes near the city are EXTREMELY steep and strenuous. Mount Baldy is what I’d consider a perfect warmup to the area’s hikes. While still a steep ascent, it’s super family friendly and the hike can be done in 2-3 hours.

summiting Mount Baldy near Anchorage
Walking down the rocky ridge from Mount Baldy and taking in the incredible Chugach Mountain range

That’s not to say this trail isn’t equally as beautiful as other hikes though. At the summit of Mount Baldy you get 360 degree views of the coast, downtown Anchorage, and to the east, the Chugach mountains towering off into the distance. The coolest part is that you get these incredible views the whole way which helps motivate you to keep on climbing the steep trail.

From the summit, you can also choose to make it longer and continue on to Roundtop and Blacktail Rocks which lie directly east along the ridge seen from Baldy’s summit. This only adds about an hour to you hike.

This hike gains 500 feet over a 1 or 2 mile span. There are 2 trails that ascends the mountain which means you can make it a loop or just do an out and back. The right trail is slightly steep and shorter and the left trail is longer and more gradual and goes up the valley, which is good if you have a fear of heights. We chose to go up the right side and being spring when we hiked this trail, we wished we had just descended the same way since the valley was so muddy.

summiting Mount Baldy near Anchorage
From Mount Baldy, there are many amazing hikes you can extend your trip to such as Blacktail Rocks which can be seen in this photo

Getting there

The trailhead is at the top of a hill in a residential area of Eagle River. From Eagle River, head east on Eagle River Loop road then turn left at Skyline drive and head all the way to the top. The road is quite steep and the parking lot is big enough for 30 or so cars and includes a turnaround spot. Our 30 foot RV made it up there great and being a weekday in spring there was plenty of parking but I wouldn’t recommend any larger vehicles.

From the parking lot you can take the left road or the right road. The right road heads up a switchback. Even when you see a trail sign to the left, continue on the road towards the antenna. When you reach the antenna the road will turn into a trail and you will be on the ascent to Baldy. For the more gradual ascent go straight on the left road. Soon you will see a trail open up on your right where you can head up the valley to Baldy.

5 | Brave the Bird Ridge Trail

Trailhead: Bird Ridge Trailhead, Seward Highway
Difficulty: Strenuous
Distance: 5 miles roundtrip, 4,700 feet elevation gain

This hike is painfully steep and arguably the hardest hike in Anchorage. Its faux peaks constantly plays tricks with you, however, reaching the summit of this hike is worth every step when you see views back into the mountains of Chugach.

This was one of the highest priorty hikes for us to hit in Alaska but much to our disappointment, we never got to the end of it. Even though it was hot and perfectly sunny when we started this ridiculously steep trail, a thunderstorm rolled in just as we got above tree line and we had to turn back.

Bird Ridge trail on Seward Highway near Anchorage, Alaska
Even if you don’t make it to the top, Bird Ridge delivers mind blowing views along the way

That being said, there are 3 stopping points along this trail. The first being a bench about a third of the way up and even if you only make it here, it’s still worth the 1 hour trek. The ocean views along the way are insanely beautiful and ironically, even though there was a thunderstorm at the top, it was perfectly clear over the Turnagain Arm and the mountains across the sound.

Pro tip: It’s hard to keep track of how far you are into the hike with time. Use your phone’s compass to check your elevation instead. The summit is at 4,700 feet.

Though only a 5 mile hike, I highly recommend giving yourself an entire (preferably sunny) day to do this hike. You won’t regret it!

Getting there:

Take the Seward Highway south from Anchorage and after a short 20 or so minutes, pay close attention to spot the trail sign along the side of highway. It’ll be on the left hand side just after mile marker 24. The parking lot can accommodate RVs as long as the parking lot is relatively empty. Signs clearly mark the trail. Parking costs $5 unless you have the Alaska State Parks Pass.

6 | Ride the Winner Creek Hand Tram

Trailhead: Winner Creek Gorge Trailhead or Alyeska Resort, Girdwood
Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 4-6 miles roundtrip, <500 feet elevation gain

This hike in Girdwood is a must do for everyone. The hike itself isn’t the draw here but rather the destination: a public hand tram that crosses the Winner Creek gorge.

It’s a relatively flat 2.5 mile hike from the luxurious Alyeska Resort to the hand tram. While those with a fear of heights may choose to just watch from the sidelines, most will want to wait in line for a turn to be pulled across the Winner Creek in the hand tram. After you’ve taken in the excitement and views, you can either backtrack (which is what we chose to do to get more miles in) or continue 2 more miles to Crow Creek Road.

Crossing the Winner Creek Hand Tram in Anchorage Area
POV perspective of crossing the hand tram which gives you awesome views down into the river gorge

This can be hiked as an out and back from two different trailheads or as a point to point hike where you can hop on the free Glacier Valley Transit Gold Mine Bus hiker shuttle provided by Alyeska Resort. If you want to do it that way, start from Alyeska Resort, cross the hand tram, then continue to the Winner Creek Trailhead on Crow Creek road. The same route can also be done vice versa, starting at Crow Creek road (which can be a great place to free camp in an RV). Click here to see the bus schedule.

Disclosure: Please remember to use caution and only do what you’re comfortable with at the Winner Creek Hand Tram. Tragically, just a few days after we visited the hand tram ourselves, someone had a fatal fall from one of the platforms and the city temporarily closed the Hand Tram. Hopefully it’s back up and running when you visit.

Getting there:

Girdwood lies off of the Alyeska Highway just 30 miles from Anchorage. From the obvious junction from the Seward Highway, continue down the road until you see the signs pointing left to Winner Creek/ Crow Pass Trailhead. Drive down the dirt road for 3 miles where you’ll reach the Winner Creek Gorge Trailhead. If you want to hike from the Resort, continue down Alyeska Highway and make a left when road ends at a stop sign. Follow this to the Alyeska Resort free parking area. The trail starts from behind the gondola.

7 | Rock Climb on Turnagain Arm

Note: This one is only for rock climbers, however, unlike most of Alaska, you don’t have to be a hardcore mountaineer to enjoy fun climbing.

We didn’t actually get a chance to test out these routes as the weather didn’t cooperate the day we planned to go climb, but if you’re an experienced adventurer who knows how to sport climb, don’t miss the scenic crags right along Seward Highway.

All along the highway are over a dozen different coastal crags, most of which are roadside with practically no approach making it easy to stop here for some climbing on the way to other adventures near Anchorage.

Tip: While this is an increasingly popular crag, it can still be chossy here so don’t forget a helmet.

Click here for climbing beta on Mountain Project or click here to get the top guidebook for Climbing on the Seward Highway.

8 | Hike to the Awe-Striking Crow Pass Cabin (aka Crystal Lake)

Trailhead: Crow Creek Trailhead, Girdwood
Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 7 miles roundtrip (6 to the cabin), 2100 feet elevation gain

If you’re feeling up to a challenge and want some of the best views in Alaska, hike to Crow Pass Cabin.

This was hands down our favorite hike in Alaska.

While this hike still climbs 2,000 feet in 3 miles, it’s moderate and there aren’t many hikes in the US that you can get such epic views for so little work.

I love the diversity of this hike and right from the get go, this hike is stunning. First, the hike ascends forested switchbacks with occasional views of the mountains of Girdwood. Soon the trail sidles around the side of the mountain and enters a wide valley with green meadows and dozens of waterfalls. Here, your destination opens up before you and it’s incredible.

The trail goes from forest to alpine in a matter of seconds as you start traversing the side of a mountain (much like the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park). Note, this trail is often covered in patches of snow until July however we still managed to hike this safely in mid June. After ascending the easy grade, you scramble around the top of a waterfall and are met with an incredible lake (or snowfield depending on the season).

Hike over to the Crow Pass Cabin to enjoy a snack and take in the view. You may even spot some mountain goats up here. The Crow Pass Cabin is open to the public to stay at overnight however reservations are required and it books up fast. You’ll need to make reservations here really far in advance if you want to stay at this cozy little cabin in the middle of the mountains.

After taking in the cabin vibes be sure to hike half a mile further to Crow Pass summit at 8,500 feet which sits at the base of the massive Raven Glacier.

This trail is also a popular backpacking spot and you can make the slow descent along the Crow Pass Trail toward the Eagle River Nature Center. While this side of the pass isn’t quite as beautiful as the Girdwood side, it could be a fun adventure to thru-hike this 21 mile trail by leaving a car at the Eagle River Nature Center prior to starting this trek.

There are a few designated campsites within the Eagle River side of the pass however you are allowed to backcountry camp anywhere in the wilderness here as long as you’re more than half a mile away from a trailhead.

Click here for more details on backpacking the Crow Pass Trail.

Getting There

Getting here requires driving 6 miles down a dirt road. The dirt is well maintained and we had no problem taking our RV up the road however the only sketchy part was the last mile. Just after crossing a bridge the road becomes a windy one lane road with only a few turnouts and people were driving it really fast. That being said, I did white knuckle my RV to the trailhead, but it was early on a Thursday morning. I wouldn’t recommend doing this on a weekend.

9 | Ride Kincaid Park

Anchorage is an up and coming mountain biking town and the crown jewel of the trail network is Kincaid Park.

Kincaid Park is a dreamy network of long smooth trails with rolling berms, little elevation gain, and a perfect flow to everything.

Mountain Biking in Anchorage at Kincaid Park
Riding fun, smooth berms of Kincaid Park

This is as close as we’ve come in our travels to the smooth, rolling, hard packed terrain that we experienced in Rotorua, New Zealand. If you love to MTB, you’ll want to check out the vast network of trails here at Kincaid (which can also be hiked).

Bolling Alley combined with Toilet Bowl is a must-do ride at Kincaid Park. This loop trail is ridden counter clockwise on odd days, and clockwise on even days. Toilet bowl is a small sub-loop along Bolling Alley and is so fun you’ll want to ride this half mile loop over and over again.

Another top ride you can’t miss is Lee’s Train to GFB to Good Greef. This ride has only a few really fun sections, but they’re worth the ride over.

Getting There

The Kincaid Park trailhead is right next to the Jodhpur Motocross Track. The trailhead is reached by heading west on Kincaid Road or West Diamond Blvd. The parking lot holds about 30 cars and usually has room for RV’s unless the lot is full.

10 | Hike the Gold Mint Trail

Trailhead: Gold Mint Trailhead, Hatcher Pass
Difficulty: Easy (except the part right by the hut)
Distance: 9 miles roundtrip to the hut, 2500 feet elevation gain

If you head 45 minutes north of Anchorage, you’ll be at the start of a dozen or so hikes in the Hatcher Pass area. We were there early in June and a lot of the more stunning alpine lake hikes were still under snow so we opted for a few miles of the Gold Mint trail.

The Gold Mint trail is a popular and relatively easy backpacking trail that a lot of locals tackle early in the season when they’re antsy to get outdoors. This trail goes through the mountains, past Mint Glacier, to a gorgeous little mountaineer’s hut which is considered one of “America’s Most Beautiful Backcountry Huts” by Backpacker Magazine.

Gold Mint Hut of Hatcher Pass, Alaska
A long trek? Yes. Worth it, every step of the way? You got that right.
Photo credit: Cecil Sanders via TheAlaskaLife.com

The Hut is run by the Alaska Mountaineering Club and if you’re a member (which costs a whopping $20 per year) you’re welcome to use the Mint Hut which is really rad because it’s equipped with a full kitchen and other supplies.

We weren’t prepared nor did we have time to tackle a big 9 mile hike at the time and just enjoyed hiking the first few miles of the trail. It’s relatively flat and good for younger kids but in retrospect, I wish I had prioritized the trek to this incredible hut.

For details on the full hike click here.

Getting There

Hatcher Pass is accessed from the Palmer-Wasilla area. From the turnoff, it’s a 7 mile drive up the scenic highway.

Pro tip: If you are in an RV, this trailhead also serves as a campground and the backdrop of the mountains makes for an epic camping destination. 

11 | Hike Flattop Mountain

Trailhead: Glen Alps Trailhead, Anchorage
Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 3.4 miles roundtrip, 1400 feet elevation gain

Much like Mt Baldy, Flattop is another one of the most popular summits to bag near Anchorage and probably the most hiked mountain in all of Alaska because of its relative ease to hike.

Flattop Mountain Anchorage
It may seem intimidating to summit this peak but just think, this is one of the easiest peak hikes you’ll find in Alaska 🙂
Photo credit: Dwayne Parton

With views of the Chugach Mountains, Anchorage, the Alaska Range and being less than a 4 mile roundtrip hike to summit, it’s not hard to see why it’s so popular.

Because of the popularity, it’s best to not hike this on a weekend, or try to hike it early or late in the day (the sun isn’t going anywhere). If the season is right, this is also a popular place to view northern lights from.

Getting There

Take the O’Malley Road exit and head east. Turn right on Hillside Drive then left on Upper Huffman Dr. Turn right onto Toilsome Hill Drive where the road will eventually turn into Glen Alps Rd. After 2 miles you’ll see sign for the Glen Alps/Flattop Moutnain Trailhead.

12 | Summit Anchorage’s Highest Peak

Trailhead: Glen Alps Trailhead, Anchorage
Difficulty: Strenuous
Distance: 9 miles roundtrip, 2200 feet elevation gain

If you’re up for a challenge and are prepared for a big adventure, from the same trailhead as Flattop Mountain you can also tackle the more strenuous and prestigious summit, O’Malley Peak.

Views form O'Malley Peak, Anchorage
Incredible views from the summit of O’Malley Peak are just a bonus to the incredible adventure it takes to get up there
Photo credit: Andrew Rigler via TheOutbound.com

This is an iconic and gorgeous Anchorage day hike, perfect for experienced hikers (and adrenaline junkies).

Reaching its 5,100 foot summit involves scrambling and a little bit of route finding but you’ll be rewarded with epic views from Anchorage’s highest peak.

Click here for a full route description.

Access to this trailhead same as for Flattop Mountain (see number 11)

13 | Mountain Bike Hillside Park

Hillside Park is another mountain biking hotspot of Anchorage. In the summer, this public ski area transforms into a downhill mountain biking hub filled with everything a mountain biker wants out of a trial: whoops, swoops, and berms.

Compared to Kincaid Park, Hillside Park is more suited to intermediate to advanced bikers with its steeper trails and gnarlier berms.

Beginners can’t miss the cross country trial, Queen Bee and Intermediate to Advanced riders will be stoked by the steep berms and jumps of Jeff’s Whoop Whoop downhill only trail. Whoop Whoop is possible for intermediate riders but you may have to walk in some spots because it can be quite steep.

Getting There

Head east on Abbot Road until you see signs for Hillside Park. There are two dirt lots to park at with plenty of room for RVs.

14 | Hike to Rabbit Lakes + McHugh Peak

Trailhead: Rabbit Creek Trailhead or McHugh Creek Trailhead
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Distance: 13 (from McHugh TH) or 9 (from Rabbit Lakes TH) miles roundtrip, 2200 feet elevation gain

What makes this hike so amazing is the beautiful alpine lake that sits nestled beneath the jagged, sharp Suicide Peaks.

There are two different trailheads you can access this lake from: one on the south by Turnagain Arm (McHugh Creek Trailhead) and one from the west on the outskirts of Anchorage (Rabbit Creek Trailhead).

Hiking it from the McHugh Creek Trailhead is longer and more strenuous but you’ll get to pass though a stunning glacial valley and past the beautiful McHugh Lake.

Hiking it from Rabbit Creek trailhead is 9 miles but is still a somewhat easy trek. Hiking it from here gives you the option to save your legs and extend your trip up to one or both of the Suicide Peaks or McHugh Peak where you can see the pretty lake from above.

Click here to see how you can extend the hike onto Suicide Peaks or if you’re an experienced hiker, I highly recommend combining it with McHugh Peak (see the green route below) which is another one of Anchorage’s most popular summits.

Click here to see an ultimate guide to the different ways to hike up McHugh Peak.

Easy Outdoor Activities in Anchorage

15 | Explore Virgin Creek Falls

This barely counts as a hike since it’s only a short .4 miles roundtrip to reach this waterfall. Virgin Creek Falls is the easiest hike you’ll ever do and is a must do when you are in Girdwood.

The beautiful little waterfall is not epic but an incredibly peaceful and magical place. The water ions that fly off the waterfall are up close and personal and you can’t help but feeling totally rejuvenated after visiting.

Getting There

The trailhead starts in a cul-de-sac at the end of Timberline Street. There’s room to park if you are driving an RV but if you camp in the overnight lot at the Aleyska Ski Resort, it’s an easy 20 minute walk through the residential area and you can see some pretty rad houses along the way. The actual trail to the falls is only about 5 minutes and wanders through lush temperate rainforest filled with mosses, lichen, and ferns.

16 | Stop at Beluga Point

Beluga Point, which lies at mile marker 16, is a great place not only to take in the view but also a great place to look for, you guessed it, Beluga Whales. The best chance of seeing whales is actually about a half hour after the low tide…see below.

Beluga Point on the Seward Highway
Even if you don’t sight whales, a stop at Beluga is essential to take in the views of Turnagain Arm

Another incredible sight you could spot here is the miraculous phenomena of a bore tide. A bore tide happens on extreme low tides when there’s at least a 27 foot difference between high and low tide. When seawater rushes from a wide bay to a narrow and shallow inlet, it forms waves AKA a bore tide.

Bore tides occur daily on Turnagain Arm but of course, sometimes the effect is much greater. You can see the bore tide along the entire 50 mile stretch of highway on Turnagain Arm and with a variety of pullouts along the whole road, it’s hard to miss the incredible occurrence when you’re driving here.

Now here’s the coolest part, you can SURF the bore tide! If I only I had known this before, I would’ve been chasing low tide every day.

All you do is literally walk or paddle out to the middle of the inlet as if you were going to catch a regular ocean wave. The bore tide is surfable about 5 days per month because you’re going to need a larger bore tide to actually able to surf it. The best odds of a big bore tide are usually in the five day window surrounding new and full moons. Note: Do not try this unless you’re a experienced surfer.

Check tide charts here or click here to see the estimated times of Bore Tide along Turnagain Arm.

17 | Explore Independence Mine

Among Hatcher Pass’s variety of spectacular hikes is an awesome exploration that you wouldn’t expect to find amidst mountains like these.

Independence Mine sits at the top of Hatcher Pass right before the road turns into dirt and is a historic gold rush mine from the 1930s. The mine is not only a great place to explore, but it’s a great photography spot.

Unfortunately due to inclement weather we had to turn around before reaching the mine but note that just the walk along the road up to the mine was really beautiful.