9 Things To Know Before Your First Trip To Anchorage, Alaska

I’ve lived my whole life dreaming of visiting Alaska… thinking of what it would be like, and building a bucket list. So when the opportunity came for me to make this trip a reality, I knew I needed to prepare. Coming to a state as vast as Alaska, I knew I wanted to take in as much as possible while exploring. That meant I needed to consider an accessible basecamp, COVID-19 safety protocols, ways to get around, and where I would get my Alaska seafood fix.

I found my home away from home in Anchorage. Situated right on the Cook Inlet, this urban oasis in the 49th state has become the central hub for visitors to Alaska. Choosing this metropolitan city in the middle of the wilderness was the perfect destination for my northern adventure.

Ptarmigan Portage Glacier in Anchorage, AK
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You’re Close To Dozens Of Glaciers

If you have come to Alaska to see the glaciers, there are 60 within 50 miles of Anchorage. Your challenge will be to pick the one you want to see and then plan your day trip. The most accessible one to Anchorage, by Alaska standards, is the Portage Glacier; it is a short, fifty-mile scenic drive south. Once you arrive, you will be able to walk along the shore of Portage Lakeshore of Portage Lake and explore before you board the mv Ptarmigan for a narrated cruise to the face of the glacier. These cruises run from May 28 to September 6, five times a day. Reservations are recommended.

I am an adventurer at heart, and I wanted to hike a glacier. Something deep inside me wanted to see it up close, hear the sounds of the ice moving, and step with ice cleats across its face. In contrast to the Portage Glacier, which is south of Anchorage, the Matanuska Glacier is north of the city and is thirty miles further! 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 up to the face. Make reservations with one of the reputable companies that offer guided hikes or climbs.

Pro Tip: A drive to the Matanuska will take you a whole day. There are many pull-offs where you can take photos and see the glacier as you are driving there. Pack a picnic lunch to have on the way because there is not a lot in between. 

moose with two babies in Anchorage, AK
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Wildlife Abounds

You don’t have to go far from Anchorage to see wildlife; you actually might just find a moose or two right in the city! 

Moose are most likely to be seen in the mornings or evenings, and your best bet to see them in the urban areas is to watch for them munching in the neighborhood flowerbeds or at Kincaid Park, one of Anchorage’s largest recreation areas. 

If you’ve checked the moose off your animal viewing list, I am sure the next one you have on your Alaska checklist is trying to see a black or brown bear. Bear sightings are dependent on the time of year you come. Since bears hibernate in the winter, they are more frequently seen during summer months. While I kept my eyes open on my trip, one never crossed my path. I am already planning a return visit and plan to visit some of the recommended best places to see bears, including from the sky on a day trip to Katmai National Park or Lake Clark National Park, at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, or the Anchorage Zoo.

Northern Lights in Anchorage, AK
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You Can See The Northern Lights

The aurora borealis — otherwise known as the northern lights — is a stunning demonstration of the Earth’s magnetic field interacting with charged particles from the sun. It’s beautiful and worth braving a cold night out when visiting.

If you want to see the northern lights, you will have to come sometime during the late summer months through early spring. The best time for an aurora vacation is during February or March when it is still plenty dark, but days are long enough for you to experience dog sledding, snowmobiling, and skiing. To maximize your chance of seeing this dazzling light show in the night sky, head to Glen Alps Trailhead or Point Woronzof.

sunset in Anchorage, AK
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Plenty Of Daylight Hours (And Darkness, Too)

Summertime is one of the best times to visit Anchorage. Daylight hours are optimal during this season, and you will have the opportunity to experience everything this city has to offer. Mid-May to mid-September is considered peak travel; when temperatures reach the low 70s, the rivers teem with salmon, and viewing wildlife is at its prime. 

I loved the extended daylight hours; it gave me plenty of time to do the things I wanted. When returning from a day trip, I saw wildlife in the dusky evenings, and the colorful sunsets were worth staying up to experience. 

Pro Tip: You’ll want to consider the weather when planning your trip and pack accordingly; otherwise, you might find yourself shopping for the unexpected. Dress in layers when you leave for the day, keep it casual, and have proper footwear.

You Can Get A Vaccine 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. Within the airport, there is a free clinic for anyone to receive COVID-19 testing upon arrival and those who are over 12 years to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. You will find this located on level 2 near Concourse A from 10 a.m. until midnight.

While 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 the airport vaccines, walk-ins are accepted. However, you can pre-register, and registration takes less than five minutes at Alaska Safe Travels.

Denali National Park in Anchorage, AK
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You’re Close To Five National Parks

Denali, Katmai, Kenai Fjords, Lake Clark, and Wrangell-Saint Elias national parks are all available from Anchorage either via rental car, passenger train, or flightseeing tour in 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 beckons visitors to come and see the beauty it offers. I found this national park the easiest to get to on a day trip out of Anchorage.

Pro Tip: Decide before you go which ones you want to see. You will need to book whichever mode of transportation you use in advance, and it will take you a whole day to go there and back.

It Has City Comforts With Alaska Hospitality

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 accommodations from boutique inns, chain hotels, or bed and breakfasts.

Food: I love it, and I did not know what to expect when it came to restaurants; however, you will find that the food scene in Anchorage reaches far above your expectations. Since it is right on the Cook Inlet, you will get the freshest seafood you’ve ever had. Try some locally sourced seafood, like salmon, halibut, or crab, or the unique local fare when you are here. Kinley’s Restaurant, only open in the evenings Tuesday–Saturday, is known for the best halibut cheeks in Alaska.

Pro Tip: Lodging near Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport was perfect for my trip. It’s a great location, close to everything Anchorage offers. Even though I was in the city, the views from The Lakefront Anchorage were stunning.

flightseeing in Anchorage, AK
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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 plenty of unique ways to see everything. Of course, you can rent a car, use public transportation, or use a taxi service if you want to sightsee and get around the traditional way; however, you’re in Alaska, so why not take in some things from the air or train? 

Flightseeing is a thing, and you can take a flight out of 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 is awe-inspiring when you look down from the sky and see all the rows of bush aircraft on the tarmac.

Another way to experience the wilderness is by railroad. Board the Alaska Railroad out of Anchorage to make a day trip to Seward, Talkeetna, or Denali.

Alaksa, Anchorage. Aerial view of the city taken from a helicopter during the summer. Body of water behind is Cook Inlet.
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Experience The Best Of Alaska And Only Unpack Once 

Make Anchorage your personal launching pad for an Alaska journey. Within your reach, you have all the modern conveniences, delectable dining, stunning scenic drives, and abundant wildlife. It is the perfect opportunity to experience everything Alaska offers from one central base camp location… and you’ll only have to unpack once!

“The mountains are calling, and I must go,” John Muir once wrote. Do you hear them?

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