Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska, the northernmost state of America. Nestled into a corner of Cook Inlet, the city neighbours incredibly high mountains, abundant nature reserves and national parks, and a rich marine ecosystem. It’s an adventurer’s paradise, and it’s the relative isolation of the city in comparison to the rest of the United States means it’s still plenty untouched. Pack a bag and let’s head north! Here’s all you need to know about planning your trip to Anchorage.
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Anchorage boasts about 288,000 inhabitants, which is just about 40% of the entire population of Alaska. The city lies at the terminus of the Cook Inlet in southcentral Alaska. The city lies a few degrees north of Stockholm and Oslo, making it a definite wintry destination. Because of its latitude, the city has a subarctic climate, meaning winters are cold, snowy, and short on daylight. Summers are mild, rainy, and full of sunlight. Spend some time in Anchorage and you could run into wildlife including moose, bears, sheep, wolves, beavers, lynxes, and even beluga whales! Anchorage sits at the foot of the Chugach Mountains and is just a stone’s throw from plenty of parks and recreation areas. Although it’s a modern city, Anchorage offers unfettered access to some of the most incredible landscapes in the United States, making it an ideal jumping-off point for outdoor enthusiasts.
How to get to Anchorage
Because of its location, Anchorage is nearly equidistant from New York City and Tokyo. This means it’s accessible by plane within 9 ½ hours from nearly 90% of the world. It’s easier to get to than you might think! The city actually has more planes and pilots than any other in the United States, so taking to the skies is a natural way to enjoy the city.
Visitors to Anchorage can fly directly into Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. It’s the largest airport in Alaska and services the most flights, so you can hopefully find a direct jaunt up to the city.
Best time to visit Anchorage
The best time to visit Anchorage depends on the activities you want to enjoy while you’re there. If you’re dying to hop on an authentic sled dog tour, you’ll need to come during the winter months. Want to hike and spot wildlife? Summer is your best bet.
Generally, the summer months (June-August) are the best time for outdoor recreation that doesn’t involve snow. These months also enjoy the mildest weather, with daily average temperatures hovering around 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit). Because of this, most visitors to Anchorage come during the summer.
How to get around Anchorage
Anchorage isn’t too big of a city, so getting around on foot is possible, especially in the more compact downtown area. However, visitors with a car will have the easiest time getting to all the places they want to go. After all, the last thing you want to do after a 10-mile hike is walking back into town, right? Rental cars are available, as is public transportation. Ride-sharing services like Uber are also now operating within the city.
Where to stay in Anchorage
Anchorage offers plenty of options to rest your head at night! While the town appeals to anyone who loves the occasional viewing of moose, bears, foxes, and other woodland creatures, this outdoor oasis of a city also boasts of hotels that can suit any lifestyle!
Soak up the top-notch tourist attractions and staggering views in Bootleggers Cove; live it up downtown; families will love Midtown’s central location. Now onto the bigger question: where are the best places to stay in these areas?
Hotels in Bootleggers Cove
Backdropped by snow-capped mountains and eyeing the Knik, a 40.2km river, which stems from a glacier, Midtown offers an abundance of theatres, parks, and museums! Enjoy a stunning walk in Elderberry Park during your stay.
If you want to stay here, consider looking into Copper Whale Inn. Admire the views of the Cook Inlet while you’re here. You can also try out The Hotel Captain Hook, which has two swimming pools and a bar.
Want to explore by day and party by night? Downtown Anchorage is tailor-made for you! Go bar hopping, pub crawling, and dance the night away. Whenever you’re ready to rest your head, why not look into rooms at Anchorage Marriott Downtown, which has a swimming pool and a fitness center, or those on a budget may enjoy staying at the hostel, Bent Prop Inn.
Hotels in Midtown
This centrally located area is ideal for families who want to bask in Anchorage’s beauty. Hop aboard the Alaska Train or meander through Cuddy Family Midtown Park.
Look to SpringHill Suites Anchorage Midtown for a swankier hotel option—expect a blend of character, luxury, and fun here. Your kids will love the pool! A cheaper hotel would be My Place Hotel! This may be a one-star hotel, but it has a pool and effortlessly induces comfort.
Other accommodation options
Accommodations range from simple to luxurious and everything in between. Try the Lakefront Anchorage for a nicer stay with a superb lakeside location, or book at Inlet Tower Hotel & Suites for a more affordable room that still offers amenities like a gym and airport shuttle service.
Where to eat in Anchorage
You definitely won’t go hungry in this city! Anchorage offers a wide range of food options, from common fast food joints to one-off fine dining. We love local favourite Ihoh, a food truck with unique hot dogs for a quick bite. The Moose’s Tooth is perfect for pizza and in-house brewed beer, and Kincaid Grill is a great option for a classier evening of Alaskan fare. Brunchgoers should try Snow City Cafe, and those looking for dinner and a movie should check out Bear Tooth Theatrepub, which shows indie films and concerts with dinner.
Things to do in Anchorage
So you’ve flown up north, found a hotel, dropped your bags, had something to eat… now what? We’re just getting started! First things first: look at the array of hikes spanning Anchorage and choose your favourite one! Trust us, there are plenty of worthwhile trails worth doing.
Hiking in Anchorage
With glaciers, hiking trails carved along bubbling streams and through alpine meadows, and snow-capped peaks painting the background, it’s impossible to ignore the vast scenery shaping Anchorage’s backyard. The best way to bask in its beauty? By foot! We suggest checking out these hikes:
- Flattop Mountain Hike! Short, but tough, this hike is a local favorite. The layers of mountains fading into the horizon will undoubtedly drop jaws!
- Crow Pass! This is the ultimate hiker’s paradise. The staggering views of peaks, snowy landscapes, and fairytale meadows will keep you entertained.
- Exit Glacier Hike! Take your family on this 2.9km hike. You and your kids will love viewing the massive glacier here.
Another option? Hike the Chugach Range! Those mountains seem so close you could touch them, right? Make the quick trip over to the Chugach Mountains and claim one of the 9,000 square miles for your own. There are plenty of great spots for a picnic, exciting hikes, and world-class viewpoints.
Other can’t-miss activities in Anchorage
Anchorage is full of great things to do, so here are a few of our favourites to get you started:
The area around Anchorage is full of incredible glaciers. You can take a day cruise from Seward to admire them, or even hop on a sightseeing flight for a birds-eye view.
Bike the Coastal Trail
Rent a bike downtown and hit the 217.3km of bike paths in Anchorage, the crown jewel of which is the fabulous Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, which follows the shoreline.
Go Whale Watching
Belugas chase the salmon just off of Turnagain Arm, so if you’re lucky you can head down yonder and spot a few! There are also boats and cruises that will give you a great chance of spotting humpbacks, orcas, gray, and even blue whales in their natural habitat.
Hunt for Gold
Got a pan and a little persistence? The gold rushes that happened in Indian Valley and Crow Creek might be over, but you might still be able to spot a few flaky gold bits in the sand there.
Go Dog Sledding
What more exhilarating winter activity is there than riding behind a team of sled dogs? Summer visitors shouldn’t fret, though. Mushers welcome visitors to their kennels all-year and some have adapted wheeled carriers for snowless rides.
Hit the Museums
The arts and culture scene in Anchorage is alive and well! Try the Anchorage Museum to learn the story of Alaska through arts and galleries, or stop by the Alaska Native Heritage Center to learn about the history of Alaska’s native peoples.
Ride the Bore Tide
The tides in Anchorage experience extreme change, which creates a fascinating phenomenon called a bore tide. This essentially means that the waters around Turnagain Arm experience waves up to 6 feet tall that roll continuously for miles along the inlet. Thickly-clad in a wetsuit, you can join the surfers and paddleboarders who ride these waves.
Explore the National Parks
You just can’t go to Anchorage and not check out the national parks! You’re close to Denali, Lake Clark, Katmai, and Kenai Fjords. Hop in a kayak, take a sightseeing tour, hike to your heart’s content- it’s all waiting for you.
How to stay safe in Anchorage
Despite its seemingly quiet disposition, Anchorage and the surrounding area is best enjoyed with a bit of safety-wise forethought. The city does experience a higher per-capita crime rate than many others, but your chances of being a target of crime as a tourist are not significant. Keep the same safety principles in mind you would in any other city: travel with a buddy, don’t wander around at night, be appropriately wary of strangers, keep your valuables in a safe place, and know where you’re going and how to get there.
Besides city safety, any visitor to Alaska should be aware of wildlife and wilderness dangers. Anchorage often has moose and bears wander within the city limits, so you should know your bear safety and give wild animals a wide berth whenever possible. Bear and moose-related injuries and deaths do occur in and around Anchorage every year. When hiking, keep backcountry safety in mind, especially in unfamiliar terrain. Plan your excursions ahead of time and make sure somebody always knows where you are and when you expect to return.
Alaska’s highways can be difficult to navigate at times due to poor conditions. If you’re uncomfortable with winter driving, consider a summer visit. Keep an eye on the weather and postpone road trips if they seem unfavourable. Keep a keen eye out for wildlife on the highway to avoid collisions that can harm both the animals and yourself.
Interesting facts about Anchorage
- There are about 1,500 moose and 300 bears who call Anchorage home
- There are 100 languages spoken within the Anchorage school district, from Samoan to Yup’ik
- The largest salmon ever caught in Alaska was caught near Anchorage, weighing in at 97.25 lbs
- There are 217.3km of multi-use trails in Anchorage
- By area, Anchorage is one of the largest cities in the United States, almost the size of Delaware
- You can see six mountain ranges from Anchorage on a clear day: the Chugach, Kenai, Tordillo, Alaska, Talkeetna, and Aleutian
- The legendary Iditarod Trail Seld Dog Race begins in downtown anchorage each year
- Anchorage has more espresso stands per capita than anywhere else in the United States
Frequently asked questions about Anchorage
Do I need a visa to travel to Anchorage?
Anchorage is in Alaska, which is part of the United States. Some visitors will need a visa to visit and some won’t, but if you’re unsure, this website may be helpful.
Is Anchorage expensive to visit?
Anchorage enjoys fewer sales taxes than other U.S. states, but food and accommodation prices are fairly on-par with other state averages. Travellers should budget about $120-$170 per night for a hotel (this does vary based on quality and season) and about $40-$50 per day in food costs. Additional guided excursions or recreational activities should be included in the overall budget.
Can I drive in Anchorage?
Renting a car in Anchorage is similar to renting a car elsewhere in the United States, however rental cars in Alaska are known to be somewhat more expensive than other states, averaging between $100-$150 per day in the summer. Drivers under the age of 25 will pay an additional premium. Additionally, note that some companies will not permit you to drive their cars on gravel roads, so anyone wishing to do some off-roading should make sure their rental allows this. You should be able to rent 4 wheel drive vehicles, winter tires, or even show chains for inclement weather, but roads in Anchorage are generally plowed well and kept passable in the winter. Reach out to local rental companies to find out more about specific driver requirements.
Can you see the northern lights from Anchorage?
Yes! Visitors to Anchorage from September through April will have the best chance at spotting the northern lights.