Ready to explore the Last Frontier? Anchorage is the gateway to Alaska and the perfect jumping-off point for adventure. Venture out into the wilderness on some exciting day trips from Anchorage, AK, and discover the true beauty of this spectacular country!
Trek across vast blue ice glaciers and hike through Chugach National Forest, one of the world’s largest forests. Explore charming seaside villages and see some of Alaska’s incredible wildlife in its natural habitat. Follow in the footsteps of a Klondike prospector and pan for gold. Cast your spinner and catch pinks on the late-summer salmon run.
So many places to see, so little time? Don’t stress about fitting it all into your vacation. Here are a few ideas of top-rated Anchorage side trips to add to your Alaskan adventure!
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For breathtaking natural scenery and spectacular views, head out to Turnagain Arm. Belted by the Seward Highway, the tranquil waterway is a haven for wildlife from the curly-horned Dall sheep to beluga whales.
During his 1778 voyage, British explorer James Cook discovered that the waterway wasn’t the fabled Northwest Passage and had to ‘turn again’—hence the quirky name of the inlet. While there’s no route through the continent, the watery arm holds a wealth of treasures.
Beluga Point is a great spot for seeing these gentle white giants, and the views of the Kenai Mountains and the Chugach Mountains are unrivaled.
Located about 45 minutes south of Anchorage, Turnagain Arm is also a hiker’s paradise. You’ll find amazing trails like the Bird, Rainbow, and McHugh Creek tracks that are easily accessible from the highway.
Expect varied terrain, from gentle streamside walks to challenging climbs with unbelievable scenic vistas.
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If you want an unparalleled adrenaline rush, wait for the tides to turn and grab your surfboard. The bore tide is forced down the narrow channel at speeds of 20 miles per hour and can reach heights of six feet, creating a perfect surfing wave!
Inching down the Portage Valley in a trail of brilliant blue ice, the Portage Glacier is nothing less than spectacular! Located in the Chugach National Forest, 48 miles south of Anchorage, Portage Glacier is one of Alaska’s most popular attractions and shouldn’t be missed.
Portage Glacier rests at the end of a lake, and the easiest way to see it is by boat. Hop on the 80-foot MV Ptarmigan with Portage Glacier Cruises and enjoy a one-hour tour of this icy behemoth.
On the way, you’ll learn about the history, geology, and wildlife of the Portage Valley from local guides. You’ll pass the Burns and Shakespeare glaciers en route.
If you prefer to explore on your own steam, you can paddle in a non-motorized craft and land on the beach at the base of Portage Pass. Keep in mind that the lake is notorious for sudden winds that produce treacherous, icy waves.
You can also hike from the Whittier side of the tunnel up to Portage Pass, with stunning views of the glacier on the way. You’ll need to be prepared for wet and windy weather and watch out for black bears.
Chugach National Forest
From fishing for salmon to exploring glaciers: The Chugach National Forest is a paradise of adventure! Beginning on the Seward Highway, just 35 miles south of Anchorage, the vast forest stretches for 6.9 million acres across the heart of Southcentral Alaska.
The forest boasts a variety of geographic zones, from boreal woods and lush wetlands to coastal inlets and rainforests. Dozens of small communities like Cooper Landing, Cordova, Girdwood, and Hope call the forest home, along with dozens of campgrounds and recreation sites.
When it comes to hiking and mountain biking, you can’t get better than Chugach National Forest. Over 500 miles of maintained trails crisscross their way around the terrain. Try the family-friendly Trail of Blue Ice through scenic Portage Valley if you’re with the kids. For a challenging climb with amazing views, hit the Sheridan Glacier & Mt. Trailhead.
Fishing and wildlife watching are part and parcel of an Alaskan visit—and the Chugach National Forest is one of the best places for both. Hope’s Resurrection Creek is the place to be for the late-summer salmon run and the Russian River is an excellent rod-and-reel bank fishery.
The forest heaves with life, and the possibility of seeing mountain goats, moose, and black bears are around every corner. Listen for the cry of the bald eagle when you’re hiking and watch the rugged slopes for herds of Dall sheep.
Exuding a rich history and quaint charm, Talkeetna is a lovely Alaskan town about two hours north of Anchorage. It’s best known for being the launch point for climbing expeditions of Denali (Mount McKinley), the tallest peak in North America.
Nestled at the confluence of three rivers, the town of Talkeetna is also a hot spot for more down-to-earth adventuring like hiking, river rafting, and salmon fishing.
Summiting treacherous icy peaks for the views not your idea of fun? You can always take the views from the comfort of a sightseeing helicopter flight around the snowy peaks of Denali and the Alaska Range.
Stroll around the pretty Historic District in Talkeetna’s downtown area. Learn about the history of the town at the Talkeetna Historical Society Museum and the mighty Denali at the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger’s Station.
Pop into the famous Nagley’s Store, dating back to 1921, and browse the captivating art galleries and gift shops for special souvenirs.
Smooth turquoise waters surrounded by soaring snow-capped peaks and thick Veridian forests, Eklutna Lake is an oasis in the heart of the Chugach Mountains. Fed by Eklutna Glacier, the lake is a haven for outdoor activities and can be explored by paddle, pedal, or power.
Less than an hour’s drive from Anchorage, the long lake is a popular spot for hiking, with trails snaking over the flanking mountains boasting breathtaking views over the lake. The easy two-mile, out-and-back Thunder Bird Falls hike ends at a stunning waterfall – a must if you love cascades!
Other great trails for both hiking and mountain biking include the flat and wide Eklutna Lakeside Trail that hugs the shoreline of the lake and the super-scenic Twin Peaks Trail. You can also ride ATVs on the Eklutna Lakeside Trail between April and November and explore the surrounding forest on divergent tracks.
Hit the water on a canoe, kayak, or paddle board for a breathtaking glacial lake experience. You can rent kayaks at the lake and enjoy guided trips if you don’t want to go alone.
The lake becomes a winter wonderland when the snow falls and is perfect for ice skating, cross-country skiing, and fat biking.
Pay a visit to the nearby Eklutna Historical Park to learn about the age-old connection the Dena’ina Athabascan people have to Eklutna Lake. Wander around the churchyard and see ancient grave sites, spirit houses, and timeless Dena’ina Athabascan traditions.
Another magnificent ice floe not to miss is the Matanuska Glacier. Located about 100 miles northeast of Anchorage, the 27-mile long, four-mile-wide glacier is the largest glacier you can access by car in the U.S.
The scenic drive along the Glenn Highway to the glacier is just as beautiful as the destination. Stop at the Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Site to stretch your legs. Amble through a boreal forest along the quiet one-mile Edge Nature Trail to a viewing platform with gorgeous views of the glacier.
If you want more adventure, book a guided trek on the Matanuska Glacier to explore the massive river of ice. Gear up with helmets, crampons, and poles and follow an expert guide through the stunning blue maze of ice.
Experience a scenic float down the Matanuska River on a river rafting tour and see the glacier from a different viewpoint. This is a great trip for the family and takes in all the scenic beauty of the area along the way.
Mix history, hiking, and spectacular scenery on a day trip from Anchorage to Hatcher Pass. Set between the towns of Palmer and Willow in the Talkeetna Mountains, Hatcher Pass is about a 90-minute drive from Anchorage.
As you make your way up the 3,800-foot mountain, you’ll pass picturesque farms in the Mat-Su Valley and the gurgling Little Su River. Make a stop at the Independence Mine Historical State Park, where you can tour the remains of the 1940s-era Independence Mine.
Hatcher Pass is a haven for hiking, and it’s the perfect place to enjoy a scenic picnic. Hike in the alpine tundra sprinkled with wildflowers, and keep an eye out for golden eagles! It’s also a great spot for picking blueberries in the late summer.
Watch paragliders soaring around the steep hillsides and soak up breathtaking views of the Alaska Range, the Chugach Range, and Palmer’s Pioneer Peak on a clear day.
Winter is also a winner with superb skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, and snowboarding conditions in the Pass. The skiing here is so good that it was once the training grounds for the Junior Olympic ski team.
Nestled between snow-capped peaks on the west side of Prince William Sound, Whittier is a sleepy town with a special quirk. Most of the town’s 200 residents live together in a 14-story building called Begich Towers on the edge of town!
Just an hour’s drive from Anchorage, the tiny, if slightly off-beat ‘town under one roof’ is well worth a visit – if not just to see how a whole town fits into one building! Despite the small population, Whittier is the cruise port for Anchorage and, ironically, one of the busiest ports in Alaska. And it’s packed with fantastic outdoor activities.
Whittier was only accessible by water until 2000 when the existing railroad tunnel was transformed into a combination highway and railway tunnel. It’s the longest of its kind in North America; driving through is an experience not to be missed!
In Whittier, you can enjoy a range of recreational activities, from hiking the Portage Pass Trail to exploring Prince William Sound on a chartered tour. Brave the icy waters for some unique scuba diving and head out into the water of the Sound to fish.
The charming little town of Hope is often missed as people drive past the Seward Highway to the Kenai Peninsula. But it’s well worth the 17-mile detour to soak up the rich history and peaceful beauty of one of Alaska’s first gold-rush towns.
The small hamlet is home to just 200 residents but was once bursting at the seams with prospectors during the Turnagain Arm gold rush in the 1890s. The town still exudes the same optimism felt by prospectors back in the day, with warm-friendly locals and a pastoral, laid-back atmosphere.
Stroll around narrow lanes lined with old log buildings and visit the 100-year-old Hope Social Hall, where community events are held.
Delve into the town’s fascinating mining heritage at the Hope & Sunrise Historical Mining Museum. Try your hand at panning for gold in the recreational gold panning zone on Resurrection Creek, where prospectors once hit the jackpot.
Head to the famous intertidal fishery in Resurrection Creek to catch some pinks using flies or spinners and spoons. Hike the famous 38-mile Resurrection Pass Trail to the Copper Landing area through the magnificent Kenai Mountains.
Pop into the Discovery Café and enjoy a meal and dance with the locals before heading home.
Nestled between the snowy peaks of the Kenai Mountains and the glacial waters of Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward is one of Alaska’s most picturesque towns. Resting in the shadow of Mount Marathon, the charming port city is the gateway to a wealth of outdoor activities in the region.
A breathtaking 2.5-hour drive south from Anchorage will take you to the pretty seaside village with its bustling harbor, quaint galleries and shops, and cozy cafés. Wander around the historic downtown and watch the fishing boats unload their catches in the port.
When you’re ready for outdoor fun, head to the Kenai Fjords National Park. Hike the historic Iditarod Trail, once a dog sled route from Seward to Nome. Get your heart racing on flightseeing, sportfishing, and ziplining adventures.
Take in some of Alaska’s best wildlife spectacles on a Kenai Fjords boat tour from Seward’s Lowell Point and marvel at humpback and killer whales, sea lions, otters, and puffins in their natural habitat.
Hailed as one of the most beautiful towns in Alaska, Girdwood certainly lives up to its moniker. Located just 25 miles south of Anchorage, the vibrant resort town is rimmed by glaciers and rugged snow-capped peaks. It’s also an excellent jumping-off point for a wealth of activities in the area.
From guided glacier hikes to exhilarating white-water rafting and gold-panning tours, you’ll be hard-pressed deciding on what to do on your day trip! In the mood to mush? Enjoy a dog-sled trip over a glacier.
Head to the Glacier Valley to hit the slopes for skiing and snowboarding at Alyeska Resort, Alaska’s only major ski resort. Take a scenic ride on the Alyeska Tram to the top of the 2,300-foot Mount Alyeska for dramatic views of Turnagain Arm and the surrounding glaciers.
Explore the museum on the top of the mountain and savor dinner with a view at the fine dining Seven Glaciers Restaurant.