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Introduction to Anchorage, Alaska

a house with a pink umbrella

Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska and one of the most popular destinations for tourists visiting the state. With a population of just under 300,000 and a central location between New York City, Berlin and Tokyo, this city is easy to get to and full of things for tourists to do. While many visitors to Alaska use Anchorage as a jumping off point to other places in Alaska, it offers many attractions of its own. Here are some of the many ways you can entertain yourself when visiting Alaska’s most populous city.

The History of Anchorage

a large body of water with a mountain in the background

Compared to other Alaskan cities, Anchorage is much newer due to the lack of significant natural resources in the area in which it is located. While Native people had inhabited the area that later became Anchorage for centuries, large-scale settlement did not begin until 1914, when it was selected as the site for a railroad construction port for construction of the Alaska Railroad.

Anchorage originally began as a port labor camp and grew rapidly due to its strategic location and temperate climate compared to other regions of southern Alaska. In 1920, Anchorage was officially incorporated as a city. The city grew rapidly from the 1930s through the 1950s as its strategic location as a midpoint between Germany, Japan and the continental United States made it a hub for air travel and freight transportation.

In the 1960s, the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay further fueled growth in Anchorage. Its status as the state’s largest city, largest port, and hub for air and rail transit made it a natural location for transporting natural resources out of the state. Anchorage’s economy today is driven by the airline and oil industries, as well as the state government, as many of the city’s employees work, despite the fact that Juneau is Southeast Alaska’s capital. It is also driven by tourism, as evidenced by the city’s numerous attractions.

animal watching

a large brown bear walking across a grass covered field

While Anchorage is a sizable city in terms of population, many people don’t realize that there is also pristine wilderness and wildlife here. This is because Anchorage is very large and spread out in terms of area. It is the fourth largest city in the United States by area. That means there’s plenty of room for Alaska’s famous wildlife, namely moose and bear, to roam throughout the city.

Moose are widespread in Anchorage, in both the undeveloped and developed areas. The observation sites can be easily found online. One of the best-known moose viewing spots is near Ted Stevens International Airport, the entry point for most visitors to Alaska. If you don’t have the time or patience to spot moose on the roads, you can visit the nearby Alaska Zoo to see moose and other native animals.

Other wildlife in Anchorage include bears, Dall sheep, and mountain goats. Tourists are advised to exercise caution and avoid provoking or interacting with all wild animals. Moose in particular can be dangerous to drive with, as more than a hundred moose are killed by drivers in accidents each year.

visit glaciers

a view of a snow covered mountain

Because of its northern location, Alaska has a large number of glaciers. While most are in remote areas, there are a large number in the Anchorage area that are easily and safely accessible by car. You can also take a scenic flight or a day cruise to see glaciers.

Take a train ride

a train traveling down train tracks near a forest

Anchorage is one of the hubs of the Alaska Railroad, one of the oldest and most revered railroads in the United States. The Alaska Railroad runs almost 500 miles from Seward in the south to Fairbanks in the north, deep in Alaska’s interior and is a vital connection between Anchorage and Fairbanks for thousands of Alaskans and tourists each year.

If you’re planning a trip to other parts of Alaska, you can use the long-distance Alaskan Railroad to travel easily from Anchorage to Seward or parts of the Alaskan interior. You’ll enjoy modern trains with spacious seats, heating and air conditioning, and first-class service while experiencing the beauty of Alaska up close. There are also shorter tourist routes that can take you to smaller towns like Whittier and get you back to Anchorage the same day. Many cruise lines also offer trains as part of their packages.

Learn about Alaska Natives

a person that is standing in the grass

Before being colonized by Europeans, Alaska was inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years. There are numerous groups of Alaskan Native peoples, each with their own history, culture, and traditions. A great place to learn more about Alaska Natives is the Alaska Native Heritage Center, a museum dedicated to their culture.

Visit the Anchorage Museum

a group of people at a bus stop

The Anchorage Museum is Alaska’s largest museum and your gateway to Alaska’s unique history and culture. The Anchorage Museum features both art and history exhibits, giving you a complete portrait of this fascinating state.

use bike lanes

a train traveling down train tracks near a field

Anchorage is one of the best cities in America for bicyclists, with 135 miles of bike routes throughout the city. One of the best known and most scenic routes is the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. Named for former Anchorage Mayor and Alaska Governor Tony Knowles, the Coastal Trail takes you through 11 miles of beautiful Alaskan coastline. Rent a bike or bring your own and experience breathtaking sights that are not too far from civilisation.

Take a scenic flight by plane

a small boat in a body of water

Alaska is America’s hub for private pilots and aircraft. Anchorage has more pilots and planes than any other city in the United States. This is because Alaska’s size, cold climate, and inclement weather make private planes the only way to reach many parts of the state. As such, there is a burgeoning industry for bush pilots offering various services at reasonable costs. Anchorage is also home to the world’s largest seaplane base.

An easy way to get around Alaska is to hire a pilot. Many pilots offer scenic flights that give you a bird’s-eye view of the state and visit many places that are difficult to reach by land or sea. If you want to fly around Anchorage and the surrounding areas, just find a pilot! You never know what you might experience in the air.

to go fishing

a large ship in a body of water

The small population, remote location, and low pollution make Alaska a top spot for fishermen who enjoy the unique aquatic wildlife and ease of fishing that the state offers. The waters around Anchorage are home to five different species of salmon, along with grayling, char, trout and more. Ship Creek is one of the most popular fishing spots in the area. Numerous small and large fishermen come there every year to fill up their nets.

go whale watching

a large ship in a body of water

Anchorage is considered a hub for wildlife viewing and has a large population of whales that can be easily spotted from shore. Turnagain Arm is a popular spot for beluga whale watching. However, if you want to see larger whales, you’ll need to head further towards Seward or Whittier.

to pan for gold

a man cooking in a pan

Settlement in Alaska was initially driven by the gold rush of the late 19th century. Even if you’re not into gold prospecting these days, you can pan for gold in Crow Creek and Indian Valley, a popular activity among tourists wanting to experience old mining life.

See the Northern Lights

a rainbow in the sky

Also known as the Aurora Borealis, this impressive natural light show is widespread across the north of the world and easily seen in Anchorage. Popular local viewpoints include the Knik River, Girdwood and Eklutna Tailrace.

Experience the midnight sun

a large tree in a park

Due to Alaska’s northern location, summer and late spring days are extremely long due to the tilt of the earth. While Anchorage isn’t north enough to experience a true midnight sun when the sun stays up all day, it experiences an average of 12 to 19 hours of daylight from summer to equinox. This means that for much of the summer, daylight never really leaves the sky, allowing you to enjoy hours of sunshine.

Enjoy Alaskan cuisine

meat on a grill

Alaskan cuisine is characterized by its proximity to the sea and its abundance of wildlife. Local Alaskan specialties include reindeer sausage, salmon, halibut and king crab. Anchorage is also a beer hub, with over a dozen microbreweries and counters.


a group of people walking in the snow

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