Anchorage acts as a natural starting point for many Alaskan adventures. And while you might think you need to head far outside the city limits to appreciate Alaskan wilderness, Anchorage surprises. Its an urban center you can get to with just some cheap flight deals that’s surrounded by wilderness, making it possible to scale mountains, marvel at glaciers, and even dip your toes into sandy beaches on just day trips from the city. Rather than heading as far away from town as your hiking boots can take you, Anchorage has a wild backyard to sink your soles. Here are some jaw-dropping natural offerings that you can experience without having to drive hours beyond the city.
Roughly 60 miles south of Anchorage, you can come face-to-face with a glacier. Set up in the Chugach National Forest, Spencer Glacier rises some 3,500 feet from Spencer Lake. This colossal wall of ice is only accessible by train. Leaving from Anchorage, the Glacier Discovery Train makes a stop at the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop. Once you get there, you can either join a 1.3-mile hike with a U.S. Forest Service ranger to explore the area or hike on your own. The trail leads to Spencer Lake for optimal glacier views. If you continue another 1.7 miles, you can find yourself at the edge of the glacier. In addition to hiking, the area is also ideal for rafting, canoeing, kayaking, and even ice climbing on the glacier.
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Alaska and sandy beaches don’t always seem to go hand in hand, but just outside of Anchorage, you can find just that at Kincaid Beach. Part of Kincaid Park, which is a short drive from downtown, Kincaid Beach presents fine sands and towering bluffs. While this isn’t your standard swimming beach, you can appreciate the views of the Cook Inlet, have a picnic, or just walk along the shoreline. And as Kincaid Beach is part of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, you might even see a beluga whale or a harbor seal during high tide. The area is also rich in bird life with roughly 130 species either breeding or visiting the beach. For those that want to bike or walk back to Anchorage from here, you can do so via the paved Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.
Within just 30 minutes of Anchorage, you can actually go chasing waterfalls. About 27 miles from downtown, you can head up to the Thunderbird Falls Trail. Set in Chugach State Park, one of the largest state parks in the United States, the 1-mile trail winds through birch forests along the Eklutna River. The highpoint of the 100 feet in elevation gain comes when you reach the 200-foot waterfall. A deck along the trail provides a head-on view of the cascading waterfall.
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Just 20 minutes outside of the city, you can begin scaling Alaska’s most visited peak. Flattop Mountain measures some 3,550 feet, providing 360 degree views of not just Anchorage, but also the wilderness surrounding it, from Chugach State Park to Denali to the Aleutian Islands. You can start the hike from the Glen Alps Trailhead, roughly 20 minutes from Anchorage. From there, its a 3-mile hike with an elevation gain of 1,500 feet. To reach the summit, you’ll have to do a bit of rocky scaling, but the views are totally worth all that physical exertion. Even beginner hikers can still get a taste of Flattop Mountain; there are a number of loop trails offering up the same vistas without too much sweat and tears.
Have you visited Anchorage? What are some of your favorite natural offerings close to town? Share your experiences with us in the comments below!