Alaska’s largest city, is located in the heart of the state’s south-central gulf coast. Situated on the upper shores of Cook Inlet, Anchorage is nestled in a bowl bordered by the Chugach Mountains to the southeast and the Knik Arm to the northwest. As a coastal city, the elevation of Anchorage begins at 38 feet and rises to 120 feet (outlying neighborhoods are higher up the mountain).
Coordinates: Latitude 61.22 & Longitude -149.90.
Population / Elevation: Approximately 290,000 people call Anchorage home year-round, accounting for about 40 percent of Alaska’s total population. Keep in mind that this number varies with the influx of two large military bases located in Anchorage: the Army’s Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force Base.
Description: Often referred to as “Thirty minutes away from Alaska,” Anchorage is the state’s only true big city. Alaska’s largest city has most of the amenities of cities in the Lower 48 states: Costco, Sam’s Club, most fast-food chains, and even Nordstrom. Anchorage also has the occasional bear in city parks and it’s not uncommon to find a moose wandering across parking lots. Anchorage is centrally located to everything people want from Alaska: outdoor activities, scenery, and wilderness. It’s just a short drive towards Seward along the Turnagain Arm to see Beluga whales and spot Dall sheep on the rocks next to the highway. Flights to everywhere in the state originate from the Ted Stevens International Airport. All highways and the railroad lead to Anchorage.
For those interested in the arts, Anchorage offers a Performing Arts Center, the Anchorage Museum, the Alaska Native Heritage Center, and several art galleries. The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and the Alaska Zoo are also popular attractions for visitors.
Outdoor Activities: Anchorage is an excellent base for exploring the great outdoors. You can enjoy hiking, biking, skiing, and snowboarding in the nearby Chugach Mountains. The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail offers miles of scenic biking and walking paths with views of the city, mountains, and the water. Fishing enthusiasts can try their luck at Ship Creek, which runs through downtown Anchorage, while birdwatchers can visit the Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary.
Note: Forget something? Anchorage has several outdoor equipment stores, such as REI, Sportsman’s Warehouse, and Barney’s, catering to a range of needs.
History: Inhabited for centuries by Alaska Native peoples, Anchorage’s modern history began with the construction of a railroad in the early 1900s. Initially, the area served as the construction camp and headquarters for the Alaskan Engineering Commission. Sporadic growth has continued throughout its history, with significant developments during World War II, the construction of the Alaska Highway, and the discovery of oil on the Kenai Peninsula. Statehood in 1959 and the establishment of Anchorage’s international airport put the city on the map as a major transportation hub.
How to get there: Many visitors arrive in Anchorage by flying into Ted Stevens International Airport, which is serviced by over a dozen airlines with more than 130 flights daily. From Anchorage, you can book flights to anywhere in Alaska. Additionally, bus and van companies operate out of Anchorage, providing service to almost everywhere in the state. The Alaska Railroad offers service to and from Anchorage, with some routes open year-round.
Driving to Anchorage from the Lower 48 states is possible via the Alaska Highway, which connects to the Glenn Highway and leads directly to Anchorage.
Facilities: Anchorage offers various accommodations, including campgrounds, hostels, over 400 bed & breakfasts, and more than 70 hotels catering to budget and luxury travelers. Dining options range from fast food and comfort food to fine dining, bakeries, and coffee shops.
RV and camping options in and around Anchorage, Alaska, provide visitors with a unique opportunity to experience the natural beauty and charm of the region firsthand. There are several campgrounds and RV parks within close proximity to Anchorage, offering a range of amenities and access to nearby attractions.
1. Centennial Campground: Located within the city limits of Anchorage, Centennial Campground offers a convenient and scenic camping experience. The campground features over 80 sites, including both tent and RV spaces. Amenities include restrooms, picnic tables, fire pits, and water spigots. The campground is situated near the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, providing easy access to hiking and biking opportunities.
2. Golden Nugget RV Park: This RV park is located in northeast Anchorage, just a short drive from downtown. Golden Nugget RV Park offers full hook-up sites with electricity, water, and sewer connections, as well as Wi-Fi and cable TV. Additional amenities include restrooms, showers, laundry facilities, and a playground. The park is also near attractions like the Alaska Native Heritage Center and the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature.
3. Ship Creek RV Park: Situated near downtown Anchorage, Ship Creek RV Park provides a convenient urban camping experience. The park offers full hook-up RV sites with water, electricity, and sewer connections, as well as Wi-Fi and cable TV. Facilities include restrooms, showers, and laundry. The park is within walking distance of several attractions, such as the Anchorage Market and Festival, the Ulu Factory, and the Alaska Railroad Depot.
4. Eagle River Campground: Located about 12 miles north of Anchorage along the Glenn Highway, Eagle River Campground is a popular option for those seeking a more natural setting. The campground is situated along the scenic Eagle River and offers both tent and RV sites. Amenities include restrooms, water, picnic tables, and fire pits. The area provides access to hiking trails, fishing, and wildlife viewing opportunities.
5. Chugach State Park: While there are no designated RV parks within Chugach State Park, several campgrounds within the park allow RVs and offer a more rustic camping experience. The park’s campgrounds typically provide basic amenities such as picnic tables, fire pits, and outhouses. Chugach State Park is ideal for those seeking outdoor adventures, with numerous hiking trails, wildlife viewing opportunities, and breathtaking landscapes.
When planning an RV or camping trip in Anchorage, it’s essential to make reservations in advance, especially during the busy summer season. Be prepared for varying weather conditions and pack accordingly. Also, be aware of wildlife safety guidelines and practice Leave No Trace principles to help preserve the natural environment for future generations.
By staying at one of the many campgrounds and RV parks in and around Anchorage, visitors can enjoy a unique and memorable Alaskan experience, surrounded by the region’s stunning natural beauty and with easy access to the city’s attractions and activities.
Climate: Anchorage has a subarctic climate with relatively mild temperatures for its latitude. Winters are cold, with average temperatures ranging from 5°F to 30°F (-15°C to -1°C). Summers are cool, with average temperatures ranging from 55°F to 65°F (13°C to 18°C). The city receives moderate precipitation, with the heaviest rainfall occurring in late summer and fall. Be prepared for varying weather conditions and pack accordingly.
Downtown Anchorage: The downtown area is the heart of the city, with attractions such as the Anchorage Museum, the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, and the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. It’s also home to a vibrant shopping district, with a mix of local boutiques, art galleries, and souvenir shops. The downtown area is walkable, making it easy to explore on foot.
Anchorage Market and Festival: Held every summer from May through September, the Anchorage Market and Festival is a popular outdoor event featuring local food, crafts, and live entertainment. Over 300 vendors gather to sell their goods, making it a great place to find unique Alaska-made products.
Wildlife Viewing: Anchorage offers ample opportunities for wildlife viewing. Visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a sanctuary for injured and orphaned animals, including bears, moose, and caribou. Potter Marsh, located at the southern end of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, is a great spot for birdwatching. Wildlife viewing tours are also available, providing guided excursions to see whales, seals, and sea otters in nearby waters.
Outdoor Recreation: Chugach State Park, just a short drive from Anchorage, offers 495,000 acres of unspoiled wilderness with opportunities for hiking, wildlife viewing, and fishing. The park features numerous trails, including the popular Flattop Mountain Trail, which rewards hikers with stunning views of the city and surrounding mountains. Winter sports enthusiasts can head to nearby ski resorts like Alyeska Resort and Hilltop Ski Area for skiing and snowboarding.
Fishing: Anglers can enjoy world-class fishing in the waters around Anchorage. The city has numerous lakes, rivers, and streams that are home to salmon, trout, and Arctic grayling. Ship Creek, which runs through downtown Anchorage, is a popular spot for urban fishing, while guided fishing trips are available to explore remote locations via floatplanes.
Events and Festivals: Anchorage hosts several events and festivals throughout the year, such as the Fur Rendezvous Winter Festival, the Anchorage International Film Festival, and the Summer Solstice Festival. These events showcase the city’s unique culture, arts, and outdoor activities.
Anchorage is an exciting destination that offers a mix of urban amenities and natural beauty. With its proximity to outdoor adventures, rich cultural experiences, and a variety of attractions, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in Alaska’s largest city.
Alaska Native Heritage Center: This cultural center showcases the rich history and traditions of Alaska’s 11 major cultural groups. Through exhibits, demonstrations, and performances, visitors can learn about the indigenous peoples’ way of life, art, and history. The center also features outdoor village sites, where you can explore traditional structures and learn about the various native cultures.
Anchorage Museum: The Anchorage Museum is the largest museum in Alaska, featuring a mix of art, history, and science exhibits. The museum’s collection includes works from Alaskan artists, artifacts from indigenous cultures, and exhibits on Alaska’s natural history. The museum also houses the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, which showcases over 600 indigenous objects from across the Arctic.
Tony Knowles Coastal Trail: This 11-mile (18 km) scenic trail runs along the coastline of Anchorage, providing stunning views of the mountains, water, and downtown skyline. The paved trail is popular for walking, jogging, cycling, and even cross-country skiing in the winter. Along the trail, you’ll find several parks and viewpoints, making it an excellent outdoor activity for all ages.
H2Oasis Indoor Waterpark: H2Oasis is a fun-filled indoor waterpark located in Anchorage, offering a variety of water attractions for the whole family. The waterpark features a lazy river, wave pool, water slides, and a children’s play area. It’s a great way to spend a day indoors, especially during the colder months.
Earthquake Park: Located near the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, Earthquake Park commemorates the devastating 1964 earthquake that struck Alaska. The park features interpretive signs explaining the geological events that took place during the earthquake, as well as an overlook offering panoramic views of the city and the surrounding landscape.
Log Cabin Visitor Information Center: This historic log cabin, located in downtown Anchorage, serves as a visitor information center. Here, you can gather information on local attractions, events, and accommodations. The friendly staff can provide helpful tips and recommendations for your stay in Anchorage.
Day Trips from Anchorage: Anchorage’s central location makes it an excellent base for exploring other parts of Alaska. Day trips to nearby attractions like the scenic town of Seward, Kenai Fjords National Park, and Talkeetna, a popular base for Denali National Park visitors, are all within a few hours’ drive.
Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska, has a rich history that dates back to the indigenous peoples who lived in the region for thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers. The city’s development has been significantly influenced by its strategic location, natural resources, and the growth of transportation and infrastructure projects in the 20th century.
Long before the establishment of Anchorage, the region was inhabited by the Dena’ina Athabascan people. They lived in the area for more than 1,000 years, relying on its abundant resources for sustenance and trading with neighboring indigenous groups. The Dena’ina people continue to have a strong presence in the region today and play a significant role in preserving their culture and heritage.
European Exploration and Settlement
In the late 18th century, European explorers, mainly Russian and British, began to venture into Alaska in search of valuable resources like fur and minerals. The first permanent European settlement in Alaska was established by the Russian American Company in 1784. However, the Anchorage area remained largely unexplored by Europeans until the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Alaska Railroad and Anchorage’s Founding
The establishment of Anchorage as a city is closely linked to the construction of the Alaska Railroad. In 1914, the U.S. government selected a site on the shores of Ship Creek as the headquarters for the construction of the railway, which was intended to connect the port of Seward to Fairbanks in the Alaskan Interior. The location offered a relatively flat and ice-free area, making it suitable for the construction of a railroad depot and supporting facilities.
A tent city quickly emerged around Ship Creek as thousands of workers and entrepreneurs flocked to the area. In 1915, the settlement was officially named Anchorage, and a townsite auction was held to sell lots for permanent buildings. Anchorage quickly became a bustling community, serving as a supply and transportation hub for the Alaska Railroad project.
World War II and the Cold War
Anchorage’s strategic location made it an important military outpost during World War II and the Cold War. In 1940, Elmendorf Air Force Base (now Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson) was established, followed by Fort Richardson in 1941. These military installations brought an influx of personnel and resources to the area, contributing to the city’s growth and development.
During the Cold War, Anchorage’s proximity to the Soviet Union led to the expansion of military facilities and the construction of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, a series of radar installations designed to detect incoming Soviet bombers. The Cold War also spurred investment in infrastructure projects like the construction of the Alaska Highway and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
On March 27, 1964, Anchorage experienced the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in North America, measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale. The earthquake and subsequent tsunamis caused widespread damage throughout the city, resulting in the loss of numerous lives and the destruction of many buildings and infrastructure. Anchorage embarked on a massive rebuilding effort in the wake of the disaster, leading to significant urban renewal and the construction of new schools, hospitals, and other public facilities.
Statehood and Modern Development
Alaska became the 49th state of the United States on January 3, 1959, further contributing to Anchorage’s growth and development. The discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay in 1968 led to the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, which boosted the city’s economy and attracted thousands of workers.
Today, Anchorage is a vibrant, thriving city that serves as Alaska’s economic, cultural, and transportation hub. Its history is a testament to the resilience and determination of the people who have shaped the city over the years, from the indigenous Dena’ina people to the railroad workers, military personnel, and entrepreneurs who have contributed to its growth and development.
Lake Hood Seaplane Base: Lake Hood is the world’s busiest seaplane base, serving as a hub for Alaska’s bush pilots. Visitors can watch seaplanes take off and land, or even book a scenic flightseeing tour to explore remote parts of Alaska, such as glaciers or wildlife areas.
Alaska Aviation Museum: Located near the Lake Hood Seaplane Base, the Alaska Aviation Museum celebrates the state’s rich aviation history. The museum showcases historic aircraft, exhibits on famous Alaskan pilots, and interactive displays. You can learn about the importance of aviation in Alaska and its role in connecting remote communities.
Kincaid Park: This 1,500-acre park is situated in the southwestern corner of Anchorage and offers a variety of recreational activities. With over 40 miles of multi-use trails, Kincaid Park is popular for hiking, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing. The park also features a sandy beach, picnic areas, and an 18-hole disc golf course. Wildlife sightings, such as moose and bald eagles, are common within the park.
Anchorage Trolley Tours: A guided trolley tour is an excellent way to get an overview of Anchorage’s history and attractions. The one-hour narrated tour takes passengers through downtown Anchorage, past notable landmarks, and along the scenic Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. It’s a great introduction to the city for first-time visitors.
Anchorage Brewing Company: The craft beer scene in Anchorage has flourished in recent years, and the Anchorage Brewing Company is one of the city’s most renowned breweries. Visitors can enjoy a variety of beers in the brewery’s tasting room or take a guided tour to learn about the brewing process.
Crow Creek Mine: Located just outside of Anchorage in the historic town of Girdwood, Crow Creek Mine is a gold mine that dates back to 1896. Visitors can try their hand at gold panning, explore the picturesque grounds, and learn about the mine’s history through guided tours and exhibits.
Alaska Botanical Garden: This 110-acre garden showcases native Alaskan plants and flowers, providing a serene and educational experience for visitors. The garden features several walking trails, themed gardens, and a greenhouse. The Alaska Botanical Garden also hosts various events and workshops throughout the year.
Anchorage’s diverse attractions cater to a wide range of interests, from history buffs and nature enthusiasts to foodies and art lovers. The city offers a unique blend of urban experiences and outdoor adventures that make it an unforgettable destination for travelers. As you explore Anchorage and its surroundings, you’ll discover the beauty, culture, and spirit of Alaska’s largest city.