Anchorage, Alaska from the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. Photograph is by Jim A Chapman Photographer Copyright 2005.
Location / Coordinates: Alaska’s largest city is located in the heart of the state’s south central gulf coast. On the upper shores of Cook Inlet, Anchorage sets in a bowl bordered by the Chugach Mountains to the southeast, and the Knik Arm to the northwest. 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 49.90.
Population / Elevation : 274,000 people call Anchorage home year ‘round. This is 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: “Thirty minutes away from Alaska” Anchorage is the state’s only true big city. Alaska’s largest city has most of the amenities of other cities in the Lower 48: Costco, Sam’s Club, most of the fast food chains, even Nordstrom’s. Anchorage also has the occasional bear in the city parks, and it’s not uncommon to find a moose wandering across the parking lot. 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 keep an eye out for Dall Sheep on the rocks next to the highway. Flights to everywhere in the state originate from the Ted Stevens International Airport. All highways lead to Anchorage, so does the railroad.
For those interested in the Arts, Anchorage offers a Performing Arts Center, the Anchorage Museum of Art and History, the Heritage Museum, and the Alaska Native Heritage Center. A bit more entertaining, the Alaska Experience Center offers a life-like earthquake simulation. The Imaginarium Science Discovery Center is a great place for kids—hands-on experiments for studying earthquakes and the northern lights.
Note: Forget something? Anchorage has several outdoor equipment stores, REI, Sportsman’s Warehouse, and Barney’s to name just afew. Alaska is an extreme place and these stores carry clothing and equipment for everyday-to-extreme activities.
History: Eskimos, Athebascans, Russians, and the British have all claimed this area now known as Anchorage as “home.” Trading for furs, copper, iron and fish was common here. The Russians were well entrenched in the Anchorage basin area when the British arrived under Captain James Cook. He “discovered” and named Cook’s Inlet as well as Turnagain Arm (named for his about-face of the waterway to search for other discoveries) after himself in 1778.
Needing better access to strategic coalfields, Congress authorized the building of a railroad linking an ocean port at Seward with the interior river shipping routes of Alaska in the early 1900s. The anchorage at the mouth of Ship Creek became the construction camp and headquarters for the Alaskan Engineering Commission. By the summer of 1915, the population in this “camp of tents” now known as Anchorage, had grown to about 2,000. Soon thereafter, the land around the “city” was auctioned off in $225 lots with the stipulation that they not be used for prostitution, gambling, or liquor production, lest they be forfeited.
Anchorage was the name used by the post office, making the name of this fledgling city official.
Sporadic growth has continued throughout its history. The 1940s brought settlers from the New Deal program into the Mat-Su Valley as well as into Anchorage, the military established itself in Anchorage during World War II, and the construction of the Alaska Highway through Canada brought even more residents. In the 1950s the completion of the road link to Seward was timely, as oil was discovered on the Kenai Peninsula about the same time.
Statehood in 1959 and the establishment of Anchorage’s international airport really put Anchorage on the map. Anchorage is the same distance from Tokyo as it is from New York City. Thus the airport has become a sub-polar crossroads for long-distance flights.
Anchorage, in spite of being the largest city in Alaska, is not the capitol city, Juneau is Alaska’s capital city. There has been much debate about moving the capitol to a more central point in the state, but Anchorage has never really been a contender.
Earthquakes are a major part of Anchorage life. The Good Friday Earthquake of 1964 destroyed a good portion of the biggest city in Alaska as well as other surrounding communities. This quake was the most powerful earthquake every recorded in North America, rating an impressive 8.6 (later upgraded to 9.2) on the Richter Scale and it lasted for five minutes followed by numerous aftershocks. During this earthquake, portions of the Gulf of Alaska were raised as much as thirty feet, while other places land was lowered as much as ten feet.
How to get there: Flying into Anchorage is how many visitors arrive. Over a dozen airlines land at the Ted Stevens International Airport with over 130 flights daily. From Anchorage, you can book a flight to anywhere in Alaska. Alaska Airlines provides the most intrastate routes to travelers. Several carriers specialize in flying to different parts of remote Alaska.
There are a variety of bus and van companies that operate out of Anchorage and provide service to almost everywhere in the state.
Driving to Anchorage from the Lower 48 is possible via the Alaskan Highway with two routes, (the Western Access from Seattle, WA to Dawson Creek, BC; and the Eastern Access from Great Falls, MT to Dawson Creek, BC), and the Cassiar Highway (to get to the Cassier Highway, take Yellowhead Highway 16 from either Prince Rupert, BC or From Prince George, BC).
From Dawson Creek, BC, the Alaskan Highway continues north to Fort Nelson, then turns west to Watson Lake, Teslin and Whitehorse, YK. From Whitehorse, the Alcan turns northwest to the border with the U.S. where you’ll cross into Alaska at Port Alcan. From there the road continues northwest to Tok. At Tok, take Highway 1 (the Glen Highway) south to Anchorage.
NOTE: If you drive, keep an eye on the gas gauge, when it reaches the half tank point, start looking for a gas station and fill up. Sometimes it can be a while between stations.
The Alaska Railroad provides service to and from Anchorage both from the north and from the south. Some routes are open year ‘round.
Facilities: Camping sites are available at several locations throughout Anchorage as are some hostels. Over 400 Bed & Breakfasts are located in the largest city in Alaska, and Anchorage also hosts over 70 hotels for the thrifty traveler to the ritzy traveler.
Hungry? Anchorage offers everything from fast food, comfort food, and of course some of the best Salmon on the planet! Fun touristy places to dine, fine dining and bakeries. Coffee lovers will love Anchorage, there’s an espresso shop on just about every corner!
RV info: There are RV parks scattered around Anchorage for those who drive their personal RV up here. They have laundry facilities and some of them have internet access. It’s a good idea to make reservations ahead of arrival time.