Anchorage story in Travel and Talk

by Len Rutledge

While savvy travellers have known for some time that Anchorage is where you find the best of Alaska all in one place, my knowledge of the city before I visited was lamentably poor.

A few days after arriving I realised that the city, sited between mountains and an inlet, surrounded by National Parks and filled with Alaskan wildlife, combines some of the best attractions of Alaska with the hospitality and intrigue of a Last Frontier.

Anchorage is almost equidistant from New York City, Frankfurt Germany, and Tokyo Japan. For this reason, Anchrage’s Ted Stevens International Airport was once a major stop-over point for international passenger flights and it is still the world’s third busiest airport for cargo traffic. You hear aircraft landing and taking off throughout the day and night.

Captain James Cook sailed past the site in 1779 and gold prospectors discovered the bounty of Ship Creek in the late 1800s but it wasn’t until the Alaska Railroad set up a construction camp in 1915 that Anchorage was established and became a booming tent city of 2,000 people. Now the population is around 300,000 and the city is a great place to visit.

Explore the parks

Alaska is an outdoors place and the Alaska Public Lands Information Centre in Anchorage is the perfect place to start an exploration of Alaska parks.

You can see whales, otters and other marine animals in the glacier-filled Kenai Fjords National Park. North America’s tallest peak is the most obvious attraction in Denali National Park where you can see caribou, brown and black bears, wolves, moose and fox.

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Floatplanes take off from Anchorage’s Lake Hood for day tours to the best spots for bear viewing, hiking or fishing in Lake Clark National Park. You can drive to Katmai National Park where during July to September you are likely to see a brown bear catching a jumping salmon in mid-air. Mighty Wrangell-Saint Elias is the largest national park in the USA and it has glaciers and old Kennecott, which is a well-preserved example of a mining boomtown.

But there is more! The Chugach Mountains create a dramatic skyline for Anchorage and Chugach State Park and Chugach National Forest are a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Some of the best trailheads and access points are just 20 minutes from downtown.

The most frequently climbed mountain, most popular trailheads and 60 of the state’s most accessible glaciers are all found in the Chugach together with rafting, biking, kayaking and fishing opportunities. The 60-passenger Alyeska Aerial Tram offers expansive views and at the top there are two restaurants, a museum, and guided walks in summer.

Downtown

The downtown area of the city has some attractions. Alaska’s largest museum, the Anchorage Museum tells the story of Alaska and the North. It is a multifaceted story that weaves together social, political, cultural, scientific, historic and artistic threads.

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Information about the native people, can be found at the Alaskan Native Heritage Centre in suburban Anchorage. This shares the heritage of Alaska’s 11 major cultures. Visitors experience Alaska Native cultures first-hand through stories, dance and more but unfortunately it seems most visitors don’t make it here.

The Lake Hood Seaplane Base is the largest seaplane base in the world and most visitors to Anchorage enjoy the spectacle of planes leaving and arriving on the water. As it is only five kilometres from the downtown centre it is easy to reach. Taking a trip on a Flightseeing flight is one of the best ways to explore the mountains, soar over glaciers, and spot wildlife.

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The Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum is on the lake and serves as a tribute to Alaska’s famous bush pilots. It is home to 25 planes along with historic photos and displays.

Alaska Botanical Garden is a colourful showcase for native species, with paths through groomed herb, rock and perennial gardens in a wooded setting. The mile-long Lowenfels Family Nature Trail will teach you about native Alaska plants.

railway first linked broad stretches of Alaska together and trains depart daily in the summer for Seward, Prince William Sound, Denali, Talkeetna and Fairbanks. The Glacier Discovery train to Spencer Whistle stop is an easy and fascinating day trip from Anchorage.

Active from September through April, the famous Northern Lights are amazing to see and night owls can enjoy the shifting colours of the auroras near Anchorage. At this time, the city transforms into a white playground, with 130 kilometres of maintained Nordic ski trails. You can go dog sledding, ice skating, and snowmobiling, and see ice sculptures and more.

Wildlife

There are more than a thousand moose in Anchorage and they are not difficult to find. Spend a little time in the city’s many green spaces, and you’re likely to see one. You may also stumble upon one of the bears that periodically inhabit these areas. For those seeking a truly iconic wildlife shot, a visit to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre puts moose, musk oxen, foxes, eagles and many other species in camera range.

Eating and drinking

Seafood is big here so local restaurants includes king crab, halibut and salmon on their menus while street stalls sell reindeer sausages. Beer lovers are catered for with more than a dozen breweries in the city.

If you go

Alaska is part of the USA so visitor requirements are the same as the mainland. There are some international and many domestic air connections to Anchorage.

Images: Phensri Rutledge

www.LenRutledge.com

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCX5HUmGP1lR2aoscn3O8P2Q

The lure of the Kenai Peninsula

Imagine a breathtaking land shaped by glaciers, an ancestral home for Native Americans, pristine wilderness with abundant wildlife and some scenic towns ideal for those seeking meaningful connections with nature. That, in a nutshell, is the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, one of the last U.S. frontiers.The Kenai peninsula extends approximately 150 miles southwest from the Chugach Mountains, south of Anchorage, and is bordered on the west by Cook Inlet and on the east by Prince William Sound. The glacier-covered Kenai Mountains, rising nearly 7000 feet, run along the southeast spine.

There are several cities and towns in this region, including Seward on the Gulf of Alaska Coast and Homer on Kachemak Bay. One of the most visited tourist areas in Alaska, this area is especially popular with anglers of all ages lured by its excellent salmon and halibut fishing, so visitor facilities are excellent and there are tour opportunities galore.

Alaska is often seen as a young person’s outdoor adventure area and it certainly is that, but I found it is also excellent for seniors, as hundreds of thousands of cruise passengers who visit each year can confirm.

Seeking sealife in Seward

A nice catch in Seward on the Kenai Peninsula

Seward, a town of around 3000 permanent residences, is at the end of the Inside Passage cruise boat route from Seattle and Vancouver, and is about two hours by road south of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. The area is a photographer’s paradise with glaciers on land and porpoise, whales and sea lions in the water.

The long summer days are perfect for enjoying world-class fishing, tours of Kenai Fjords National Park, walks along the waterfront, learning about local history and culture, and enjoying the town’s restaurants, bakeries, shops and galleries.

Seward is home to some of Alaska’s finest year-round sport fishing. Anglers can fish for giant Pacific halibut, fight an acrobatic silver salmon or catch a trophy lingcod. Thirty fishing charters offer half-day or all-day excursions.

A highlight in Seward is a visit to the Alaska Sealife Center, which is designed as a research, rehabilitation and education facility. It has 15 aquariums and a huge netted space showcasing 150 different animals from the Gulf of Alaska, including birds, seals, sea lions, octopus and invertebrates. Allow several hours for a visit.

The Sealife Center in Seward

A sightseeing tour into the Kenai Fjords National Park offers the chance to see calving glaciers, humpback whales, orcas, otters, sea lions, eagles, puffins and other birds. One such trip includes lunch on exclusive Fox Island, where orcas come right up on the beach to rub against the rocky shore.

Seward’s Exit Glacier is one of the most accessible in Alaska. The wheelchair-accessible Glacier View Loop Trail meanders through a cottonwood forest before arriving at a panoramic viewpoint. The Glacier Overlook Trail is an additional 0.7‑miles full of jaw-dropping sights. Tours offer the chance to walk on the ice and those with a sense of adventure can try ice climbing.

Angling the Russian River

Russian River drift fishing on the Kenai Peninsula

Forty-five miles north of Seward is where you find the gin-clear Russian River. This is one of the few streams in North America where sockeye salmon are easily caught on artificial flies. There are two contrasting zones: the infamous crowds of the ‘combat zone’ and the much quieter area near Russian River Falls, where you can see leaping salmon. The upper river is an area where you are more likely to see a bear than another angler.

In both areas, an angler fishing from the bank can catch trophy-size rainbow trout and Arctic char, but odds of catching good fish increase dramatically if you are able to float the river in a drift boat. Fortunately, experienced drift boat guides are available. All offer-full-day charters while a few also offer two-day trips.

Apart from fishing, this area of the Kenai Peninsula has one of the most extensive systems of maintained hiking trails in Alaska. You are likely to see eagles, mountain goats and Dall sheep. Brown and black bear, moose, wolf and caribou are also in the area.

Homer: The end of the road on the Kenai Peninsula

Shops on the Homer Spit on the Kenai Peninsula

This charming, colorful town is literally at the end of the road if you have driven up from the Lower 48 states. The town is surrounded by an incredible panorama of mountains, white peaks, glaciers, and the famous Homer Spit, a four-mile-long strip of land that stretches into beautiful, deep blue Kachemak Bay.

The Spit is a hub of bustling activity during the summer. There are throngs of tourists, people camping on the beach, charter boats heading out to catch halibut, beachcombers, and birders amazed at how many bald eagles they can spot. King salmon can be caught here from mid-May to the end of June, while silver salmon run in August.

Some of the most colorful and attractive shops, restaurants and food stalls you can imagine line the spit road. Many are built on stilts over the water and are accessed by boardwalks. Scattered among them are bars, charter operators, art galleries, and grocery and liquor outlets. It may be a town planners’ nightmare, but the public loves it.

Back on dry land, there are plenty of lodging choices, more shops, some interesting museums, a botanic garden, a farmer’s market on Wednesday and Saturday, and waterfront walks. Festivals include Winter Carnival in February, the King Salmon Tournament in March, the Shorebird Festival in May, and the Writer’s Conference in June.

On the other side of the bay is Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park, a 350,000-acre paradise of glaciers, mountains, protected coves for paddling, and an extensive trail system to explore on foot.


What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?

  • The laid-back vibe throughout the Kenai Peninsula encourages visitors to take their time and enjoy all there is to see and do.
  • If offers unique opportunities to see wildlife both on land and water. You are likely to see seals, sea otters, porpoises, whales and numerous species of sea birds while out on the water, and moose, black or brown bear, eagles, sandhill cranes, and perhaps rabbits, fox or porcupines on land.
  • Bear viewing is popular because people can see these wild animals up close in their natural surroundings, in relative safety and comfort. Well-equipped lodges and experienced guides make this popular with all ages.

Take note

  • This area gets very cold and has short days in winter, so it is not ideal for sightseeing at that time. Some shops, tour operators, and lodgings close but you will escape the crowds.
  • May to September is the popular time for most visitors. Days are long and everything is open. Lodging and restaurant prices can be higher than in the Lower-48 because the season is relatively short, and some pre-booking of accommodation is recommended.

All photo credits (except lead photo): Phensri Rutledge