The adventure compass points north and south of Anchorage
By landmass, Anchorage is one of the largest cities in the nation. At 2,000 square miles, it is bigger than some East Coast states. That may sound boastful at first blush, but this isn’t an empty brag. It means there’s a lot of amazing stuff to see and do just venturing a little outside of the city proper. Ever noticed how many people are headed north or south out of the city on the weekend? Then you’ve seen a hint of what waits just outside.
Of course there are plenty of great places to hike, cross-country ski or snowshoe all over Anchorage. If you want one of the most secluded spots but aren’t ready to mount a major expedition, head north to the Eagle River Nature Center.
It’s a great spot to start. Tucked far back in the river valley and flanked on either side by the peaks of the Chugach, this snowy spot has looping trails from under a mile to six miles. And when conditions are right, it’s a great place to slap down cross-country skis. The center also has a few loaner pairs of snowshoes. There’s something for all ages and experiences.
Eklutna Lake is synonymous with kayaks and ATVs during summer, but it’s also a great place in winter. It’s one of the sections of Chugach State Park open to snowmobiles (or snowmachines, depending on your linguistic preference). But engine power isn’t the only way to “go big.” Once just a curiosity, fat tire bikes have established themselves as a go-to toy for winter fun. The wide tires open up unexpected sections of the backcountry to pedal power.
The winter months give you a special appreciation for the adaptations of Alaska animals. At the south edge of the municipality, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is one of the great places nearby to see those special animals in action. See for yourself how a wooly coat keeps musk oxen and wood bison toasty warm regardless of the season. While many Alaska animals are at home in the snow, the center has a special treat for two-legged guests. Visitors can glide from species to species on kicksleds.
No matter when you go, no trip south of the city is complete without a stop in Girdwood. At this time of year, most Alaskans make weekend treks to the mountain town for downhill skiing, but even if that isn’t your strong suit, there are plenty of good reasons to swing through.
Enjoying the outdoors doesn’t always come with a lift ticket. The local Nordic ski club has done a ton of work on local trails in recent years. Moose Meadow is a great spot to test out the sport, and a newer 5K loop slips into the forest alongside the more famous Winner Creek hiking trail. Girdwood is also a fantastic starting point for snowmachining. Glacier City Snowmobile tours and Alaska Wild Guides each rev up for adventures south of Anchorage.
So go (a little) north, or set your sights (a teensy bit) south. In either direction, you might find unexpected pleasures in familiar territory.