Anchorage, Alaska's largest city is a microcosm of the many things that make Alaska so unique and wonderful. While it's probably not worth making the long journey up north just to visit Anchorage, it is an important addition to any Alaska itinerary. Here are some reasons why Anchorage is well worth a visit.
Anchorage proper is nearly 2,000 square miles (for reference New York City is only 300 square miles), but most of that land mass in uninhabited wilderness. That means even in the center of Anchorage you don't have to go too far for a taste of Alaska's ever-encroaching wilderness. Even the suburbs are crawling with wildlife: elk, moose, black bears, and bighorn sheep.
One great way to experience Anchorage's strong connection with nature is following the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. The 14-mile trail can be walked or biked and starts downtown, following along the beautiful coastline.
Alaska was inhabited long, long before it became part of the U.S., and Anchorage has several rich museums that can help you learn about Alaska's indigenous peoples. The Anchorage Museum of History and Art is a good starting point - it tells the story of Alaska via local artifacts and artwork.
Dive even deeper at the Alaska Heritage Center, which showcases over 10,000 years of native Alaskan culture. The center is not just a museum but also an interactive community center that helps visitors understand Alaska better through dance, art, traditional games, and movies.
Despite (or because of) the fact that it's covered in snow 8-9 months of the year, the area around Anchorage is a hub for adventure sports. In the winter skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling are all popular, all found at a variety of resorts on the outskirts of town. During the summer, activities range from hiking and biking to kayaking and hunting. You can even take a seaplane ride over the nearby glaciers.
Have you ever eaten reindeer sausage? You will if you come out to Anchorage, where local game and produce heavily influence the cuisine. In addition to reindeer it's normal to see buffalo, elk, and caribou on the menu along with smoked salmon and other Alaskan fish. Then there is the local honey, birch syrup, and of course the local craft breweries like Moose's Tooth. Anchorage has more restaurants than anywhere else in Alaska, so come hungry.
Perhaps the best reason to visit Anchorage is because it's the perfect jumping off point for so many other adventures.
The Seward Highway heads south towards the Kenai Peninsula, where you'll encounter small towns, large glaciers, and great whale watching in the summer. Or, head north to Denali National Park, one of the United State's greatest natural treasures. This vast stretch of wilderness is larger than the state of Massachusetts and home to incredible wildlife and gorgeous landscapes. If you're really feeling adventurous, even further north is Fairbanks.
That's really Anchorage's greatest strength - it's a small patch of urbanity in an immense unexplored wilderness.
Have you been to Anchorage? What's your favorite thing to do there?
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Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can't sit still! Since graduating college in 2007 she has either been traveling or planning to travel. She's lived on four continents and visited everywhere from the Great Wall of China to the Great Barrier Reef. She now writes and travels full time, blogging about her adventures on Why Wait To See The World? (formerly Twenty-Something Travel). Follow Stephanie on Twitter or visit her on Facebook.
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