Aerial picture of Anchorage

Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska, located in the Southcentral region. Anchorage is a cosmopolitan port city with a population of over 300,000. It is a consolidated city-borough referred to as a municipality. The urbanized city is defined by Muldoon Road to the east, Rabbit Creek Road to the south, and Cook Inlet to the north and west. Several small suburbs are within the Municipality of Anchorage while physically outside what most Anchorageites would call the "Anchorage" proper area. These include Eagle River and Chugiak to the north and Girdwood to the south.


Let's be clear, if you are looking for the "real Alaska" this is not it, but you can see it from there. Anchorage is a city. A real city with traffic, giant malls, tall buildings, crime and most other things one expects to find in an American city. It is an important hub and the gateway to other areas including the Alaskan Interior and the Kenai Peninsula, but is not really a "tourist destination" unto itself. While it is not the administrative capital of Alaska it is the economic capital. There are good places to eat and plenty of shopping, but the city itself is just that, a city. A great place to gear up for a trip, but it's not particularly "Alaskan" except for the weather.


 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Daily highs (°F) 23 27 34 45 56 63 65 64 55 41 28 25
Nightly lows (°F) 11 14 19 29 40 48 52 50 42 29 17 13
Precipitation (in) 0.7 0.7 0.6 0.5 0.7 1.0 1.8 3.3 3.0 2.0 1.2 1.1

   Data from NOAA (1981-2010)

Alaska is well known for its winters—but most visitors come in the summer, when the days are long and the temperatures are moderate.

Many people consider the period between May and early September to be the best time to visit Anchorage. The month of June usually has the best combination of long days, good weather, and warm afternoons.

As you would expect in the high northern latitudes, the longest days come around the summer solstice, 21 June, and they get quite short around the winter solstice, 21 December.

In the summer, Anchorage gets 19.5 hours of sunlight. At the start of winter, Anchorage gets about 5 hours of sunlight each day. By February, the days begin to feel noticeably longer.

The Anchorage-area climate, including the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound, often sees summer temperatures in the mid-70s (24°C). Winter temperatures may fall into the -20s and -30s (-30s°C) for a short spell.

Get in

By plane

Anchorage is served by many major American airlines. Air travel is the cheapest and fastest form of transportation in and out of the state. Non-stop flights are available from Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Phoenix, and more locations in the summer. Many arriving and departing out-of-state flights are late-night "red-eyes," but there are often many daytime flights to and from Seattle. Anchorage recently completed extensive remodeling and construction at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (IATA: ANC) (named for the late long time Alaska senator) to help accommodate the upsurge in tourism (unofficial sources have estimated the numbers for 2004 at some four million tourists arriving in Alaska between May and September).

By car

Anchorage is also accessible from the Contiguous United States (locally referred to as "the Lower 48") and Canada via road. The Alaska Highway starts in northern British Columbia and terminates in Fairbanks. You can get to Anchorage via either the Parks Highway from Fairbanks or the Glenn Highway from Tok (the first major Alaskan town after crossing the Canadian border). The Seward Highway serves traffic entering Anchorage from the Kenai Peninsula to the south and its Alaska Marine Highway System terminals. Whittier has a ferry that goes directly to Juneau with a connection to Bellingham, Washington. The ferry ride takes 5 days.

Make sure to pick up a copy of The Milepost, which is widely regarded as the premier road guide for western Canada and Alaska. Most roads in these regions have small white posts every mile or so indicating the number of miles from the start of the road. The Milepost has extremely detailed route descriptions of all of the roads, pointing out everything from scenic viewpoints and campgrounds down to the names of small creeks the roads pass over. If you're flying in to Anchorage and then driving around the state, wait and pick up a copy of The Milepost at one of the local Costcos or WalMarts—the price there is around half of list price.

By boat

Many cruise lines provide transportation from their terminals to Anchorage and may even include tours or your return air travel out of the state.

By train

The Alaska Railroad serves Anchorage. However it does not connect to the US mainland or any other rail system

Get around

While not nearly comparable to the size of major world cities (the city itself is several thousand square miles, but most of it is uninhabited and mountainous), the developed part of the Municipality of Anchorage is fairly spread out and not very walkable—with the exception of the compact downtown area.

Most of Anchorage is built on a grid system originally laid out by the railroad: numbered streets run east-west, starting at First Avenue in the extreme north of the city (at the Port and train depot) and ending up in the mid-hundreds at the south edge of town. Lettered streets run north-south, starting at A Street in the middle of downtown and going up to the west; east of A Street, the street names begin with sequential letters and are named after Alaskan cities and towns (Barrow, Cordova, Denali, etc.). This makes finding yourself on a map fairly easy, although the system gets less coherent outside of the downtown area. Note that the Seward Highway becomes Gambell and Ingra streets, while the Glenn Highway becomes 5th and 6th Avenues.

You'll often hear Anchorageites use the following terms when describing areas of town. These areas were originally separate communities that merged as the city grew.

Anchorage's Ted Stevens International Airport is serviced by all of the major national rental car chains as well as a number of independents. A few companies have off-airport locations and may even offer courtesy shuttles (though these shuttles will not pick up from the airport). Renting from these locations avoids the 11-12% airport concession recovery fee and $4.81 per day airport facility fee. If you're renting for more than a few days, it might be worth the hassle to rent your vehicle at an off-airport location, which usually involves taxi rides or shuffling between hotel and rental car courtesy shuttles. Check with each agency or search off-airport rental cars using an online travel agency to see what cost savings may be available.

If you're arriving in the summer, plan ahead, as most rental companies are pretty much sold out from mid-June through the end of August. In the summer, cars are often not available without reservations, and even if they are, be prepared to pay top-dollar for them, especially four-wheel-drive vehicles. Renting a car in Alaska can be more expensive than pretty much anywhere else in the United States, ranging up to (and occasionally even over) $200 per day for a large vehicle sufficient to carry multiple passengers and outdoor gear during the peak season. In the dead of winter, however, you can sometimes grab a vehicle for under $10 per day.

Some of the major car rental companies serving the Anchorage area are:

Most airport rental agencies are open from about 5:30AM or 6AM to about 2AM (3AM at the latest) in the peak summer season. With the number of red-eye flights serving Anchorage, it's especially important to be sure your flight doesn't arrive after your rental agency closes. None of the major chains is open 24 hours, so the only option for after-hours arrivals is a cab or hotel shuttle to an area hotel or to sleep on a bench until the agencies open.

Two main taxi companies serve the Anchorage area: Alaska Yellow Cab (+1 907-222-2222) and Checker Cab (+1 907-276-1234). The airport maintains a taxi stand on the arrivals level. As of late 2007, the municipality-set rate for all taxis is $2 are the flag drop and $2.50 per mile; time based rate $.50 per minute. The average fare to downtown runs about $20 one-way.

Many hotels offer also courtesy shuttle vans that stop at the airport near the taxi stand. Several courtesy phone banks are located inside the baggage claim areas.

Drivers tend to be aggressive in Anchorage year round, and many of the roads are heavily damaged by severe winter conditions and the use of studded tires. If you are visiting in winter and not used to driving in winter conditions, be very cautious, do not pass, keep excessive following distance, and allow plenty of time to stop. If it's snowing, no matter what time of the day, have your headlights on (the Seward Highway south of Anchorage requires headlights to be on at all times). Keep in mind that a roadway covered with black ice may look completely dry but provide no traction whatsoever.

By bus

If you're determined to save money or are traveling the USA without a car, you can use the PeopleMover, Anchorage's bus system. As of late 2007, fares are $1.75 per trip or $4 for a day pass. Most bus routes have one bus in each direction per hour, but some routes increase it to two buses per hour during peak times. Buses are frequently late. Route 7A of the PeopleMover, Anchorage's bus system, has a stop located at the far south end of the airport taxi stand area. Every hour, there is one bus going downtown and one bus going to the Dimond Center mall in south Anchorage. If you're riding the bus to the airport, note that only Route 7A, not Route 7, stops at the airport. For more information, call the PeopleMover Ride Line at +1 907-343-6543 .

By bike

Anchorage features an extremely well-developed bike trail system, with over 200 miles (320 km) of developed trails (120 of which are paved) winding their way throughout the city's parks and three green belts. The popular Tony Knowles Coastal Trail parallels the waterfront from Downtown to Kincaid Park near the airport. Several companies offer bike rentals and trail tours. In the winter, many of the trails are groomed and used as ski trails.



Wildlife Viewing

The Anchorage area is home to moose, brown and black bears, Dall sheep, and many migratory bird species. A visitor should be able to find moose fairly easily by driving any neighborhood on Anchorage's Hillside (actually the foothills of the Chugach mountains). It is not uncommon to hear of bears being spotted in residential areas, but visitors who hope to see wild bears should plan excursions to either Denali National Park or Katmai National Park. Dall sheep, a species similar to the big-horn sheep found in the American Rockies, can often be spotted by driving down the Seward Highway south of Anchorage. A good way to spot sheep is to notice congregations of other tourists photographing them. A good place to view waterfowl and eagles is Potter's Marsh, located immediately south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway.


One of the best places to walk or bike to get to know Anchorage would have to be the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. Awesome views. Starting from downtown, it's a well maintained 14 mile paved track around the coast, with housing developments and forests on one side, and the ocean of Cook Inlet on the other. You can come back via an inland loop right around the airport. This has some on-road sections, but takes you past Lake Hood, a busy and interesting seaplane base. It's a very popular track for bikers and joggers during the summer months. If you don't have a car, a shuttle provides round-trip transportation between downtown and the trailhead for $22, Flattop Mountain Shuttle.

For a more challenging hike, drive east on O'Malley Road (south Anchorage) and follow signs for Glen Alps. There is a $5 day parking fee at the trail head. From this launching point there are numerous hiking options for all levels, including a climb up Flattop (Anchorage's most popular day hike, 1.5-3 hrs depending on your hiking ability. Note that there is a bit of scrambling over rocks at the end to reach the top of Flattop. In the fall the mountain is covered with wild blueberries), the "ballpark", Hidden Lake, Ship Lake Pass, etc. There is also a mountain biking trail leading up towards Powerline Pass. This is a great place to see moose in the summer and offers the best view of the city of Anchorage within a 5 minute walk of the parking lot (parking is free if you stay 30 minutes or less). All the trails are well maintained and there is little risk of being lost in the immediate area, however, for the maximum experience it's a good idea to bring water and plan your hike with a great guide such as "55 Ways to the Wilderness", Southcentral Alaska or Chugach State Park editions, available online or at any local Alaskan bookseller. In the fall, Flattop Mountain is covered with wild blueberries.




Anchorage has three men's rugby teams that play from April to September. Want to pick up a game while you are here or join a team? Check the websites: Bird Creek Barbarians or Anchorage Thunderbirds RFC.


Almost anything that can be bought in Alaska can be bought in Anchorage. Ulu knives, hand-carved wood and ivory artwork, mukluk books, and knitted qiviut hats and scarves (made of wool from musk oxen) are all traditional Alaskan goods. Check for "Made in Alaska" labels. There are also myriad touristy gift stores downtown. Quality and selection varies.





In Girdwood (45 minutes south):


Anchorage has many, many bars. Bars must close by 2:30AM M-F, 3AM Sa & Su under municipal law. Bars can stay open until 5AM in the cities of Palmer and Wasilla, about 45 minutes north. Anchorage also probably has more micro-breweries per capita than anywhere else (except maybe Portland, OR).

All bars and restaurants in Anchorage are non-smoking.





Stay safe

Anchorage is a very safe city for its size. The murder rate is very low.

Certain areas in the north east of the city (Mountain View, north of the Glenn Highway and east of Merrill Field airport) and central (Fairview, 6th to 15th Avenue, east of Ingra) have higher crime than other spots, though they are mostly older residential areas with little reason for a tourist to be there.

Also, areas around the airport like Spenard are known for increased drug activity and prostitution. In earlier times, the downtown area around 4th Avenue was like that, but a concerted effort over the last eight years has cleaned it up mostly.

A constant problem is car break-ins at parking lots. Do not make any valuables visible.

The trails close to and around the university are unsafe when it is dark. During the colder months, there are increased attacks on females going to and from the housing and library.

Also, stay a good distance away from the moose. Although they may appear harmless, they can and will protect their young ones from people, and can charge if they feel cornered or threatened. Never approach them, as they are best viewed from a distance.

Still, if you follow precautions like everywhere else, you will be safe.



Go next

There are only two roads out of Anchorage, the Seward Highway which goes south to the Kenai Peninsula, and the Glenn Highway which goes northeast to Glennallen and continues as the Tok Cutoff to Tok where it ends at the Alaska Highway. The Glenn Highway junctions with the George Parks Highway about 35 miles north of Anchorage, continuing northwest to Denali National Park and Fairbanks. Driving from Anchorage to Fairbanks usually takes 6–8 hours (356 miles) and driving from Anchorage to Seattle, WA usually takes at least 3 days.

The Alaska Railroad offers daily service between Anchorage/Seward, Anchorage/Whittier, and Anchorage/Fairbanks during the summer. The Anchorage/Fairbanks run (Aurora) offers flag drop service between Talkeetna and Hurricane - it is the only railroad in the U.S. that will pick you up if you flag the train from the side of the tracks.

There are numerous small plane flying services which have scheduled flights to small villages, or the capacity to charter flights to different villages. For travel to villages outside of the south central region it is usually cheaper to take a regular commercial flight to the appropriate regional hub (Bethel, Unalakleet, Dillingham, Unalaska, Kotzebue, Nome, Barrow, Fairbanks, or Juneau) and arrange to fly from there to your destination.

Routes through Anchorage

Wasilla (via ) Eagle River  N  S  Girdwood Soldotna

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, March 16, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.