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Day Trippin’ from Anchorage: ’Burbs Gone Wild

Technically part of Anchorage proper, the communities of Eagle River and Girdwood each have their own unique identities and charm.

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Historic Crow Creek Mine offers a unique blend of historical buildings, rare mining equipment and access to explore the mineâs original claims.
Historic Crow Creek Mine offers a unique blend of historical buildings, rare mining equipment and access to explore the mine’s original claims. ©Visit Anchorage

Girdwood and Portage

Drive along the gorgeous Turnagain Arm 40 miles south of downtown Anchorage to reach the mountain resort community of Girdwood. Embraced by seven glaciers and home to Alaska’s premier ski resort, Alyeska Resort, Girdwood is a destination in itself.  

Stop for lunch, stroll along the European-style boardwalk for shopping or schedule Alaska activities such as flightseeing, dog sledding or even paragliding. The terrain attracts hiking and mountain biking in the summer months. Come winter, Girdwood becomes a world-class ski resort and a playground for skiing and heli-skiing, as well as Nordic skiing and snowmobiling.

One of Alaska’s best views is from the top of Mount Alyeska. No need to labor up the 2,300-foot rise to the top. Hop aboard Alyeska Resort’s high-speed tram for a five-minute ride and the sightseeing journey of lifetime. At the top, visitors have full access to the mountain to explore, berry pick, ski, snowboard and even dine. 

To round out the day in south Anchorage, check out the Winner Creek Gorge Trail. This easy amble through a thick spruce forest leads to a hand-pulled tram suspended high above the gorge. You can also take a trip back in time at Crow Creek Gold Mine, the site of an 1888 gold mining camp, and see if you can strike gold yourself.

Get back on the highway and drive a few miles further south to check out the animals at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center followed by Portage Glacier Valley. The Begich, Boggs Visitor Center, which overlooks the iceberg-pocked Portage Lake, is staffed with Forest Service interpreters. Be sure and ask about the naturalist programs, guided iceworm hike to Byron Glacier and self-guided walks.   

Arctic Valley and Eagle River

North of Anchorage, the companion towns of Eagle River, Chugiak and Eklutna sit along the banks of Eagle River, Peters Creek and Eklutna River. These thriving communities boast hometown hospitality and quite a variety of terrain.  

In the outdoor arena, tackle Mount Baldy, a popular day hike, or pack up the whole family and explore Arctic Valley – a favorite spot among locals for hiking and berry picking in summer and skiing in winter. The Eagle River Nature Center in the upper Eagle River Valley is gateway to the half-million acre Chugach State Park, and open year-round to help visitors enjoy nature walks, naturalist programs, hiking, snowshow and ski trails, as well as public use cabins and yurts. 

Thunderbird Falls is just further north in nearby Chugiak and definitely worth the stop. It’s a quick mile-long hike back to the 200-foot high falls, which freeze in the winter into some pretty gnarly ice sculptures.  

The community of Eklutna is the oldest inhabited location in the Anchorage Bowl. Eklutna was originally a Dena’ina Athabascan village. When Russian Orthodox missionaries arrived in the 1840's, the melding of Orthodox Christianity and native practices resulted in brightly colored spirit houses seen at the Eklutna cemetery – now a historical park. Nearby is Eklutna Lake, a popular recreation area for hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, picnicking and camping. The bluish-green lake is fed by Eklutna Glacier – a primary source of water for the city of Anchorage.