5 Best Drives Around Anchorage
The road beckons. With so many wonderful sights in Anchorage, getting behind the wheel in Alaska can be a rewarding experience in itself. Here’s a roundup of popular driving tours in and around Anchorage. Pick a favorite, or add them all to cover more of the city and its sights. Each is easy to do as a self-drive, and many tour companies offer similar routes, if you prefer someone else drives.
The trip along Turnagain Arm neatly packs some huge things about Alaska into a day-sized drive. The Seward Highway traces the Cook Inlet coast south of Anchorage as it slips alongside mountains. It’s a gorgeous landscape with plenty of photo stops. Beluga whales, eagles, and Dall sheep make regular appearances. There are great trailheads all along the route. McHugh Creek, Rainbow, Bird Ridge, and Winner Creek are among the most popular hiking spots. Turnagain Arm is also home to two historic gold mines, Indian Valley and Crow Creek. Stop off in Girdwood for a bite to eat and alpine views from Mount Alyeska.
Drive south as far as Portage, and you’ll also find glaciers in Portage Valley and more animals at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
Want to keep rolling? Take the Anton Anderson tunnel to the port town of Whittier, starting point for many day cruises.
The wooded preserve at Anchorage’s western edge is proof that wildlife is an integral part of Anchorage. Now a city park, Kincaid was spared development by its long years set aside for the military. Moose love the area’s dense woods. Drive west along Raspberry Road; the 3-mile stretch from Sand Lake Road to the Kincaid Chalet is a prime spot to scan for the park’s antlered stars. Park it and explore; Kincaid has a vast network of paths. The rolling terrain was formed by an ancient glacier; the rock and soil pushed up as the glacier receded. Deep ponds and depressions mark the spot where huge chunks of ice once melted. Walkers and bikers head to Kincaid in the summer, with cross-country skiers sliding through in winter. There are many single-track mountain bike trails, and Kincaid is also the southern end of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.
Keep the animal quest going during the return trip. Wildlife is just that, wild, and they come and go as they please.
For easy and accessible mountain views, the drive to the Glen Alps trailhead is a must. It’s about as much elevation as you can gain on four wheels. The switchback route up the steep and aptly named Toilsome Hill Drive climbs above the trees into the Chugach Foothills for panoramic views of the city, inlet, and surrounding mountains. The trailhead lot serves as the starting point for hikes like Flattop, Powerline Pass, and many others, but there is also a ¾-mile paved loop adding plenty of scenic views without adding extra miles.
An early 20th century survey crew called the Eagle River Valley “a miniature Yosemite” when they first laid eyes on it. Rocky spires of the Chugach Mountains rise high above a river valley, giving the area a secluded, peaceful character a stone’s throw from nearby neighborhoods. Heading north out of Anchorage, you’ll pass through the town of Eagle River and follow the course of river back into the mountains. Even before you reach the nature center (starting point for many great day hikes), keep an eye on the slopes to the left. White Dall sheep pop against the contrasting rocky backgrounds.
Extend the trip and get a high-elevation perspective on the community of Eagle River by adding a side trip to Arctic Valley.
Venture farther north for a visit to the glacial Eklutna Lake for kayaking and biking. The long lake reaches back 11 miles into the mountains, and rentals for pedaling or paddling (or a combo of both) are available on-site. The lakeside trail is also open for ATV tours on select days. The Eklutna area is one of the oldest inhabited parts of Anchorage, with Alaska Native settlements and villages for several centuries at least. Make time for a poignant stop at Eklutna Historical Park, site of a small cemetery filled with colorful spirit houses.
There is more than one way to enjoy the day. Another huge glacier deep in the Chugach Mountains feeds the broad, braided Knik River. You’ll need more than a car to reach the glacier. Helicopter sightseeing flights, ATV tours, and many other trips use area as the jumping-off point for visits to this glacier.