Mountains, Moose and More: 5 Free Things to do in Anchorage, AK
When your family vacation takes you north to Alaska, Anchorage is a family friendly stop with lots to do and see. It's easy to break the budget in the city with a plethora of tours and attractions you won't want to miss. Stretch your dollar further by checking out some of the best free activities the city has to offer.
Stroll Through Space
Take a walk through our solar system when you follow the Anchorage Light Speed Planet Walk. What makes this scale-model solar system stand out is that the time it takes you to walk from the sun to the earth (about 8 minutes) is the same amount of time it takes light to travel from sun to earth in the actual solar system.
Start from the Sun Station at the back corner of the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts (621 W. 6th Ave., Anchorage, AK). Follow the trail down 5th Avenue to see Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. Hook into the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail to continue the adventure, but keep in mind that walking all the way to Pluto will take you 5 hours and 30 minutes so you might want to drive.
Hike to a Museum
Take a hike with the kids up Mount Alyeska's North Face Hiking Trail, and they'll get a surprise when they get to the top. The trail comes out at the tramway landing that runs from the Alyeska Resort to the Roundhouse at Alyeska Museum (100 Arlberg Ave., Girdwood, AK). A museum on a hill at a ski resort doesn't make sense until you learn that it was built as a warming hut that turned into a popular gathering place in the 1960s.
These days, most people access the museum via the costly tram, but the 2.2 mile trail added in 2016 gives a free way up. The adventure rewards you with spectacular vistas, babbling mountain brooks and the chance to explore resort relics. Watch paragliders during clear weather or pay for some refreshments at the cafe. And take the easy way down—the tram ride down is free.
Watch the Salmon
Watch the salmon while they make their incredible journey upstream to spawn at Ship Creek Overlook Park (302 E. Whitney Rd., Anchorage, AK). Spawn peaks during mid to late summer. Root on the fish from the viewing platform or from a walkway leading over the dam and its fish ladder, set up for prime viewing on the north end of the dam on the downriver side. Polarized sunglasses and a polarized camera lens filter will cut river glare for the best viewing. Want to try reeling some in? Head to a local bait shop to get a license and all the gear you need.
Look for Moose
You may or may not see a moose when you visit the Potter Marsh Wildlife Viewing Area (2999 E 154th Ave, Anchorage, AK) but you're sure to see plenty of wildlife. The viewing area lies at the southern end of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge. Walk a 1,550 foot boardwalk across the marsh to see a variety of birds that live and hunt in the area. Moose might show up any time of year, but May and June are when they're most common. Get acquainted with the types of birds you'll see on your summer vacation: Canada geese, Arctic terns, grebes, pintails and swans are all regulars at the site.
Take an Art Walk
Don't miss learning about Anchorage and the lives of its citizens through its colorful and imaginative public art. Although the Anchorage Museum of Art charges admission, there's lots of public art to see outside free of charge. For example, Wilderness, Wildlands and People depicts the close human-animal relationship with whimsical creatures who are moose, goose, fox or bear with semi-human bodies. The city's Mountain View neighborhood along its namesake road is another hotbed for an art treasure hunt. Start with Steph Kesey's 52 Faces of Mountain View (Mountain View and Commercial Drives, Anchorage, AK). The exhibit showcases illuminated fiberglass lantern faces of residents living within a mile of the installation.
- Anchorage Light Speed Planet Walk Brochure
- Anchorage Light Speed Planet Walk
- Anchorage Museum: Public Art
- Alaska Dispatch Publishing: Fifty-Two Faces Installed and Unveiled
- Steph Kesey: 52 Faces of Mountain View
- Alaska.org: Salmon Viewing at Ship Creek
- Lonely Planet: Ship Creek Viewing Platform
- Alaska Dispatch Publishing: Hike into the Sky
- The Roundhouse at Alyeska Museum
- Alaska Department of Fish and Game: Potter Marsh Wildlife Viewing
Indulging her passion for vacation vagary through the written word on a full-time basis since 2010, travel funster Jodi Thornton-O'Connell guides readers to the unexpected, quirky, and awe-inspiring.