Local Adventure Guide

On May 7, 2011, in Local Resources, Trip Planning Help, by Justin_Matley

Southcentral Alaska Summer Adventure Guide

By Justin Matley

The immensity and grandeur of Alaska is alluring, but potentially intimidating. Alaska is home to the continent’s tallest mountain, largest national parks, biggest mammals on land and in sea, and extremes in climate and visual splendor. The rugged and remote terrain of Alaska’s 663,268 square miles of interior is surrounded by more coastline than all ocean-side states in the Lower 48 combined. Alaska has one-fifth the land mass of the Lower 48, yet it remains one of the least populated states. There’s more elbow room in the northernmost state than in a Gilbert Godfrey show, and Alaska’s tourism industry is no laughing matter. Alaska is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream come true, offering more than a lifetime of new adventures and remarkable destinations. The only question is: where do you want to begin?


We are masters of our domain, the lands. Born into a terrestrial habitat, our first order of business as youth was to explore and learn about the solid state of things, our homes, our backyards, the neighborhood, and eventually the world. Alaska has a peculiar way of sharpening those suppressed primal senses. You could awaken your spirit of adventure through almost unlimited means such as hiking, climbing through mountains, communing with nature, panning for gold or simply taking a drive on our many scenic byways and All America Routes. Beginning with hiking destinations and parks, here are some suggestions for learning the lay of the land in Alaska. ­

Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

Surrounding much of downtown Anchorage, the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is often a visitor’s first or only chance to see some countryside. It’s best used for light walks, biking, running and rollerblading. It’s also groomed for cross-country skiing in the winter. The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is Anchorage’s premier walking and biking path, beginning at Ship Creek on the north side of downtown Anchorage and extending along the Cook Inlet coast, past Westchester Lagoon, through woods and along mudflats, eventually ending in Kincaid Park. This trail is accessible at multiple locations, and offers views of the inlet, mountains and an occasional moose. If you’re limited on time and transportation, this may be your chance to see wildlife and get a bit of exercise in the process.

Access: 5th Avenue west of L Street, Westchester Lagoon, Earthquake Park, Point Woronzof, Kincaid Park.
Map: dnr.state.ak.us/parks/aktrails/ats/anc/knowlsct.htm or coastaltrailrentals.com/Images/CoastalTrail.pdf
Total Distance: 11 miles
Description: Paved path with flat and hilly sections within walking distance of downtown Anchorage

  • Watch jets take off and land right over your head from Point Woronzof.

Chugach State Park

The half-million acres of peaks, passes, ridges and rivers of the Chugach Mountains beckons visitors to a multitude of recreational opportunities. Look east from Anchorage to see Chugach State Park and some of the most visited summits in Alaska.

On the edge of town, Flattop Mountain Trail leads hikers up an elevation gain of 1,300 feet in 1.5 miles to the summit of Flattop Mountain, so named for its distinct plateau appearance. From the Glen Alps parking lot at the Flattop Mountain trail head, visitors could enjoy the view of Anchorage, Cook Inlet, Alaska Range and Denali on clear days, or follow the trail toward the summit. The hiking is moderate and increases in difficulty as you gain in elevation. Powerline Pass Trail can also be accessed here.

Other popular Chugach State Park trails include the Historic Iditarod (Crow Pass) Trail for backcountry foot use; Thunderbird Falls Trail for foot use with views of cascading water; Eklutna Lakeside Trial for foot and bicycle use or ATV use on Sunday through Wednesday only; and the Powerline Trail for foot and bicycle travel. Bird Creek Valley Trail allows foot use and horseback riding.

Access: Multiple access points and trailheads available from Anchorage, Eagle River, Eklutna, Indian and Girdwood. Road access from Glenn Highway in the north and Seward Highway in the south.
Website: dnr.state.ak.us/parks/units/chugach/
Map: www.anchorage.net/library/chugachstatepark.pdf – More from park website.

  • Follow the Crow Pass Trail from Girdwood to Eagle River for an unforgettable two days and 26 miles of well-marked trail, glacier views, wildlife, river crossing and waterfalls. Plan for a cab or shuttle. This is not a loop trail.

Summit Lake at Hatcher Pass

For breathtaking views, light hiking and a scenic drive, take Fishhook Road north out of Palmer. Fishhook Road parallels the Little Susitna River with its blue-green frosted water flowing over boulders and carving away at cliffs. Small (from afar) waterfalls are visible in the eroded slopes. The road becomes Hatcher Pass Road, and Summit Lake is located at mile 19, just two miles past the turnoff for Independence Mine State Park. Summit Lake is at the cirque of a long-since melted glacier. From this point, the Susitna Valley and western Alaska Range could be seen on clear days.

Access: Follow Glenn Highway to Palmer and turn west on Palmer-Fishhook Road. Follow the road to the summit of Hatcher Pass.
Website: www.dnr.state.ak.us/parks/units/summit.htm

  • Hiking can be short yet strenuous and make even the novice hiker feel like a real mountain climber. And, nobody is stopping you from taking a dip in the lake…

Glacier Park & Matanuska Glacier

Follow the Glenn Highway National Scenic Byway northwest out of Palmer for the area’s best mountain drive. Drivers might get a little white knuckled on some of the tighter turns that overlook the deep, Matanuska River gorge. The Matanuska Glacier in Glacier Park is at mile 102. At 24 miles long and four miles wide, it is the largest glacier accessible by car in Alaska. From the parking lot, a 15-minute hike will bring visitors to the edge of the ice flow. Visitors are free to explore on their own, but for a more rewarding experience, consider a guided tour with glacial lessons and ice climbing.

Access: Follow Glenn Highway to mile 102. Many choose to view the glacier from scenic pullovers. Others can go the extra mile feel the chill of the ancient ice.

  • For a real thrill check with resident experts MICA Guides (www.micaguides.com) and NOVA (www.novalaska.com) for Matanuska Glacier ice climbing, hikes and guided tours. Beginners welcome!

Wrangell–St. Elias National Park & Preserve

Wrangell-St. Elias is an under-tapped paradise. It sees fewer visitors than Denali National Park, yet is more than twice the size when counting both the park and preserve.  Larger than Vermont and Rhode Island combined, Wrangell-St. Elias is the king of parks. It is home to nine of North America’s 16 tallest peaks, big Alaska wildlife, and an active, steaming volcano, Mount Wrangell. You could become immersed in the wilderness for days, weeks, months or indefinitely if you’re not careful. Enjoy mountain biking, mountaineering, backcountry cabin rentals, and some ATV use on designated trails.

Access: Glenn Highway to Richardson Highway, mile 106.8 (Ranger Stations also in Slana, Chitina and Yakutat)
Website: www.nps.gov/wrst/
Map: www.nps.gov/wrst/

  • Looking for backcountry comfort amid all the wilderness action? Consider the Kennicot Glacier Lodge, www.kennicotlodge.com. Fishermen will find a king and sockeye salmon capitol in the nearby Copper River, which can be accessed from the Richardson Highway.

Denali National Park

Denali is a mega-mountain, and you have to see it to believe it. Also known as Mt. McKinley, this 20,320-foot pinnacle is Denali National Park’s claim to fame. It could be seen from hundreds of miles away on a clear day, and the surrounding park includes 6 million pristine acres of protected land with one access route into the heart of the park. A bus tour is the only way to travel most of the Denali Highway. During the tour, it’s common to see moose, caribou, dall sheep, wolves or grizzly bears. Bus guides are well versed in the park’s natural history, but for those who desire a personal moment to reflect on the nature of things, a little backcountry camping and backpacking is in order, or maybe some extreme mountaineering. Camping and day hikes are also a great way to enjoy the scenery, and could be found closer to the park headquarters.

Access: Find the park entrance at mile 237, Parks Highway.
Website: www.nps.gov/dena
Map: www.nps.gov/dena

  • The park’s interior has the best wildlife and landscape views. For wide-angle views of Denali amidst the Alaska Range, visit the lookout at mile 135.2 Parks Highway, or hike the trails of Kesugi Ridge in Denali State Park. Plan to stick around the area for a few days, just in case clouds clutter your view.
  • Bus tours in the park last anywhere between a couple short hours and all day long. If you really like the outdoors, the long trips will go by faster than you think. Kids, however, may get antsy.

Denali State Park

Where the national park might have greater numbers of wildlife in packs and herds and a big budget for tourist amenities, Denali State Park provides easily-accessible and unsurpassed views of Denali, the Alaska Range and Talkeetna Mountains. From multiple staging areas along Parks Highway, begin a day or multiday hiking trip, explore an alpine ridge, or find a hard-core adventure within a few miles of your parked vehicle. Denali State Park also provides lakes for fishing and wildlife viewing, and a few cabin rentals. The entire park is a whopping 325,240 acres on either side of Parks Highway and is adjacent to Denali National Park.

Access: Find a Denali viewpoint, trailheads and park facilities from mile 135.2 to mile 156.5 on Parks Highway.
Website: dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/denali1.htm
Map: dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/denalimp.htm

  • One of three cabins on Byers Lake can be rented for $60 per night during peak season. Book them far in advance. Find trailheads from mile 137.2 to mile 156.5 on Parks Highway. There’s no one best view of Denali; just follow the Kesugi Ridge Trail (36.2 miles long) and pray for good weather.

Chugach National Forest

Find your wild side in 5.4 million acres of some of Alaska’s most breathtaking landscape. This forest region covers much of the southern Chugach Range, Kenai Peninsula, and coastline and islands heading toward Southeast Alaska, and surrounds Prince William Sound. It includes rain forest, glaciers, alpine mountains and Pacific shoreline. For those who like to mix their mountains and coastline, this is the place to be. The Chugach interior could be accessed by foot, boat or kayak via the area’s many fjords, or by aerial taxi. Forty or more cabins ranging from $25-$45 per day are also available. Many require the use of a boat or aircraft to be reached, although some are accessible by foot.

Access: Multiple access points, with national forest offices located in Girdwood, Cordova and Seward. Begich Boggs Visitor Center on Portage Valley Road, 50 miles south of Anchorage off the New Seward Highway. Nautical access is from Whittier, Seward, Valdez or Cordova with service and guide providers.
Website: fs.usda.gov/chugach

  • Resurrection Pass Trail could be hiked in a couple days by fit backpackers, and cabins, lakes, creeks and wildlife are a hint of what to expect. This trail is a local favorite. Other trails are well marked with brown trailhead signage along major roadways through the forest.

Kenai Peninsula Parks and Public Lands

Similar to the East Coast folks making regular migrations down to sunny Florida, Anchorage and Mat-Su Valley residents love to spend time in the Kenai Peninsula for the hiking, hunting, boating and fishing, the annual festivals in seaside communities, or wildlife viewing opportunities.   Multiple recreational and protected lands exist as part of the Kenai Peninsula. They offer world renowned views of migrating birds, seals, whales, sea otters and other marine life. Consider these:

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge with camping, canoeing, hiking trails, cabin rentals, fishing and wildlife viewing. Discover a vast wetlands surrounded by mountains, explore the Kenai Mountains, and find some of the world’s most active fishing streams.

Access: Wildlife Refuge headquarters are located in Soldotna off of Sterling Highway, north of Homer. Hope Point Trail and Rock Trail from Hope also lead to the refuge.
Website: kenai.fws.gov
Map: kenai.fws.gov/pdf/kenai_map.pdf

  • Enjoy the refuge from roadside camping to deep wilderness fly-ins. Most communities surrounding the refuge will have a pilot on hand to put you smack-dab in the middle of the action.

Kachemak Bay State Park could be explored from Homer with a licensed air or water taxi service, and there are public mooring buoys for private boats. The park boasts more than 80 miles of trails which could be explored leisurely or used for multiday trips. In fact, multiple guide services use this park exclusively for their wilderness adventures. Public-use cabins are available for rent through the park office for those who like creature comforts. Views of glaciers, Kachemak Bay and the shoreline will have you longing to take up permanent residence.

Access: From Homer via private watercraft, air or water taxi service. No roads access.
Website: dnr.state.ak.us/parks/units/kbay/kbay.htm
Map: dnr.state.ak.us/parks/units/kbay/kbaymap.htm

  • Take the opportunity to dine, shop and sightsee at the unique coastal village of Halibut Cove, where most of your walking will be on elevated boardwalks overlooking the water.

Kenai Fjords National Park is located along the southeast coast of the Kenai Pensinsula, stretching from Seward and the nearby Exit Glacier down through the Harding Ice Field, to the opening of Nuka Bay. Ferry tours operate out of Seward, giving the casual explorer a grand look at the coastline, as well as marine life, such as humpback whales and harbor seals. Private water and air taxis from Seward and Homer also provide access, giving extreme explorers the opportunity of a lifetime. The fjord’s primary draw is the dramatic coastline with sheer cliffs and waterfalls, beaches, ocean life, migratory birds, hiking trails and cabin rentals.

Access: Land or air taxi service out of Seward or Homer. One road to Exit Glacier near Seward.
Website: www.nps.gov/kefj/
Map: www.nps.gov/kefj/planyourvisit/upload/KEFJmap1.pdf

  • Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge is Alaska’s newest eco lodge located in Aialik Bay. It is the only lodge on the Kenai Fjords coast. Plan a trip online at kenaifjordsglacierlodge.com. Two public-use cabins are available on the coast for $50 per night.

Katmai National Park

Home of the world’s highest concentration of coastal brown bear (the big ones), Katmai National Park will always impress visitors. Getting there is easy, as long as you don’t mind flying, and the designated park lands include remnants of volcanoes, beaches spliced by glacier-fed rivers, lush greenery and amazing ocean views. At times, the landscape looks tropical. Aside from Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes – a 40-square-mile and 100-to-700-foot-deep ash flow deposited by Novarupta Volcano – the bears are probably the biggest draw. Find them on the coastline near rivers when the tide runs out and fish are easy prey, or near Brooks Camp, which allows up to 60 visitors per night.

Access: Katmai can be visited by air taxi service. Most major Homer air service providers have predetermined trips and rates to visit Katmai.
Website: nps.gov/katm/
Map: nps.gov/katm/

  • This is one of the world’s remote treasures and requires you to be safe at all times, in good health, and practice excellent outdoor ethics and bear safety. That said, be sure to have plenty of memory space for your photos. Katmai is awesome!
  • Homer Air Service provides a service referred to as Air Trekking. Fly from beach to beach to explore and increase your chances of seeing a bear.

Gold Panning

So where’d all that gold in your favorite rap star’s grill come from? Well, the ground, jammed into cracks through quartz and bedrock, as nuggets hiding beneath boulders, and particles mixed in with sediment. Alaska was built on the gold rush, and the lands are still rich with the stuff for those who have the time and patience to seek it. Prospecting for gold is a true Alaskan way to get out and explore the outdoors.

Alaska has public gold panning sites. One popular location can be found near Hope on the south side of Turnagain Arm on the Kenai Peninsula. From the Seward Highway, take the Hope Highway along Sixmile Creek. Productive prospecting is open to the public within mile .7 to 5, and from the east bank of Sixmile Creek to 200 feet west of the center of the highway. Also, from Hope take Resurrection Creek Road to the Resurrection Pass Trail Head. Public gold panning, as well as some enjoyable hiking, could be experienced there as well. Families often visit Hatcher Pass near Historic Independence Mine State Park and the active Lucky Strike Mine. Try your luck on the western side of the pass, down in the creeks that flow toward the Susitna River.

When it comes to prospecting in the backcountry, it’s a good idea to check with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to be sure you’re not invading on private land or registered claims. Try areas around Petersville, Hope and in state parks.

Website: DNR Recreational Mining information – www.dnr.state.ak.us/pic/recreate.htm#recmine
Reading: Local libraries usually have a large section devoted to prospecting and mining, and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources offices carry pamphlets to help amateur prospectors get started.

  • Proper panning technique and an understanding of gold properties is what it takes to find “yellow.” Read up on the subject and pay a visit to tourist panning sites such as Indian off Seward Highway, Crow Creek Mine out of Girdwood, and Cooper Landing. Local experts love to share advice and send you on a treasure hunt.

Horseback Riding

Horses not only helped make a life in Alaska, they made it more enjoyable by providing easier access to rough terrain. And, horses have been known to help travelers stay safe in bear territory by facing down bears and warning riders of suspicious sounds and smells in the area. But more importantly, horse travel affords wondrous views of the mountains while riding high above the surrounding foliage.

  • Based in Anchorage, Horse Trekkin Alaska provides quick access to Ruth Arcand Park, located on Abbott Road, east of Seward Highway, for enjoyable riding. Big adventures are also provided with hourly, daily and overnight trips into the Chugach State Park. Horse Trekkin provides year-round riding, food and equipment for longer trips and packages for couples and large groups. www.horsetrekkinalaska.com
  • In Cooper Landing find Alaska Horsemen Trail Adventures with its pioneer-style ranch and a multitude of packaged trips and multiday packing trips into the Chugach National Forest. www.alaskahoresmen.com
  • Day and pack trips could be taken from Palmer into areas such as Hatcher Pass where gold panning is also an option, from Homer for a thrilling joy ride along Kachemak Bay and up the Fox River, and out of Talkeetna for views of Denali and the converging rivers.


ATVs are a quick and fun way to spend the day zipping along trails, covering long miles in short time, crossing braided streams and getting up close to some of Alaska’s natural wonders. Guides provide top-of-the line equipment, helmets, gloves, knowledge of the trails, and sometimes a hot lunch. For those who are short on time, ATV rentals might be the quickest way to get deep into the backcountry for wildlife encounters and rugged views. Favorite trips include rides to glaciers, fishing locations, or views of mountains like Denali.

  • Need something close to Anchorage? Within one hour you could be riding a top-of-the-line ATV or side-by-side from Palmer along the Knik River to its source, the Knik Glacier. This is a region with stream crossings, common sightings of sheep and a view of the glacier unlike any other. Check with Alaska Backcountry Adventure Tours at www.youralaskavacation.com.
  • Other ATV riding locations with nearby rentals include Talkeetna with views of the Alaska Range, or Glennallen near the Copper River with views of the Wrangell Mountains. Also consider Healy for rides in and near Denali National Park.

Dog Sledding?

It’s true. You could enjoy the thrill of riding behind man’s best friend without snow. Wheeled carts are used in summer to keep the sled dogs fit and take tourists through the backcountry. Enjoy this activity in Seward with Seavey’s Ididaride (www.ididaride.com), or in the Talkeetna area with Sun Dog Kennel (www.sundogkennel.com), Huskytown (www.huskytown.com), or others.

  • For a true dog sledding expedition, check with Seward Helicopter Tours. They’ll fly you up to Godwin Glacier where dog sledding lasts all summer long. And, a little flight seeing is included. Visit www.sewardhelicoptertours.com for more information and a video.

Rock Climbing

Rock climbing is somewhat limited in Alaska due to the local greywacke rock and crumbling cliffs, but it’s an option worth exploring. Stable rock could be found on cliffs along Turnagain Arm and the Seward Highway. At mile 112.1, trained climbers might want to attempt Boy Scout Rock, but climbing could be found all along the highway.

Other locations to attempt include Hatcher Pass, which comes highly recommended by staff at Alaska Rock Gym, or take a 15 minute bike ride along Powerline Pass in the Chugach State Park to the base of Ptarmigan Peak for some bouldering. Enter the Powerline Trail at the Glen Alps Trail Head parking lot off Toilsome Drive.

Driving, Sightseeing & Wildlife Viewing

There are four scenic drives in Southcentral Alaska visitors wouldn’t want to miss. Visitors should plan for a weeklong stay to enjoy any two drives to their fullest and allow for rest time in different communities.

Seward Highway

Follow the Seward Highway, visiting Girdwood, Portage Glacier, perhaps Whittier and Prince William Sound, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, and Seward. The scenery along the Turnagain Arm and through the Kenai Peninsula is inspiring, and with a little extra time or as an overnight trip, you could tack on a visit to Homer and Kachemak Bay. From the highway, you could look across Cook Inlet at the Alaska Range or Mount Redoubt, an active volcano that erupted in 2009.

Parks Highway

Next, consider heading north to Denali National Park along Parks Highway. Some of the best scenery could be found just north of Anchorage around the Palmer and Wasilla area, and even more so between Talkeetna and Healy while driving along the Susitna and Chulitna Rivers and through Broad Pass. Wildlife sightings are almost guaranteed, and Mount Denali’s presence puts man’s true stature into perspective.

Glenn Highway and Richardson Highway

In the opposite direction, drive northeast out of Palmer along the Glenn Highway past the Matanuska Glacier to the Wrangell Mountains, along the Richardson Highway, and through the canyons of the Chugach Mountains to Valdez. Closer to Valdez are a series of waterfalls that make for fantastic photos. Stay in town overnight and head back in the morning to see the landscape in a whole new light. Take the ferry across Prince William Sound to Whittier, and then drive back to Anchorage for a loop drive.

Circle Tour

Last, for those who wish to log serious miles, take a multiday circle tour from Anchorage along the Parks Highway to Denali, then to Fairbanks. From Fairbanks take the Richardson Highway south and along the Tenana River to Glenallen, or jog over to Tok from Delta Junction and then down to Glenallen, and back to Anchorage along the Glenn Highway or via Valdez and the ferry to Whittier. Don’t forget to stop along the way to explore highlights like Denali National Park, Chena River State Recreation Area and Chena Hot Springs, fishing on rivers in the Copper River Valley, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, and the Matanuska and Worthington glaciers. Depending on the exact start and end point, this is roughly 800 miles and affords travelers some of the best scenic driving Alaska has to offer.

  • Consider side jaunts along the Denali Highway, which cuts through the interior of the circle tour loop, or Edgerton Highway, which intersects with Richardson Highway south of Glenallen and leads toward Liberty falls, McCarthy and Kennicot Mine Lodge. Also consider renting an RV to cut down on overnight expenses and improve comfort (not recommended for gravel highways).

  • Moose are commonly spotted in low meadows and wetlands on Seward Highway near Portage Road, on Glenn Highway at the Palmer Hay Flats, and foraging through the brush near the Glen Alps parking lot where a trail heads into the Chugach State Park. Bear viewing is hot along the Kenai River, and dall sheep are often spotted on the cliffs along Seward Highway between Anchorage and Girdwood. If you have trouble spotting animals, consider a guided wildlife tour or flightseeing for bear.

Alaska Railroad

For land travel sightseeing, there’s no better way to see the Interior of the last frontier then aboard an Alaska Railroad train. The Alaska Railroad takes passengers along the shore, past glaciers, through the Interior and into remote areas of Alaska that couldn’t be reached by car. Large windows let in plenty of light, and poking your head out of the upper door in lounge cars will let you take in the wilderness air. Multiple trips provide each visitor with an up-close look at the true spirit of Alaska between destinations such as Fairbanks, Talkeetna, Denali, Girdwood and the Kenai Peninsula. Offering everything from day tours to a 12-day adventure package, the Alaska Railroad combines remote rail travel with activities such as glacier cruises, dog sledding, rafting, gold panning and fishing. The Alaska Railroad could assist with nearly all of your Alaska adventures, and pre-planned packages could be purchased online at www.alaskarailroad.com.


Alaska has more than 44,000 miles of oceanic coastline and millions of acres of inland lakes and waterways. You could paddle, fish, jet-ski, beach comb, SCUBA, and, in some locations, surf. And don’t forget the hot springs!

Multiple outfitters have the gear for surface exploration, boats, kayaks, canoes and floatation devices, while a few focus on submerged reconnaissance of the underwater world with sales and rental of SCUBA equipment, dry suits and fins. Below is a list of water recreation activities you might wish to experience.


Some of the world’s best coastal kayaking can be found within a few hours of Anchorage. The Chugach National Forest coastline and Prince William Sound are easily accessible from Whittier, to the southeast of Anchorage, or Valdez, to the east. Traveling to Valdez is quickest via the ferry, which departs regularly from Whittier. You could reach Whittier via Seward Highway and Portage Valley Road through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel.  From either location, you’ll have the experience of a lifetime. Kayak rentals and guides are always on hand during the peak season, but call ahead to be sure they’re not overbooked.

Seward and Homer are also prime kayaking destinations with great paddling right from the docks, or water taxi service to more remote coastline such as Kenai Fjords or Kachemak Bay State Park. To maximize your enjoyment of these remote and dramatic parks, it’s a good idea to plan for multiple days, possibly camping or renting a cabin.

The Kenai River is also used for rafting and float fishing. Other excellent kayaking or white water rafting could be found in Ship Creek, extending from Arctic Valley Road to downtown Anchorage for 4 miles; Bird Creek, running into Turnagain Arm out of the Chugach State Park for 5 miles; Campbell Creek, from Powerline Pass to Hilltop Ski area for 2.5 miles; Sixmile River, from the east fork of the river to the town of Sunshine for 9.3 miles; and multiple sections of Eagle River.

Talkeetna boasts multiple guided rafting and kayaking trips on the converging rivers there, which is one of the area’s biggest tourist attractions.

There are also opportunities for motorized or sailing vessels. All the largest waterfront communities and tourist destinations have rental shops ready to provide visitors with some sort of aquatic transportation. Check online or with the local visitors center for available outfitters and rental shops. Or, book a tour on one of hundreds of oceangoing ferries, tour boats or cruises. For the cost, this may be the most relaxing and fulfilling way to see some of Alaska’s pristine waterways, nautical life and primitive coastline. A cruise is a hands-free way to absorb views and capture memories on camera.

  • Read this month’s “Kayak Alaska” column by resident expert Tom Pogson of Homer for a more in-depth look at Kayaking in the area.


The search for gold might have been what prompted a majority of people to come to Alaska at the turn of the century, but fishing is what makes the world up north turn nowadays. Alaska truly is a fishing Mecca. That said, fishing knowledge (and a fishing license) are required to catch a big one.

Alaska’s waters are home to halibut, shark, all five species of Pacific salmon, rainbow trout, arctic grayling, Dolly Varden, northern pike and more.

For salt water fishing, consider a charter out of Homer, Seward, Whittier or Valdez. There are more choices for charters then you could shake a fishing pole at, but a good way to find the one that’s right for you is online research or directly from local visitors centers. Many charters are combined with package trips and tours. Investigate different packages offered by lodges and hotels in the area in order to get the most for the money. Or, as part of an Alaska Railway adventure, choose a tour that also includes fishing.

Inland, there’s no limit to the number of fishing holes, and fishing hotspots are labeled on many maps. Recreation maps with public fishing locations could be found at the state’s Department of Fish and Game website at www.adfg.state.ak.us. Fish species identification, rules and regulations, locations and seasonal runs, as well as license fees could all be found on this resource.

As with most activities, local suppliers often know best. Consult them to learn what the fish are thinking and where they’re swimming. Fishing hotspots are often in the most public of places. Every year thousands of fisherman pace the bank of Ship Creek, which runs past downtown Anchorage. Most streams and connected lakes around Palmer, Wasilla and Willow are productive. Along Parks Highway, between Wasilla and the Denali Park Highway, there are roughly 22 public fishing sites, some with developed facilities. In the Kenai Peninsula, the Kenai River and its tributaries offer some of the most rewarding and action-packed fishing experiences in the northern hemisphere.

  • Check with your lodging establishment to see if they offer package fishing trips or discounts and trip planning with a local guide.
  • Wouldn’t it be great to send your fish home? Packing companies located at major harbors offer flash freezing and shipping. Guides will also handle this process for you if asked.
  • Learn more about fishing in this issue’s Alaska Angler column written by resident fishing expert, Chris Batin.



Due to the remoteness of many of Alaska’s communities, travel and shipping by plane is common in Alaska. There is a large number of privately-owned aircraft in the state, and many pilots hold commercial licenses and insurance to transport patrons deep into the wilderness of Alaska. These planes have been adapted with large tires to land on tundra, beaches and semi-rough terrain. They’ve been fitted with skis to land on frozen lakes or glaciers well into summer. They also carry pontoon, enabling the pilot to land on any inland lake that is long enough. What this means is, there is no place that is off limits for your explorations.

Anchorage boasts the world’s busiest seaplane port, Lake Hood, as well as a large-scale private aircraft port, Merrill Field, which is owned by the City of Anchorage. Flight services range from air tours for flightseeing to backcountry drop-offs. Homer, Seward, Willow and Talkeetna also boast busy runways, and local flightseeing companies tend to have specialized services that focus on the flightseeing highlights in their area.

Those highlights include flying over Chugach State Park and Chugach National Forest; flights around Resurrection Bay, over the Harding Ice Field and into Kenai Fjords National Park; to and around Kodiak Island; to the coastal brown bear inhabited Katmai National Park, nearby volcanoes, and along the Alaska Peninsula; into Wrangell-St. Elias; and to and around Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park.

To decide on a flightseeing company, first choose where you’d like to go. Next, check with the local Chamber of Commerce or air taxi listings for the closest, largest community. A little website investigating or local inquiry should have you well on your way to the airborne adventure of a lifetime.

  • As always, you’ll find some reputable flightseeing and air taxi providers advertising in Coast Magazine. Other places to look include visitor guides and visitor centers.
  • If visiting Katmai, inquire about air trekking and bear viewing on the remote beaches. For Denali flightseeing trips, consider a glacier landing. It’s the only way to really feel in touch with the experience, and the experience is worth bragging about back home.
  • For spectacular photos from the air, be sure to have your camera set on the action setting to compensate for movement and vibration, or choose a fast ISO. Using a flash while looking out your window will often cause a flash-back, so turn it off. Last, decrease your exposure by one or two stops (increase the shutter speed), but be sure to check the results before using that setting for all your photos. Also, consider a helicopter for more stable maneuvers. Otherwise, take a flight that will land you in the scenic and wildlife hotspots.
  • Prices for short flights are about $50 per person for a quick takeoff and circle of the nearby area. An exciting experience could cost as little as $150-250 and $50 or so more will often include landing for brief walkabouts. Tours in this range will usually last one to two hours. Flying out to a remote lodge will often get you everything you’re looking for in a single, less-expensive package.


What would paragliding be without the awe-inspiring grandeur of Alaska’s local mountains, valleys and rivers? Only in dreams do most people glide through the air like eagles. But paragliding makes those dreams real.

For those with equipment and experience, popular launch points could be found in Wasilla, Summit Lake and Marmott Hill in Hatcher Pass near Palmer, Eagle River, Alyeska in Girdwood, and from Flattop Mountain on the eastern slopes of Anchorage. These locations are also used for training or tandem trips for tourists.

For service providers and announcements, consult with the statewide paragliding association, Arctic Airwalkers, at www.arcticairwalkers.com. A few schools and guides include Midnight Sun Paragliding, Alaska Paragliding and Alyeska Adventures. Tandem flights will cost in the range of $190. For a map of Anchorage-area paragliding locations and descriptions, visit www.midnightsunparagliding.com/sites/.

  • If you’re short on time, and especially if you’ll be in the Girdwood area, go to Alyeska Resort and the Alyeska Tram office. You could purchase a ticket to ride the tram up, and do a tandem paraglide back down into the valley. Call the tram office in advance for pricing and times: (907) 754-2275.


Skydiving is more limited in Alaska, but available. From the plane or during the descent, spectacular views could be seen for hundreds of miles in all directions — if you’re able to keep your eyes open. Out of Anchorage, check with Skydive Alaska, www.alaska-skydiving.com. Student rates and video packages are available. In Wasilla look up Alaska Sky Sports. Their information and rates can be found at www.alaskaskysports.com.


Alaska is known as “The Last Frontier,” but the nickname could just as easily be “World’s Biggest Playground.” The adventure information provided only touches on all the options. Guides and lodges have every manner of combined or customized trip plans. The great thing is you’ve already passed the hardest step, which is getting here. As long as you keep up the pace during Alaska’s long summer days and remain determined to try something new, the possibilities for adventure are unlimited.


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