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Tour Anchorage on a budgetTour Anchorage on a budget

Exploring Alaska’s largest cityExploring Alaska’s largest city

It’s only a few weeks before summer, but the blistering wind at Flattop Mountain’s overlook makes me feel like I’m wearing shorts and a T-shirt even though I’m suited up in snow pants and a winter jacket.

  • Overlooking Anchorage from Flattop Mountain as the sun begins to set over Cook Inlet. Even though it is spring in Alaska, some snow still blankets higher elevations. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • These "tireless hunters of the north" are sleeping on the job at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • The nonprofit Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center covers more than 200 acres of land and is a sanctuary for animals that have been injured or orphaned, or are ill. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • The Alaska Railroad runs along Highway 1 south of Anchorage. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • Regardless of the weather, the Anchorage area is always beautiful. Whether it is nature or the weather itself, you won't get tired of the view. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • If you are thirsty, drink some glacier water fresh out of the mountain! This pipe is a popular hit with tourists who pull off of Highway 1 south of Anchorage for a cold, refreshing drink. Photo by Jason Cobb.
  • Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant is a favorite among locals who say you have to eat there when in Anchorage. The reindeer sausage, scrambled eggs, and potatoes are hearty and delicious! Photo by Jason Cobb.
  • An antique car sits outside Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant welcoming tourists and locals alike. Photo by Jason Cobb.
  • You know Alaska is the aviation state when you see a general aviation aircraft hanging in the terminal of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.

The frozen faces, tears, and laughter are worth the cold adventure as my husband and I walk to get a breathtaking view of Anchorage and Cook Inlet. A little chill is a small price to pay to soak up the natural beauty of this state.

The overlook is a short drive from downtown Anchorage, the highway weaving through upscale residential areas on the mountain to the trailhead. We had only hiked about a half a mile around the overlook trail but felt quite accomplished when we made it back to the SUV. As we reached the parking lot, however, we were quickly brought back to the reality that we are Easterners who are accustomed to much warmer weather, for the most part. A young woman pulled up and hopped out in flip flops and a man drove up in a tank top. It was, after all, springtime in Alaska.

The largest city in Alaska, Anchorage offers something for everyone—and every pilot. And you don’t have to break the bank to have fun.

Budget-friendly attractions

Helicopter and floatplane tours

$110 and up

With spectacular views in all directions an aerial tour is one of the best ways to take in all the natural beauty. Photo by Mike Fizer.

Take to the air to explore Anchorage, Denali, or Lake Clark National Park, which is accessible only by airplane and sometimes by boat. The scenery around Anchorage itself is stunning, with the Chugach Mountains filling the skyline to the east and Cook Inlet to the west. If you’re going to splurge, do it with an aerial tour!

Chugach State Park/Chugach National Forest

Free

Snow-covered mountains line the Glenn Highway traveling north from Anchorage. Photo by Jason Cobb.

These popular attractions are close to Anchorage and on the road system. They offer hiking, access to glaciers, and more. Flattop Mountain and overlook are in the Chugach, and Flattop is considered the most-hiked mountain in the state. (Hiking in the Chugach Mountains is beautiful, but if you fly along the mountains, watch for small waterfalls dotting cliffs as the snow melts in the spring and summer—they are absolutely awe-inspiring!)

Glacier grandeur

Free and up depending on activities

Portage Lake is a sight to behold whether hiking or taking a cruise. In the summer, hike Portage Glacier. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.

The Knik Glacier near Palmer, about a one-hour drive northeast of Anchorage, and Portage Glacier, about an hour to the southeast, are two of the closest glaciers. I’ve flown by the Knik Glacier and walked on the Portage Glacier (both during the summer; in early spring the Portage Glacier was still closed because of the threat of avalanches). You can glimpse the Knick Glacier from the Glenn Highway, but to go out on it you’ll need to take a tour, which costs. It’s free to hike on the Portage Glacier, and that is an experience of a lifetime—after all, it’s not every day most of us get to stand on such a mass of ice! Cruises at Portage Glacier range from $39 to $90 depending on the type of cruise.

Wet your whistle with a free sip of pure glacier water. Alaska Route 1 South takes you from Anchorage to Portage Glacier. The Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet, mud flats, mountains, and the Alaska Railroad all run along the highway, which offers places to pull over and take pictures. You’ll spot a small pipe sticking out of the side of one of the cliffs beside the road (a pull out is located nearby). It’s a popular place to stop and fill up your water bottle with glacier water right from the mountain. I’ve never tasted water so fresh, pure, and cold!

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

$15 per adult (discounts for children, seniors, and military)/$100 for an exclusive tour

An elevated walkway gives tourists a safe but unobstructed view of brown and black bears. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.

This nonprofit sanctuary is for animals that have been injured or orphaned, or are ill. Spread over 200 acres of land, the group focuses on “conservation, research, education and quality animal care,” according to the center’s website. You can walk the exhibits on a self-guided tour to see bison, brown and black bears (and rambunctious cubs playing with balls and tumbling), bald eagle, fox, lynx, moose, musk ox, owl, reindeer, and wolves. Because the conservation center rescues animals in various states, some don’t look as healthy as others. The modest fee to enter not only lets you get up close with Alaska’s wild animals, but it also supports their care and preservation.

Alaskan art

Free

Local artisans display their impressive work at the Turnagain Gallery. Photo by Jason Cobb.

Anchorage boasts many art galleries and museums, but if you have a car check out Turnagain Gallery, about 28 miles south of Anchorage off Alaska Route 1 (right on the way if you go to Portage Glacier or the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center). The gallery itself is an incredible log cabin. Wood-carved statues are displayed outside, but carved octopus and whale sculptures will greet you as soon as you step inside. Paintings and photos of Alaska sites, furniture, and more are also on display and for sale.

Alaska Aviation Museum and Great Alaska Aviation Gathering

Free for museum members or $15 per adult (discounts available)

The Chugach Mountains fill the horizon to Anchorage’s east. The mountains are some of the most popular because they are on the road system. Photo by Mike Fizer.

The Alaska Aviation Museum is located at Lake Hood and is open any time of year. Browse vintage aircraft and see rare birds like the 1943 Noorduyn Norseman, a classic northern bush airplane. Members of the museum get in for free, but general admission prices are modest. If you are in Anchorage in early May, also work in the Great Alaska Aviation Gathering. It’s free to attend and signals the start of the flying season in the state. The gathering features seminars, exhibits, and aircraft displays, but perhaps the main draw is visiting with fellow pilots.

Coastal Trail

Free

To explore and stretch your legs in Anchorage, walk or bike the Coastal Trail that runs along the city’s edges and provides views of Cook Inlet. The trail will take you by Elderberry Park, Westchester Lagoon, Earthquake Park, and Point Woronzof to Kincaid Park. In the summer, visit the salmon viewing platform at Ship Creek, where you can watch or fish for salmon.

Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Cobb

AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor
AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor Alyssa J. Cobb has worked at AOPA since 2004 and is an active flight instructor.
Topics: Travel, Alaska, US Travel

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