Shifting gears this week as we explore the subarctic terrains of Alaska. This majestic land is home to one of the most beautiful races in America. This race of course is the Anchorage Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon. You may be thinking that this summer race takes place at midnight, but sadly that is not the case. This race has an early 7:30am start time, but gets the name due to the time of year that the race takes place. It always takes place around the summer solstice in June where the longest day of the year brings a full day of sunshine to Anchorage. This race will provide you with amazing views of the Alaskan landscape and leave you breathless as you transition between paved roads to gravel roads throughout the course. The marathon takes runners up the Chester Creek Trail while the half marathon takes runners past Earthquake Park along the Coastal Trail past Point Woronzof. You will also be treated to a great post race festival as this race coincides with the Summer Solstice Festival in Town Square, just a few blocks away from the finish line at Delaney Park.
Make sure to save some energy for the many hikes and trails that you will surely want to do after the race. Alaska is filled with trails for hikers of all skill level. The best hike to do right near downtown Anchorage is the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. This 11 mile paved trail begins at in Downtown Anchorage and runs along the coast down to Kincaid Park. Along the trail you will pass through Earthquake Park which was shaped by a devastating earthquake that hit the area in 1964. Earthquake Park offers great views of Knik Arm, as does another stop along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail known as Point Woronzof Park. Point Woronzof Park is a great place for running or biking during the summer and backcountry skiing or snowshoeing in the winter. The end of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is at Kincaid Park. Kincaid Park is a great place to relax and enjoy the wildlife of Alaska such as lynx, moose, bear, eagles, porcupine and fox. In the winter months, Lake Campbell is used for ice fishing while visitors can enjoy boating on the lake during the summer. Kincaid Park, along with Point Woronzof Park, offer the best semi-wilderness experiences near Downtown Anchorage.
For the more adventurous hiker, you may wish to venture outside the city limits for more rigorous hikes. To the north of Anchorage you can check out Thunderbird Falls, a one mile hike through a birch forest that brings you to viewing platform of a 200ft waterfall. Further to the north, 2.5 hours from Anchorage, visitors can take on Denali, also known as Mount McKinley. At an elevation of 20,310ft, Mount McKinley is the highest peak in all of North America.
Closer to Downtown Anchorage, just south of Thunderbird Falls is the Eagle River Nature Center. From there you can venture off on one of many hikes like the Rodak, Dew Mound and Albert Loop. However, for the avid hiker you can take on Crow Pass. This 21 mile hike takes you through the Chugach Mountain all the way down to Girdwood. Along the way you will see glaciers, waterfalls, wildlife, mine ruins and you will even need to cross the Eagle River (this section may be dangerous so it is recommended not to cross alone). If you aren’t up for the full 21 mile hike, then it would be best to begin at Girdwood since the most breathtaking sites are within the first four miles of the trail beginning at Girdwood. These sites include Monarch Mine, Raven Glacier, Crystal Lake, and Crow Pass Waterfalls.
Whether you head south along Crow Pass or drive down there along the coast, it is a must for all nature lovers to explore the Chugach Mountain area. Along with the Crow Pass, Girdwood is also home to the Bird Ridge Trail and Winner Creek Trail. Bird Ridge Trail is a 3 mile climb above the treeline and offers the ultimate view of Turnagain Arm and the untouched Chugach peaks nearby. The Winner Creek Trail brings you to the Winner Creek Gorge where you can take side trails down to the water’s edge, but the best part of the Winner Creek Trail is the unique hand-tram. The hand tram is a thrilling, yet safe, tram that is powered by you pulling the cage across a cable that is hovering over 100ft above the thrashing waters of Glacier Creek. Another tram in the Girdwood area is located at the Alyeska Resort. This tram electric powered tram takes you on a 3 to 7 minute scenic ride to the top of Mount Alyeska and offers great views of the Chugach Mountain range.
On the way back into Anchorage is some of the top sites within Chugach State Park such as Freshwater Springs and Beluga Point Lookout. You should also take a leisurely walk along the Potter Marsh Wildlife Viewing Boardwalk. Potter Marsh is a great place for birdwatching and enjoying simple nature without the strenuous efforts of hiking. Other great hikes near Chugach State Park is the Glen Alps trails such as Flattop Mountain and O’Malley Peak.
Tired of hiking and ready to rejoin civilization?
Anchorage is much more than a hiker’s haven, there is plenty to do within the confines of the city as well. Near Glen Alps is the Alaska Zoo, home to the widest variety of animals native to the state of Alaska and also includes exotic animals such as the Amur Tiger. Another place of interest just outside of Downtown Anchorage is the Alaska Aviation Museum which houses over 30 aircrafts on display and flight simulators. Those interested in culture should check out the Alaska Native Heritage Center, an educational and cultural institution that shares the heritage of Alaska’s 11 major cultural groups.
The city of Anchorage has a deep history represented by the Four Original Neighborhoods. The first neighborhood of Anchorage was Government Hill. Though it is only accessible by bridge now, visitors can still go there and learn about the history of Anchorage, stand on the very spot of where Anchorage’s first neighborhood began at the corner of Delaney and West Harvard. You will also have the chance to see the old cottages that were built for the railway builders of the Alaska Engineering Commission in 1915. Two of the other original neighborhoods were South Addition and Fairview. South Addition was created in the 1930’s and 1940’s in response to wartime buildup. Though Anchorage was not invaded during World War II, the South Addition Neighborhood was greatly affected by the 1964 earthquake. The Fairview Neighborhood, built after World War II, was the only area that African-Americans could buy property in the mid-1900s. In Fairview you can experience a 1900s schoolhouse with a personal tour from the Anchorage Woman’s Club.
The fourth neighborhood of Anchorage is the most populated area to date and was the 2nd neighborhood established at the same time as Government Hill. Delaney Park is located in the center of Historic Downtown Anchorage. Delaney Park is the oldest park in Anchorage and is now the place that locals and visitors go to play. A few blocks north of Delaney Park is 4th Avenue which is a hot spot for music, food, entertainment and shopping. Along 4th Avenue is the most beloved landmark, 4th Avenue Theatre, now known as the Alaska Experience Theatre. The Alaska Experience Theatre now plays Alaskan movies and the infamous 1964 Earthquake movie. Another movie experience that is a must-see in Anchorage is the Alaska Naturally Aurora Show at the Sydney Laurence Theatre. This 40 minute presentation is a guaranteed opportunity for you to enjoy the Northern Lights, even in the endless daylight of Alaska’s summer.
The Aurora Show is located next to Town Square which is sandwiched between the Sydney Laurence Theatre and the Anchorage 5th Avenue Mall. One block to the east is the Anchorage Museum. This museum is dedicated to exploring the land, people, art and history of Alaska. Another site that explores Alaska history is the Oscar Anderson House Museum. Oscar Anderson was the 18th person to set foot in Anchorage and his home was the first wood-frame house in Anchorage. One last stop to make while visiting Anchorage is the Anchorage Market on 3rd Street. This market is a great place to get your Alaskan souvenirs and also has fresh produce and exotic goods from around the world.
Have you been to Anchorage and did something fun that we missed? Let us know in the comments below.