Many RVers dream of traveling to Alaska, considering it the ultimate destination on their bucket lists. So we’ve created a series of articles to help you navigate the Last Frontier in a motorhome or travel trailer, in hopes that you can enjoy exploring the 49th state, as well!
As the largest city in the largest state in the Union, Anchorage is usually the home base for many RV trips. It has a number of RV dealerships, repair shops, and supply stores for campers who need to check up and stock up before hitting the road between wilderness adventures and treks to tantalizing Alaskan locations. This town of 300,000 has a few secrets of its own to reveal, making it a great destination, as well.
Anchorage is one of the few Alaskan settlements that wasn’t created as a result of mining or fishing activities. In an area where Athabaskan natives lived for 800 years, the Alaskan Railroad chose the land between Cook Inlet and the Chugach Mountains as their base of construction operations for rails around the state. Soon a tent city went up and by 1920 the town of Anchorage was incorporated.
As air transportation and the military industries grew in the 1940’s, the city expanded to include two military installations, Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson Army Base, which merged in 2010. By 1968 oil was discovered in Prudhoe Bay on Alaska’s North Slope, so Anchorage began to swell with petroleum companies expanding into the region.
The town became well-known in the Lower 48 on Good Friday, March 27, 1964, when a 9.2 magnitude earthquake struck within 75 miles of downtown. Many of Anchorage’s buildings and residences were destroyed, and tsunamis killed more people than the actual earthquake.
Today Anchorage is a thriving city with a diverse population. It stands as the state’s transportation hub in shipping cargo and has a robust economy, which is even more appealing to visitors when they realize there is no sales tax charged in Alaska! Use your savings to start your Alaskan excursion here in Anchorage, where everyone enjoys the outdoors.
It wouldn’t be Alaska if you didn’t interact with wildlife! Begin your communing with nature by whale watching just 20 minutes south of the city at Beluga Point. The Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet has some of the most drastic tides in the world, and with them come beluga whales. The Point is aptly named as these mammals like to visit their namesake quite frequently, so the chances of a sighting or two are very good.
Kincaid Park on the southwest side of town is a huge boreal forest with mountain biking and cross country skiing trails as well as paved walking paths, soccer fields, a motocross course, fishing lake, and a disc golf course. If you aren’t worn out by all the activity, your heart might begin race when spying the occasional moose or black bear here.
Winter provides the backdrop of snow for skiing at nearby Alyeska Ski Resort, or maybe you’d rather watch the ceremonial start to the 1,000-mile-long Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in downtown Anchorage on the first Saturday in March. Ice climbing on any of the local glaciers is a great winter or summer sport that will make you feel invincible, or you can hop in a raft to take on those whitewater rapids down a glacier-fed river.
Mix hiking with bird watching at Potter Marsh and you’ll discover one of the most accessible wildlife viewing areas in the state. Located at the south end of town, this freshwater wetland stretches for almost two miles, providing the perfect environment for not only 130 species of birds, but moose, beavers, and salmon, as well.
Potter Marsh lies just at the edge of enormous Chugach State Park, where hiking, camping, ATVing, hunting, and fishing are popular activities. At almost half a million acres, this recreational area is the third largest state park in the country. It encompasses terrain from seaside to rugged mountain peak with high altitude lakes and glaciers thrown in for variety.
What to See
Anchorage has a thriving arts scene, and the downtown district houses the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. It is home to the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, Anchorage Ballet, and Anchorage Opera Companies among others. It acts as an ‘anchor’ to the arts community.
Four blocks away lies the Anchorage Museum, an innovative organization with world-class art and science displays, traveling exhibitions, and courses covering natural history and science. You may also enjoy wandering the grounds of the Alaska Native Heritage Center, where the state’s 11 major cultural groups are explored and celebrated. Outside the center, six native dwellings have been constructed, and inside you can experience the storytelling, dancing, and artistry of Alaskan Native artists.
The Alaska Aviation Museum will be the highlight of your Anchorage visit for any flyboy or girl in your family. Located at Anchorage International Airport, the museum has four hangars filled with vintage aircraft, flight simulators and a control tower where you can watch seaplanes take off. It is a museum dedicated to commemorating the history of aviation in the state.
About 45 minutes north of town is a group of living Ice Age animals at the Musk Ox Farm. Wander the property to see calves and bulls in the largest domesticated herd of musk oxen, and learn about the qiviut wool they produce. If you have a knitter in your midst, you’ll definitely want to purchase a skein or two of the softest yarn in the world.
If you are in Anchorage during the month of August, do not miss attending the Alaskan State Fair, or as I like to call it, “The Largest Party in the Last Frontier.” It is in the same neighborhood as the Musk Ox Farm, and you will not be alone. The state of Alaska has approximately 700,000 residents, and I’d be willing to bet that every single one of them comes to the State Fair every year without missing a single one.
Like other state fairs, this one has the requisite farm animals, produce, carnival rides, and strange foods. Unlike the others, Alaska prides itself on the Big and the Unusual. Ever seen a 1,469-pound. pumpkin? How about a SPAM sculpture contests? Does your state fair have Cabbage Fairies? These are just a few of the interesting sights you’ll find on display at the Alaska State Fair, and your attendance is mandatory if you’re in the vicinity. In fact, they’ll be expecting you!
As you probably surmised, Anchorage may be a large metropolis as far as Alaska goes, but it holds its own when it comes to celebrating the diverse cultures of its peoples, its abundant wildlife and the outdoor majesty of the Alaskan frontier. In fact, this town seems to look at us and wink, like it knows a secret we haven’t yet discovered. Take the time to uncover its clandestine charms.
Check out all of the other Alaska destinations we’ve covered on the Camping World blog, then start planning your own RV trip to the Land of the Midnight Sun.
Author’s Note: If you will be driving through Alaska and/or Canada please consider purchasing a current copy of “The Milepost.” It is a travel guide that will list necessities (like gas stations) and amenities (like lodging) throughout Alaska and the western Canadian provinces by milepost marker. This is a prerequisite for traveling in the area, as distances between service stations and grocery stores can be hundreds of miles in many cases. Another piece of knowledge gleaned from “The Milepost” are the hours (and seasons) of operation of businesses along the route, as many close down during fall and winter.
Have you visited Anchorage? What did you like best? Leave a comment below!