Anchorage, Alaska, was born as a railroad tent city on the shores of Ship Creek.
Today, Alaska's biggest city holds about half the state's entire population, but it still feels like an outpost in the middle of a vast wilderness – and that is part of its charm. A stay in Anchorage lets you enjoy all the amenities of big city life, but still vault into the Alaska wilderness within about a half-hour drive. You'll also be within easy striking distance of one of Alaska's most spectacular destinations, the more than 2.4 million hectares that make up Denali National Park.
Exploring Anchorage's Wildlife
Anchorage's slogan – "Big. Wild. Life." – is a great fit for a town where you can start your morning in a funky downtown eatery, then walk the nearly 18-kilometer Tony Knowles Coastal Trail along Cook Inlet. Better yet, jump on the Alaska Railroad's Glacier Discovery Train to visit the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop, a wilderness destination that's accessible only by rail. Salmon Berry Tours is another great option for the adventurous while visiting Alaska. The outfitter offers everything from zip lining to dog sledding and glacier hikes.
If you would like to enjoy a day in town, explore the Anchorage Museum and then hop on a bus to the Alaska Native Heritage Center, or take a two-hour walking tour into downtown Anchorage's storied – and haunted – past with the Ghost Tours of Anchorage. You can also hop on the Flattop Mountain Shuttle to visit Anchorage's most popular mountain, or rent a car and venture into the wilds of the more than 200,300-hectare Chugach State Park on your own. Finish your day by sipping a local craft beer at one of Anchorage's many brewpubs.
North to Denali
Rent a car for the 386-kilometer (about six hours) drive north from Anchorage to Denali National Park. You can also get to Denali aboard Alaska Railroad's Denali Star Train, (about 7.5 hours), or ride a motor coach from The Park Connection (five to six hours).
Go Big at Denali
In 2015, the tallest mountain in North America was renamed from Mount McKinley to Denali, a word meaning "the high one" in the Koyukon language. At 6,190 meters, it is literally the biggest attraction in Denali National Park, but it's not the only amazing thing you will see. The park is packed with stunning scenery, wildlife and adventures for the bold, from horseback riding to whitewater rafting and ATV tours. If you're not sure where to start, take a quick "flight-seeing" trip. These trips in small planes give you an unparalleled overview of land so wild, few people will ever see it.
For the curious but not quite so adventurous, consider taking a narrated bus ride along the park's 148-kilometer roadway; private cars are allowed only on the first 24 kilometers. You can also participate in ranger-led hikes and sled dog demonstrations. Denali National Park has several visitor centers, which can be a little confusing; just remember that for bus tickets you go to the Wilderness Access Center, and most ranger-led programs start at the nearby Denali Visitor Center.
Natural beauty and options for adventure in Denali National Park
Places Worth Visiting
Here are some of the best shops and cafes to round out your experience:
Glacier Brewhouse, 737 W. Fifth Ave.: One of Anchorage's most well-known brewpubs.
Kobuk Coffee Company, 504 W. Fifth Ave.: A rustic tea shop in a 100-year-old building; sells handmade local goods, too.
Oomingmak Musk Ox Producers Cooperative, 604 H St.: Specializing in one of Alaska's most precious natural resources – Qiviut, the underwool of the Arctic musk oxen's coat.
Simon and Seafort's, 420 L St.: Voted the best steakhouse in Alaska; also great seafood.
Snow City Cafe, 1034 W. Fourth Ave.: Downtown Anchorage's most popular breakfast spot.
The Ulu Factory, 211 W. Ship Creek Ave.: Selling the Ulu knife, one of the most unique – and useful – souvenirs you can buy.
Weekend Market, Third Avenue and E St.: Alaska's largest open-air market, filled with handicrafts, food and entertainment.
Williwaw, 609 F St.: Trend-setting restaurant and concert venue.
Morino Grill, George Parks Highway: The only sit-down restaurant in Denali National Park; dine in or grab food to go.