So, you’ve landed in Anchorage, Alaska. Lucky you!
With the price of gas these days (I mean, we’re talking $$$), you’ve likely arrived without a car, hoping to see as much of Alaska as you possibly can.
We’re here to tell you that it’s SO EASY to establish Anchorage as your home base, and there are tons of ways to explore Alaska without a car!
In this post, we’re sharing the benefits of staying in one place, our favorite day trips from Anchorage, and tips on how to plan a fun week in Alaska from town!
The Benefits of Planning Day Trips From Anchorage
So, what are the benefits of staying in town, and doing various day trips from Anchorage?
Having a Home Base
Traveling with your family? A large group?
Establishing your ‘basecamp’ in Anchorage is beneficial for many reasons.
Firstly, you can keep your stuff all in one place the entire time. It’s also possible to split up your group during the day, so people can do different activities, and come home to the same spot.
There’s a lot of freedom in making Anchorage your home away from home, and a good home base is just the start!
Many modes of Transportation, all from Anchorage
With the price of gas these days, establishing Anchorage as your base camp is convenient and budget-friendly.
From town, you can take the shuttle down south and ride the train practically anywhere.
If you book a guided tour, there’s a high chance that their tour bus can come to pick you up at your hotel too!
You Can Enjoy the Local Food Scene
Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska, which means there is no shortage of great food in town!
From Gumbo to Thai, street tacos to warm, hearty meals, there’s something for everyone to eat after a long day’s adventure.
Where to Stay In Anchorage Alaska
Staying in the downtown area is convenient, especially if you are planning several day trips from Anchorage.
Many guided tours leave from downtown, so here are our favorite places to stay right in the middle of all the action!
Hotel Captain Cook: You can’t beat the location of this famous hotel in Anchorage! Hotel Captain Cook is situated right downtown, blocks away from the museum, restaurants, and lots of other attractions. If you are looking for convenience and luxury, this is your place.
Adorable Airbnbs: There are tons of short-term rentals in Anchorage, from A-frames to quaint neighborhood homes. We stayed at the City Garden Bed & Breakfast during our last trip. The host Jerry was incredibly friendly, and cooked us breakfast every morning!
Budget-Friendly Accommodations in Anchorage: For more affordable options downtown, you can book a stay at the Ramada, the Hilton, and the Comfort Inn at Ship Creek.
14 Incredible Day Trips From Anchorage, Alaska
So, what kind of day trips from Anchorage can you take? There are so many to choose from, but here are our favorites!
1. Take a Tour of Matanuska Glacier
Matanuska Glacier is one of the most accessible glaciers in Alaska.
It’s located right off Alaska’s Highway 1 (The Glenn Highway) which is why it’s naturally one of the most popular day trip routes from Anchorage.
A day trip to Matanuska Glacier requires at least 8 hours. Tours will generally pick you up in the early morning and include a glacier hike, lunch, and maybe a few other stops before returning you to downtown Anchorage in the evening.
It’s possible, but a little complicated, to plan a trip here by yourself. This is why we recommend booking a trip with a tour company, like Salmon Berry Travel & Tours.
Built into the trip cost is permit access, crampons, an experienced guide, and a custom walking route to see some of the coolest features of Matanuska Glacier.
2. Turnagain Arm Tour
Reached easily from town via the Seward Highway, visiting Turnagain Arm is one of the easiest day trips from Anchorage!
Fed from the Cook Inlet, this area got its name from Captain James Cook who had no choice but to “turn again” to continue his search for the undiscoverable Northwest Passage.
Turnagain Arm and this section of the Seward Highway is known for its sharp, dramatic cliffs, gorgeous water views, and scenic hiking trails. It’s also touted as one of the best scenic drives in the United States!
Common scenic stops include Beluga Point, Potter Marsh, and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
If you fancy a hike (for better views up high!) consider Bird Ridge Trail (4.6 miles) or Turnagain Arm Trail (10 miles one-way) to stretch your legs on the journey.
3. Spend the Day at Girdwood
The Anchorage Railroad runs a 1-hour route between Anchorage and Girdwood twice daily. This makes the quaint town of Girdwood a perfect day trip from Anchorage, especially with kids!
In town, you can enjoy numerous restaurants, hiking trails, seasonal festivals, and the luxury ski destination of Alyeska Resort. Here, you’ll find a tight-knit community of ski bums and retirees alike, enjoying the natural beauty of this area.
This place looks very different in the summer versus the winter, so it’s worth it to come back twice to enjoy it in each season!
Some of the most popular activities in Girdwood include exploring Crow Creek Gold Mine, attending the Girdwood Forest Festival, riding the Alyeska Tram, and booking a trip to see Portage Glacier.
Care for some forest bathing time? Try taking the Winner Creek Trail, a fun 4.9-mile hike with a hand tram to cross the river!
4. Eagle River Nature Center
A day trip to Eagle River is one of the easiest ways to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and go out in nature.
Sitting at the gateway to Chugach State Park, this area offers exceptional trails, access to the mountains, and lots of opportunities to learn about the flora and fauna of south central Alaska.
The nature center is also a great hub to ask state park rangers questions about the happenings around the forest – like when the bears arrive for the salmon run!
It’s completely possible to take a self-guided visit here, but we actually recommend booking a guided hike with Go Hike Alaska!
Not only will you get paired with an experienced guide, but they will also pick you up and drop you off right from Anchorage. No shuttle or rental car is required!
On our own tour with Go Hike Alaska, our guide Rebecca told us stories about the Iditarod/Crow Pass Trail (like the historic Iditarod route), visited the Rapids Yurt, and learned to identify edible berries along the trail. It was such a fun experience!
5. Hop On The Alaska Railroad
Want to see a lot of places in a short amount of time? Consider hopping on the Alaska Railroad for a day trip! The railroad has stops at Talkeetna, Denali, Seward, Girdwood, Whittier, Portage, Spencer Glacier, and Grandview.
The Alaska Railroad works in partnership with local tours and activities to make booking adventures seamless and convenient.
It’s very possible to ride the scenic train, book an experience, and return home conveniently all by the railroad schedule. It’s an awesome way to see Alaska without a car!
6. Stay In Town!
We’re sharing a lot of incredible day trips from Anchorage, but what about staying in town?
There are tons of incredible things to do in Anchorage, all within walking distance from each other downtown.
Each morning and evening Berty and I spent in Anchorage, we were easily able to experience something new downtown. Here are our favorite activities:
Walk or bike the Coastal Trail: This 11-mile paved path runs along the shore of Cook Inlet from downtown Anchorage to Kincaid Park. Bike rentals are an easy and inexpensive way to get around!
Visit the downtown murals: Anchorage is full of hidden sculptures, huge murals, and rich, creative history. Take a self-guided Public Art Tour, or pick up a free art walk map at the Visitors Center downtown.
Ride the Anchorage Trolley: Hop on the trolley for a 1-hour tour of Anchorage, which is an inexpensive way to learn about the city. Tours are light and fun, perfect for the entire family! Longer tours are also available.
One of the most memorable experiences we had downtown was visiting the Anchorage Museum. With a rich tapestry of stories and perspectives, we were able to get a sense of the Dena’ina people, the geographical history of Alaska, and the stories that shaped its modernity.
We especially loved the First Peoples of Alaska exhibit, which showcased more than 600 native American objects from the Smithsonian collection.
7. Explore Hatcher Pass
60 Miles north of Anchorage is Hatcher Pass and the Talkeetna Mountains. Here in the summer, you can go berry picking (blueberries are ABUNDANT here) and take the many trails in the area.
An easy one for families is the Gold Cord Lake Trail. It takes you 1.5 miles round trip to an alpine lake and back, showing off the crystal clear blue waters.
You can also explore Independence Mine State Historical Park. Book a tour to hear more about Alaska’s prospecting history, and the mine camp glory days, and to take a peek inside the abandoned buildings.
An iconic stop for photographers here is Hatcher Pass Lodge. Here, you can snap a photo of these adorable red A-frames that line the hillside. Just be respectful of your space and getting too close to the cabins – they are rented out by private parties so people might be inside them when you visit!
8. Take a Flightseeing Tour
One of the most iconic ways to explore the Anchorage area is in the sky! A flightseeing tour is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime trip because most tours include glacier viewings, wildlife spotting, and scenic vistas the entire way.
Rust’s Flying Service has been flying since 1963 and is one of the most unique flight tour companies in Alaska.
In addition to taking off and landing at the world’s busiest seaplane base (Lake Hood), this company runs tours where you can land on glaciers, go bear viewing and plan fly-in fishing trips!
We loved our tour with Rust’s Flying Service. Seeing glaciers from the sky really showed up the scale of how big they can be!
We also learned a lot about different types of water, saw communities around Anchorage, and enjoyed our time learning about the geographical landscape of Alaska.
9. Hike the Glen Alps / Flattop Trail
Flattop Mountain is located in Chugach State Park and is one of the most visited peaks in the Anchorage area, if not the entire state.
The 3.3-mile loop trail with 1,430 ft. elevation gain provides scenic views from the top, and on a clear day, views of Mount Denali!
For visitors who want to hike Flattop Mountain, there is a shuttle service for $24 during the summertime.
10. Stay Overnight in a Yurt
Are you curious about backpacking in Alaska, but want to try a more beginner route first?
Try booking an Alaska public use cabin! These are fairly inexpensive, dry shelters that range from $70-$30, and some are even free!
Read More: The 57 Best Gifts for Backpackers (for holidays and birthdays!)
Booking and staying overnight in a public use shelter is a great way to try out camping without having to commit to an advanced adventure.
These cabins and shelters are just a short trek and accessible by trail.
11. Eklutna Lake
The Eklutna Lake area is one of the most popular places to plan a day trip from Anchorage.
Located just an hour from the city, this area hosts a glacial-fed lake, 15 miles of hiking trails, and an abundance of kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding opportunities. It’s also a popular place to ride ATVs in the summer.
Come enjoy this secluded area for the day! You can easily grab some lunch in town, and pack a picnic to enjoy the lakeside on a beautiful summer Alaska day.
On the way back, don’t forget to stop by Thunderbird Falls. It’s an easy 1.8-mile out and back trail, perfect for kids and families!
12. Seward, Alaska
Four hours by train or 2.5 hours by car, this epic day to Seward is worth the distance!
Because its historic railroad port is a popular stop for cruise ships, there’s a lot to do in this quaint town.
There are lots of good restaurants, coffee shops, and cute boutiques to check out in their picturesque downtown area. If you’re seeking an adventure, you can book ziplining tours, and whale-watching excursions and take on some incredible hiking trails too.
Note: While this can absolutely be done as a day trip from Anchorage, we actually recommend spending a little more time in Seward! This way, you can enjoy destinations like Kenai Fjords National Park and see Exit Glacier, or book a whale watching tour with Major Marine.
Book a convenient stay at the Harboor 360 Hotel to round out the experience!
13. Whittier, Alaska
Whittier, Alaska, is a unique town and an extremely popular stop for cruise ships making their way through Prince William Sound.
From Anchorage, hop on the Alaska Railroad to the Whittier Depot to explore the area for the day!
This 250-person populated town is seemingly frozen in time during the Cold War Era. Military outpost buildings are scattered throughout town, and you can take a walking tour to visit and learn about them.
If you are looking for day trips from Anchorage that take you to see glaciers, wildlife, and incredible scenery, book a tour to Whittier and the Prince William Sound!
Note: If you are visiting Whittier by car, it’s important to know about the tunnel. The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is a 2.5-mile long route and the only car access point to the town. It’s one lane of traffic at a time, alternating from one side to the other every 30 minutes. Make sure to check the schedule before you go!
14. Explore Downtown Talkeetna
Talkeetna is 2 hours via car and 3 hours away via train. This artsy and creative town serves as a base camp for tons of outdoor adventures north of Anchorage.
To get a sense of the town’s history, check out Belle’s Interpretive Trail to hear about the town’s origins, stories, and people. Additionally, don’t forget to stop by the Talkeetna History Museum!
The town is well acquainted with welcoming visitors, so you will find incredibly cute stores, adventure guide services, and delicious cafes.
What kind of Alaska adventure are you hoping to take? Do you have any more suggestions about day trips from Alaska? Share them in the comments!
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