As the starting or ending point for many Alaskan cruises, Anchorage is more than just an airport stop. Extend your family’s adventure by adding a few days to the beginning or end of your voyage. More time will give your kids the opportunity to experience the majesty of the Alaskan interior. Get the inside scoop on four of this multigenerational family’s favorite things to do in Anchorage to uncover a feel for the “real Alaska.”
4 Fun Things to Do in Anchorage as a Family
Unless you’re taking a round trip Alaskan cruise out of Seattle or Vancouver, you’re going to spend at least one part of your cruise adventure in Anchorage. You can simply stop in the city long enough to get to or from the ship, or your family can take a break for a couple days and enrich your adventure.
Anchorage is centrally located and there’s a lot to do close by. You can get a feel for the heritage of Alaska and see Alaskan animals up close. Then, you can take a day trip to view the highest peak on the continent or stand at the edge of a glacier. Our family of five and my mother-in-law recently experienced an adventure in the state. We’ve chosen our four favorite things to do in the Anchorage area to share with you. We all agreed these things to do in Anchorage helped us feel like we’d discovered some of the secrets of the majestic state.
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1. Spend a Day at the Alaska Native Heritage Center
It’s important to me that our kids know and understand the heritage of the first peoples of the land. It made perfect sense for us to start our Alaskan adventure at the Alaskan Native Heritage Center. The Center has six life-sized dwellings made and maintained by Native Alaskans. It also has a museum, Native artists, and Native sports demonstrations during the day. They also offer dog sled rides, but call ahead for the schedule.
We loved our time at the Heritage Center. When we arrived, we joined a tour group working their way through the dwellings out behind the center. A Native Alaskan woman who grew up in one of the tribes within the Arctic Circle led the tour. She told us stories about seal hunts and sleeping in the dwellings with her grandparents. Her descriptions told of life deep in Alaska’s heartland. We felt we could begin to understand the lives of these hardy people.
We enjoyed speaking to the artists as well. It was fun to learn about life close to the Bering Sea and we talked to one couple about growing up on Kodiak Island. My eight-year-old daughter loves art and sculpting, and one of the artists took over half an hour to discuss creating face masks with her.
2. Visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Alaska is full of incredible animals! During the trip, we were always on alert for wildlife. Around Anchorage, we found a bear getting into trash cans and came across two juvenile moose in the park. However, we wanted to get a closer look at the animals that Alaska has to offer so we stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. We were able to get up close to everything from grizzly bears to Arctic foxes.
We found the center at the point of Turnagain Arm about forty-five minutes south of Anchorage. The journey into Turnagain Arm is a simply breathtaking drive, with mountains all around you and the waters of the Arm mere yards from your vehicle.
The center rehabilitates rescued animals of every Alaskan sort and shelters the ones that won’t survive in the wild. Seeing the pack of wolves playing delighted my children. They also thought the rescued black bear cubs were adorable, and they loved seeing a bald eagle up close.
3. Take a road trip to the Denali Viewpoint South and Talkeetna
The tallest peak in North America is only four hours north of Anchorage. Denali National Park is too far for a day trip. Instead, you can stop only two-and-a-half hours up the road at the Denali Viewpoint South. The viewpoint has a spectacular view of the southern side of the Alaskan Range.
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We stopped at the viewpoint and got a good look at the range, and then found a hiking trail that took us a little higher. We hiked up the hill a bit, making lots of noise to scare off any bears, and discovered a lovely upper viewing area. The view was glorious! We were high above the glacial river below and could feel the fresh mountain breezes on our faces.
The small hub of Talkeetna was our next stop. It’s the only good-sized town between the Anchorage suburbs and the entrance to Denali Park. It’s a great place for shopping, eats, and tour ideas. We found a fun pub for lunch and let the kids get homemade root beer floats. We visited many souvenir shops in the town’s center and we checked out a Denali flight company.
4. Go on a backcountry trip on Knik Glacier Tours
An hour to the east of Anchorage, we found a golden Alaskan treasure! Knik Glacier Tours is a must-do for anyone who wants to see, feel, smell, and hear the wild wonders of the Last Frontier.
The three-hour tour took our family on a four-mile ride through National Forest lands and across two rivers. We rode in a 15-passenger van lifted on a 4×4 frame and bumped our way to the Knik River. Once we arrived at the shore, we loaded into a jet boat for the four-mile trip up river to the glacier.
As we rode up the river, it was like we were entering a new dimension or another world. The river changed colors to a crisp light teal color, and small icebergs started floating by. As we came around the last bend in the river, icebergs stretched out as far as we could see. There were ice blue icebergs, striped icebergs, and snowy icebergs just a few feet away from our boat.
We had found an Alaskan treasure. Our boats parked on the gravel beach across from the glacier and we shivered our way through chilly winds up the path to Glacier Camp. In the camp, our guides fixed the best hot chocolate on earth while we searched the surrounding hillsides for wildlife.
Every now and then, we braved the glacier winds to hike to the glacier overlook and contemplate the amazing view. After an hour on this new planet, we again boarded the boats and made our way back towards Anchorage. In two full weeks of traveling the state of Alaska, this tour was everyone’s favorite part of the whole trip.
Anchorage didn’t look like it had much to offer when my husband and I started planning our trip. At first, we only added days to the trip to give everyone a chance to rest and be ready for our cruise. It’s hard to believe we almost overlooked so many rich opportunities in and around the city of Anchorage.
About the Author
Lesli Gibbs lives life to grasp every opportunity available for adventure and learning. She’s a mom to three kiddos, two tween girls and an elementary age little guy. She and her family are self-professed nerds who love indoor rock climbing and cannon balls at the pool. Most of their adventures are multigenerational, as Nana, Lesli’s mother-in-law, lives and travels with her family. They live a homeschool lifestyle and they love learning through seeing and doing. They are always seeking new opportunities for interesting discoveries. Through her children’s educational journey, Lesli has discovered a love of writing and sharing opportunities for adventure with other families. She shares more about learning through travel at This Crazy Homeschool Life.