There’s a lot to do in Anchorage. It’s an outdoorsy, adventurous city, but many of its gems are hidden beneath the surface, and you’ll miss them if you don’t look closely. Before you head out of town, or after you return your van, give yourself a little time to explore the city and find a few of those hidden jewels.
One of the cool things about Anchorage is its trail system. The city is criss-crossed by hiking, biking and ski trails, and they range from the flat and paved to the rugged and precarious. Alaskans embrace pretty much every outdoor sport ever invented, and if it happens on a trail, it happens on an Anchorage trail.
Case in point: Last week, the Tour of Anchorage took cross country ski racers around the entire city for 25 or 50 kilometers. Full disclosure: I participated in this race—competed is really too strong a word—during which we crossed overpasses, went through tunnels and underpasses, and stopped traffic on a few neighborhood roads. Some participants (I was not among them) finished the race and then hopped on their fat bikes and went around again for another 50K. The race was really a love letter about how much Anchorage-ites love their trails, and their outdoor recreation.
Of course, if you’re coming to rent a travel van, you’re coming in the summer, so you’ll be happy to know that those trails that are groomed for skiing during the winter time become bike trails in the summer time. Actually, many of them are multi-use, so they’re biking, hiking, skating, roller-skiing, etc. trails in the summer.
Kincaid Park is one of Anchorage’s most popular recreation areas. Currently, the park is hosting the U.S. Cross Country Junior Nationals, and was the host last year of U.S. Nationals. During the summer, most of the ski trails become bike trails, and there are trails for every level from beginners to experts.
A network of single track and wide trails snakes throughout the park, and stringing them together can give you up to 45 miles of trail to ride. You can take a long one-way ride through the park all the way to the coast. Or you can connect some of the ski trails and make a loop, or two or three. Many trails are directional, so check the maps posted at each trailhead and most of the forks. Look out for moose—they love to hang out here in both winter and summer. Explore the trails here: https://www.trailforks.com/region/kincaid-park/
Hillside & Bicentennial Park
Many of trails at Hillside start near Hilltop Ski Area, where the state’s only ski jumps are located. Summer training is a thing, so look up and you may catch a couple of practice jumps before you head back on the trails, which wind through the foothills of the Chugach Mountains. The infamous Spencer Loop can be found in this trail system, a quad-burner of a trail that includes multiple steep inclines and quick drops on the other side. Fun, if you like that sort of thing.
If you’re not so fond of the steeps, the Hillside and/or Besh loops (they connect) are (a little) tamer. Look around when you reach the tops of the higher hills—at a few points you can peek through the trees for a view of Anchorage, or a few Chugach peaks in the other direction. Connect with the Tour of Anchorage Trail to head into Far North Bicentennial Park, where you’ll find even more singletrack, and a little wilderness inside the city limits.
The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is one of Anchorage’s favorite multi-use trails. It’s paved, mostly flat, and pretty long, stretching from downtown Anchorage to Kincaid Park, just over 12 miles. On a sunny day, you’ll see families, office workers on their lunch breaks, school groups, runners, dog walkers, roller skiers, fat-tire bikers (even in summer), and tourists on cruisers. With all that traffic, it sounds like it would be crowded, but mostly, it’s long enough that save for a couple of spots next to the parks, it really doesn’t get congested.
So if you’d prefer a more leisurely ride—with some pretty amazing views, of Cook Inlet, the Sleeping Lady (aka Mt. Susitna), the Alaska Range beyond, and even Denali on occasion—this is the trail for you. It’s paved, and there are markers every mile so you can see how far you’ve gone. Combine this trail with the Chester Creek and Campbell Creek Trails through Midtown Anchorage, and you’ve covered nearly the entire city on two wheels!
Bike Rentals & Tours
There are plenty of places in Anchorage to rent a mountain bike. Downtown Bicycle Rental rents everything from tandem road bikes to fat tire bikes with studded tires, so there’s something for everyone. The Trek store in Anchorage also rents mountain bikes, including e-mountain-bikes, for a little extra help up that hill.
You can also hop onto a tour that will probably get you to a few places you might not have gone to on your own. Anchorage Trail Guides has pre-set half day tours through Kincaid Park and Chugach State Park, among others, and you can even customize your tour. They’ll even take you out on a fat bike in the summer.
What if bikes aren’t your thing? Good news: All of these trails can be done on foot! So bring your hiking shoes with you, and get out onto the trails in Anchorage. Because the best views of Anchorage are really found on its trails—whichever one you happen to be on at the moment.
Ready to see Anchorage from its trails? Book your travel van now!