Photo Credit: Alyeska Resort Downhill Skiing & Winter Activities

The Best Cross Country Ski Trails In and Around Anchorage

Once snow falls and trails get packed, Anchorage features some of the most accessible and extensive cross country skiing anywhere in the world. There may be no other U.S. city laced with so many groomed trails open to the public without a mandatory user’s fee. Give us the snow, and Anchorage becomes a Nordic skier’s paradise.

It Gives You a Boost

Getting outside on skis—whether on inexpensive classic skis with fish-scale bottoms suitable for ambling or high-tech, space-age skate skis aimed at fitness and racing—is healthy for mind and body. Whether novice or expert, you can go fast or slow, zip down a slick trail or break a fresh path, make a loop out and back, or travel across the entire city.

Just Imagine...

Doing the kick-and-glide along parallel tracks winding through the spruce forest. Cutting through untouched powder across a quiet meadow with a raven’s cry on the wind. Fllying at rollercoaster speed up and down snowy corduroy created by PistenBully grooming machines.

Think of it this way: The sport can actually change your relationship toward winter. Skiing transforms the meaning of snow from icy obstacle into a medium of fun and intrigue. It turns the season’s short days and long hours of darkness from something harrowing into something glittery and magical. It means freedom to explore, too: open space wetland that’s difficult to visit during summer freezes hard into a skier’s playground once the mercury drops.

Are you a complete beginner? Check out our introduction to cross country skiing for newbies.

Many Choices

Of course, given sufficient snow and an open path, you can ski practically anywhere—especially if you’re using the classic style skis made for touring. But many skiers like to ski on trails that have been groomed. Why? Because groomed trails are faster and more efficient, and easier to navigate. You can go further with less effort and in less time than if you are breaking a new trail. (Plus, skate style skiing almost always requires either a groomed surface or weather conditions that have created a firm crust.)

Groomed trail loops with parking and maps are centered at nine different locales in Anchorage, Mat-Su and Girdwood. They range from the foothills north of Palmer across the heart of the city to the rain forest south of town. Three major trail systems are maintained at Kincaid, Hillside and Beach Lake parks. Throw in all the other multi-use trails, parks, federal and university lands, and there are dozens of venues for groomed cross country skiing in and near the city.

Doing the numbers:

  1. This grooming feast covers more than 100 miles of trails just for skiing during winter.
  2. At least 24 miles of lighted trails.
  3. Another 120 miles of multi-use trails shared with walkers and bikers.

And here’s another reason why Anchorage is special for skiing: Most maintained Nordic ski areas elsewhere in the country charge day-use fees, sometimes as expensive as what you’d pay at a downhill ski area.

But in Anchorage, you can ski for free.

A driving force (literally) is the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage, with the mission to maintain a world-class trail system across the city. The club’s grooming fleet and Kincaid Park snow-making system rely on donations by hundreds of members and local families. The non-profit Mat-Su Ski Club and the Girdwood Nordic Ski Club also perform grooming paid for by membership and donations. Anchorage city parks grooms trails as well, with a focus on connecting the multi-use routes across the city.

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Cross Country Skiing

The Chester Creek mul­ti-use trail sys­tem con­nects city parks and moun­tain venues in east Anchor­age with the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail along the shore of Knik Arm. The main trunk runs with­out break some four miles from Goose Lake Park to Westch­ester Lagoon, light­ed all the way. Using tun­nels and bridges, the fun trail offers an unin­ter­rupt­ed trav­el cor­ri­dor for skiers of all ages and abil­i­ty lev­el across the heart of the city. Call it  ...more

Difficulty: Easy

For a chal­leng­ing and com­pact cross coun­try ski area where you’ll find just about every kind of ter­rain, you can’t go wrong at Beach Lake Nordic Ski Trails off South Birch­wood Loop in Chugiak. The 15-kilo­me­ter-plus sys­tem ranges from easy glid­ing to a sprawl­ing advanced loop with sud­den head­walls that morph into thrilling, high-speed descents. You can make it as chal­leng­ing or as sedate as you like.

If you’re seek­ing some fun ski­ing over groomed, forest­ed trails away from crowds, the Coy­ote Trail sys­tem behind Mir­ror Lake Mid­dle School in Chugiak is worth check­ing out. Used most often by mid­dle school ath­letes and the neigh­bor­ing com­mu­ni­ty, the loop fea­tures 5.6 kilo­me­ters easy enough for begin­ners to enjoy and yet chal­leng­ing enough to enter­tain more advanced skiers. 

When snow allows, sev­er­al looped ski trails are groomed near Eagle Riv­er High School and along the slope over­look­ing the riv­er canyon. A fun option con­nects trails near the school to a mul­ti-use sec­tion over the snow­bound roads inside the Eagle Riv­er camp­ground of Chugach State Park. This 6‑kilometer sys­tem is a fun way to explore the riv­er cor­ri­dor, with con­nec­tions to exten­sive mul­ti-use routes

Forty min­utes from down­town Anchor­age lies Eagle Riv­er Nature Cen­ter, a gate­way to Chugach State Park and a glacial riv­er val­ley as wild and dra­mat­ic as any in Alas­ka. Enjoy an easy, 3‑mile nature walk on the Albert Loop or trek up-val­ley 5 miles to see plung­ing water­falls and 3,000-foot cliffs. In win­ter, tra­verse the trails on cross-coun­try skis or snowshoes.

$62+ Half or Full Day

Alyeska Resort is famous for its down­hill ski­ing and snow­board­ing for a rea­son — it’s tru­ly world-class, fea­tur­ing tons of snow, steep moun­tains, and views that stretch on for­ev­er. But there are a ton of oth­er win­ter activ­i­ties that make Alyeska an epi­cen­ter for win­ter adven­ture. Go cross-coun­try ski­ing or snow­shoe­ing on one of the area trails; or head off into the back­coun­try with a guide for some heli- or cat-ski­ing; try a snow­mo­bile excursion;  ...more

For a spec­tac­u­lar ski along Anchorage’s coast with views of ice­bergs, active vol­ca­noes, a salt marsh and the majes­tic white mas­sif of Denali, take a cruise along the 11-mile Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. This mul­ti-use civic gem draws skiers, bik­ers and walk­ers in almost every win­ter con­di­tion. Once the city parks depart­ment starts reg­u­lar groom­ing, it is often the eas­i­est of skis, pop­u­lar with fam­i­lies, with only two sig­nif­i­cant climbs along its  ...more

Difficulty: Moderate

For one of the loop­i­est and fun Nordic ski areas in the city, try out the trails behind Bartlett High School along the bound­ary of the mil­i­tary base. Hilly, with lots of curves that spring into quick and sud­den climbs, this five-kilo­me­ter-plus sys­tem through a mature for­est packs a lot of ski­ing into a small footprint.

Whether clas­sic tour­ing through deep woods or dri­ving hard on your skate skis down a race route, you will find every kind of ski­ing inside Anchorage’s largest park. Scores of mul­ti-use trails suit­able for ski­ing criss­cross this vast, 4,000-acre tract, reach­ing from low­land for­est into the foothills of the Chugach Moun­tains. The most pop­u­lar groomed route may be the Tour of Anchor­age Trail. But with at least 65 trails cov­er­ing near­ly 100 miles,  ...more

With an aston­ish­ing maze of groomed trails over all kinds of ter­rain — includ­ing 12 to 15 miles equipped with lights for night ski­ing — Kin­caid Park is the region’s pre­mier des­ti­na­tion for cross coun­try ski­ing. The sys­tem ranges from sedate, pas­toral loops suit­able for fam­i­lies on an out­ing to demand­ing expert work­outs with hard climbs and scream­ing descents. This venue has ski­ing for every lev­el of experience. 

If you’d like to explore a snow-bound trail sys­tem through a majes­tic rain for­est that gets lit­tle vis­i­ta­tion in win­ter, try out Bird Val­ley in Chugach State Park south of Anchor­age off the Seward High­way. You and the fam­i­ly can stroll, ski, snow­shoe or snow-bike for hours through a serene and almost sur­re­al set­ting of tow­er­ing trees with an occa­sion­al stu­pen­dous view of Pen­guin Peak and Bird Ridge. 

It’s like a block of wilder­ness nes­tled with­in the heart of the city. This easy 7.5‑kilometer loop cir­cum­nav­i­gates much of the unde­vel­oped reserves of Alas­ka Pacif­ic Uni­ver­si­ty and Uni­ver­si­ty of Alas­ka Anchor­age — con­nect­ing sev­er­al city parks while serv­ing as a major hub for cross-city ski­ing, snow bik­ing and oth­er activ­i­ties. A trek here can trans­port you deep into an Alas­ka win­ter set­ting with­out ever leav­ing the urban zone. 

The wood­ed, hilly trails of Hill­side Park loop through the moun­tain foothills between Ser­vice High School and Chugach State Park, offer­ing more than 25 kilo­me­ters of groom­ing. They range from the poten­tial­ly stren­u­ous Spencer Loop with the city’s biggest climb to mild Randy’s Loop close to the sta­di­um by the school. These trails include just about every kind of terrain 

For a leisure­ly ski along a scenic green­belt that cross­es Mid­town Anchor­age along an eco­log­i­cal­ly rich bot­tom­land, try out the Camp­bell Creek Trail — reach­ing 7.5 miles from the Uni­ver­si­ty Lake area to West Dimond Boule­vard. It’s anoth­er one of the city’s through-the-look­ing-glass” expe­ri­ences where you’ll feel sur­round­ed by a win­try ripar­i­an habi­tat even though you’re often ski­ing a few hun­dred feet from indus­tri­al areas and neigh­bor­hoods. Very  ...more

Pas­toral is the word here. This 300-acre park on Anchorage’s near-east side fea­tures groomed paths over the gen­tle fair­ways of a snow-bound golf course. Loops explore a hand­some for­est with bridges over a mean­der­ing spring-fed creek. Most groomed trails are lit or near lights, and are very pop­u­lar with new and younger skiers. Still, you can find plen­ty of hills, plus a more chal­leng­ing clas­sic-style loop in the north-side forest.

It’s easy to take a grand tour” ski across Anchor­age. Using the city’s 120-mile-plus mul­ti-use trail sys­tem, you can kick-and-glide from the moun­tains to the sea. Start at an urban trail­head noisy with traf­fic and end in a qui­et for­est. Launch from a side­walk below sky­scrap­ers to find a wildlife refuge with a vast ocean view. The city’s exten­sive mul­ti-use trail sys­tem fea­tures dozens of itineraries 

Difficulty: Easy

At its peak, the Inde­pen­dence hard-rock gold mine was home to 206 work­ers and 16 fam­i­lies who lived high above tree line. Dig­ging and blast­ing, these work­ers recov­ered 140,000 ounces of gold before the mine shut down in the wake of World War II. There are 1.5 miles of paved walk­ways through­out the site, with infor­ma­tion­al plac­ards for a self-guid­ed tour. 

Difficulty: Moderate Distance: 12 miles

Part of the Abbott Trail Sys­tem, this is a well-defined access trail that drops before cross­ing the South Fork Camp­bell Creek and inter­sect­ing with the Spencer Loop. (Go left, cycling clockwise.)

Difficulty: Easy Distance: 4 miles

The Alyeska Mul­ti-Use Path­way is a paved, light­ed mul­ti-use trail that extends from the Seward Hwy to the Hotel Alyeska. The path is pop­u­lar with walk­ers and run­ners, and with a fresh batch of snow it becomes a great clas­sic ski trail.

Difficulty: Easy Distance: 6 miles

The Idi­tar­od Nation­al His­toric Trail is Alaska’s sole Nation­al His­toric Trail. This net­work of 2,300-mile win­ter trails evolved to con­nect Alaskan Native vil­lages, estab­lished the dog-team mail and sup­ply route dur­ing Alaska’s Gold Rush, and now serves as a vital recre­ation and trav­el link.

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