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.
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.
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:
- This grooming feast covers more than 100 miles of trails just for skiing during winter.
- At least 24 miles of lighted trails.
- 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.
Cross Country Skiing
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.