Sometimes you just want to be amazed. The overlook at the Glen Alps trailhead of Chugach State Park on the Anchorage Hillside offers a grand front-row seat on the forces of geology as well as one of the best postcard views anywhere. Like — how about a three-volcano vista? Or the profile of Denali, Foraker and Hunter in a single glance? Plate tectonics at your feet? The skyline of the biggest city within 1,000 miles?
Anchorage families might sometimes forget we live beside the Pacific Ocean. But a very walkable sandy beach stretches along Anchorage’s southwest coast at Point Campbell in Kincaid Park. The area offers families an intimate look at some of the highest tides in the world along with stunning views of vast mudflats and snowy mountains. It’s a beachcombing delight.
A giant sand dune rises into the trees of Kincaid Park near the southwest corner of the Anchorage Bowl. Its brown face of gorgeous speckled grains looms more than 40 feet above the surrounding forest floor, presenting a pyramid-steep slope that just begs to be climbed. This natural feature is a blast for the whole family, perfect for anybody who has ever delighted in a romp at the beach.
Thousands of pink salmon converge on Indian Creek each July and August, just about filling this shallow, easy-flowing stream south of Anchorage along Turnagain Arm from bank-to-bank. This amazing natural spectacle occurs in one of the easiest places to view spawning salmon in the region: No steep banks, crystal clear water and fish so close they could almost be touched.
Portage Valley southeast of Anchorage at the head of Turnagain Arm offers so many potential adventures that you might have to tow a trailer loaded with gear to sample them all. What will you find here? Biking, hiking, picnicking, fishing, paddling, wildlife viewing, potential iceberg sightings — plus a natural history visitor center packed with interactive displays about the ecosystem of the valley and Prince William Sound. It’s like an outdoor Disneyland just over an hour’s drive from town.
Crystal-clear Williwaw Creek and its bank-side trail system in Portage Valley at the head of Turnagain Arm offers exceptionally good conditions for watching spawning in action. Coho, sockeye and chum salmon converge on the creek as it winds through the brushy flats beginning in mid-August, with some late-arriving fish still present after first frost in the fall.
A stretch of exposed bedrock southeast of Anchorage along Turnagain Arm was gouged and polished by mile-thick glaciers during the last ice age. The grooves appear as smooth channels carved into the rock itself by almost unimaginable forces. Some are subtle, like ripples, and hard to see. Others are large enough to lie inside on a sunny afternoon.
Who can say no to a cool waterfall only a half-hour’s drive from town? One of the most popular “first hikes” for families with small children, the one-mile trail to Thunderbird Falls traverses a handsome birch forest along the Eklutna River canyon to reach a deck with views of a 200-foot waterfall. During winter, the falls can freeze, forming fabulous columns of blue ice.