Summary: I’m sharing five day trips from Anchorage to take on your next Alaska adventure. These are places that aren’t too far away from Anchorage, so they can be done in a single day if you have a car with you. The perfect post if you’re looking for things to do near Anchorage, Alaska.
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Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city and is home to nearly 40% of Alaskans. That is a huge number for a single city, and one that’s not even the capital! Anchorage is also the easiest place to fly in and out of in Alaska. While it’s not my favorite Alaskan city, it’s certainly worth spending a few days here.
Honestly, you can see most of Anchorage, itself, in a day. They have a few streets of stores and restaurants that are fun to walk down and museums to visit. In my opinion, the draw to the Anchorage area is all of the beautiful places and things to do within driving distance. I think a perfect Anchorage itinerary would include a day to explore the city and then a few days to add in any of the day trips listed below.
Day Trip to Girdwood, AK and Alyeska Resort
If you only have one day to add a day trip from Anchorage, Alaska, this would be my top recommendation! Girdwood is a small town about an hour southeast of Anchorage.
One of the best parts about this day trip is the drive to Girdwood. You’ll drive along Highway 1 (Seward Highway) which runs along Turnagain Arm, a body of water that branches off of the Gulf of Alaska. On a clear day, this is the most beautiful drive I’ve ever done. It’s even magical in the rain.
You’ll have the chance to pull over at several spots and I highly recommend doing that to see and photograph the mountains on either side of the water.
Once you get to Girdwood, you have a few options of what to do there. Girdwood, itself, has a small downtown area with cute cafes, restaurants, and shops. It wouldn’t take too long to walk around this part. After that, I’d recommend heading to Alyeska Resort. This is a luxury ski resort, so in the winter, skiing and snowboarding are the top things to do here. In the summer, you can still take the cable car up the mountain, or walk around the grounds.
If you really want to amp up the adventure, I’d suggest taking a snowmobiling tour with Glacier City Tours. The meeting spot is in Girdwood and you’ll ride snowmobiles through some of the most beautiful scenery there is – glaciers or snow-covered pine trees.
An Afternoon at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
When you think of visiting Alaska, you likely think of all the wildlife you might see. From moose to bears to elk, and everything in between. Since there is so much undeveloped land in Alaska, it’s the perfect place for animals like this to thrive! That said, you’re never guaranteed to see wildlife when you go.
If you want to make sure you see some of these beautiful creatures while you’re visiting, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) is one of the best day trips from Anchorage you can take.
AWCC takes in injured and abandoned animals and gives them a home for life. Their mission is to let these animals live as wildly as possible with over 200 acres of land for them. Of course, the animals tend to get used to humans over time, so most of them felt comfortable enough to come right up to the fences when there were people around. They were as curious as we were!
This is an excellent opportunity to see Alaska-native animals up close while also supporting a great non-profit organization.
Hiking to Byron Glacier
The Byron Glacier Trail is a short hike that lets you walk up to and even on top of a glacier! The views at the end are incredible, especially considering the short amount of time it takes to walk to them.
This hike is 2.3 miles and only 400ft of elevation gain. However, once you make it to the “end” you can then explore the glacier even more. We did this hike in July, so I can confirm there will be snow and ice at the end all year round. You don’t necessarily need spikes or crampons, but it will be a bit slippery once you get to the glacier. Hiking poles worked perfectly to steady myself.
Just like most of these day trips from Anchorage, you’ll drive along Seward Highway to get here, so it’ll be an entire day of beautiful views if you decide to embark on this hike!
Taking the Tunnel to Whittier, AK
Whittier is a small Alaskan port town on Prince William Sound. What’s interesting about it is that if you drive, you have to take the longest highway tunnel in North America to get there. The tunnel is only one way, so you’ll drive up to the entrance, purchase a ticket, and wait for the next wave of cars to be let through. Each way gets let through once each hour.
The other interesting thing about Whittier is that there are only about 200-300 full-time residents and 90% of them live in the same building! It’s a 14-story building (a skyscraper for Alaska!) that used to be an Army barracks.
In the summer, Whittier can be a great spot for a day cruise, jet ski rentals, or hiking and exploring nature. It’s surrounded by beautiful scenery with mountains on every side. When you go, also make sure to stop by Swiftwater Cafe, a local favorite for fish and chips, shrimp, and chowder.
Day Trip to Talkeetna, Alaska
All of the day trips from Anchorage listed above are south of Anchorage. If you’d like to venture north, consider taking a day trip to Talkeetna, Alaska. Talkeetna is a very small town with a stretch of restaurants, shops, bars, and it is the starting point for climbers embarking on a climb up Denali.
If you’re lucky and visiting Talkeetna on a clear day, it’s an excellent viewpoint for Denali. Mahay’s Jet Boat Adventures will lead you on a guided tour down one of Alaska’s vast rivers and stop for you to take in the view. When we did this, we weren’t so lucky and had absolutely no view of Denali, but they assured us that it was there behind the clouds!
There are also quite a few hikes nearby. Talkeetna Lakes Trail is an easy, mostly covered hike that takes you along the lakes. If you’d like more of an adventure, Curry Ridge Trail is a bit further north and on a clear day, shows of views of Denali at the top! This trail is in Denali State Park which our guide explained is a much better place to see Denali than Denali National Park since you’re a bit further away.
If you’d like to spend the night in Talkeetna, there are a few hotels on the main street in town. We camped at Talkeetna Boat Launch and Camp Ground.
Best Time to Visit Alaska
I’ve explored Alaska in both the winter and summer and both are fantastic. You truly can’t go wrong. That said, in my opinion, the best time to visit Alaska is in winter. It takes a bit more planning as you need more gear to stay warm and there will be a LOT of snow, but this time of year is truly magical!
You’ll see snow-covered pine trees wherever you go and the winter activities in Alaska are hard to beat. Dog sledding, snowmobiling, skiing, snowboarding, and viewing the Northern Lights are all at your disposal during an Alaskan Winter.
It’s also very fun to experience the dark days in winter. Alaska is so far north that it was really only light out from 11am to 3pm when we visited in December. Even then, the sun was never directly overhead, so the light was much more faint than usual.
–> Need more reasons to visit Alaska in winter? Here’s what I love about it! <–
Like I said, Alaska is also magnificent in Summer, so if snow and cold weather aren’t your thing, Alaska should still be on your bucket list!
Other Places in Alaska Worth Visiting
All of these day trips from Anchorage will make your trip to Alaska incredible, but there are certain cities that are worth visiting on their own. At the top of my list are Seward and Fairbanks.
Fairbanks is far north in terms of inhabited Alaskan cities. It’s one of the best spots to view the Northern Lights in the winter, so that’s when I’d recommend visiting. I’d recommend staying at A Taste of Alaska Lodge, a very inviting bed and breakfast outside of town, away from all the light pollution that takes away from Northern Lights viewing.
Conversely, I’d recommend visiting Seward, Alaska in summer. One of my favorite Alaskan experiences was here: the wildlife cruise with Major Marine Tours. We saw glaciers, whales, sea lions, puffins, sea otters, and more on this cruise and it was incredible. We also hiked the Harding Icefield Trail which was the most challenging, but rewarding hike I’ve ever done.
You honestly can’t go wrong when visiting Alaska. Summer, winter, spring, and fall all have their moments here and you’ll find incredible scenery and fun activities no matter when you come. I hope these day trips from Anchorage helped inspire your next Alaskan adventure!