It’s hard to imagine the beauty of Alaska until you see it first hand. The wild, imposing mountains and the almost tropical blue of the glacial lakes create a landscape that beckons you to explore.
Nestled between the ocean and tall
I’m fortunate to have family in Alaska and most of these day trips are recommended by them and experienced by us!
Also be sure to check out the best things to do in Anchorage.
These are my top 7 day trips from Anchorage:
- Hatcher Pass and Independence Mine
- Prince William Sound
- Turnagain Arm and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
- Kenai Fjords National Park
- Chugach National Forest
- Portage Valley
- Alaska Railroad
1. Hatcher Pass and Independence Mine
In the Talkeetna Mountains, 60 miles northeast of Anchorage, you’ll find beautiful alpine tundra dotted with wildflowers and lakes in the midsts of rugged mountains. Hike to crystal blue alpine lakes and visit Independence Mine State Historical Park to learn about Alaska’s rich history of gold prospecting at an abandoned mine.
Independence Mine is an abandoned gold mine that sits at the top of Hatcher Pass. Some of the structures have been preserved and others have been left to crumble. You’ll begin your tour at the Mine Manager’s House, which houses the Visitor Center and museum.
From there you can take a self-guided tour around the mine camp or sign up for a guided tour to go inside some of the historic buildings. The old buildings are interesting but the magic is in the crumbling, rusted structures that nature is determined to take back into the earth.
After exploring the mine, soak up the green mountains and breathtaking views with a hike through Hatcher Pass. A great hike for kids is Gold Cord Lake Trail. It’s a 1.5 mile out and back trail that climbs a hillside to a beautiful little alpine lake. The trail is moderately steep in places but there is a small boulder field to scramble across, which makes it fun for everyone.
It was a workout for my 6 year old but he loved it and happily marched on.
Along the way, you’ll pass an old one room cabin that overlooks the mountains and valley below. It may be small but they had one hell of a view. Being an alpine tundra, there are no trees to block the stunning scenery. Just mountains and sky.
In august, wild blueberries sprinkle the hillsides, providing a sweet treat as you hike. As a kid I loved picking wild blueberries in Alaska, hunting for them across the spongy ground.
Another hike with beautiful views is April Bowl Trail. It’s a steep climb to a small lake and a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. We stopped just past the first lake because the hike becomes steadily steeper and the kids were tired from the day. The views from the first half are spectacular. I can only imagine the beauty from the top of the mountain ridge.
Mild days bring paragliders to the mountains. Colorful wings gracefully float across the sky, circling the valley below. This is a popular activity in Alaska. We saw paragliders in many places during our trip.
Hatcher Pass is worth the trip. It can be a day trip from Anchorage or a detour on your way north to Denali National Park. It was a highlight for my family.
2. Prince William Sound
Prince William Sound is a beautiful ocean inlet where glaciers flow into the sea and and broken ice floats on the water. You’re almost guaranteed to see wildlife. Otters, seals and sea lions call the inlet home, and whales are not uncommon.
I saw hundreds of giant orange, red, and purple jellyfish near the surface of the water. It was surreal.
For an adventure, I recommend kayaking through Prince William Sound. Being so close to nature on the calm waters is an unforgettable experience. Use this list of kayak rental companies to set up your adventure.
The drive to Whittier is an adventure itself. First, you get to drive along the Turnagain Arm (oh, how I love you) before coming to the Whittier tunnel. This one-lane tunnel bores 2.5 miles through the mountain. And they put no effort into making it pretty. It’s rough, rocky walls let you see exactly what the inside of a mountain looks like.
As if it’s not ominous enough, there are 8 emergency shelters along the road. I love this tunnel.
Tunnel logistics: Since it’s one lane, traffic alternates from one side to the other, so you have to wait until your side of the tunnel is opened. It’s a 30-minute wait if you just miss it. Check the schedule before you go.
Portage Pass Trail
Before the tunnel, Portage Pass was the only route between Whittier and the Turnagain Arm. Now it’s the most beautiful way to get close to Portage Glacier on foot.
The first mile is a brutal uphill climb to the top of the pass but as you ascend, you get gorgeous views of the mountains and inlet. After cresting Portage Pass, the trail drops through glacial scrub before popping out on the wide gravel shores of Portage Lake, directly across from the snout of Portage Glacier.
The incredible views are often cloaked in mist, giving mystique to the landscape.
One important thing to keep in mind when planning a day trip to Whittier: be sure to bring rain gear and warm clothing. No matter how clear and sunny the day appears in Anchorage, the weather may be cloudy and rainy on the other side of the Whittier tunnel. Whittier is one of the wettest places in Alaska.
3. Turnagain Arm and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
This easy day trip from Anchorage is a must. The Seward Highway hugs the dramatic shorelines of the Turnagain Arm and is argued to be one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in America. I completely agree.
Steep, rugged mountains rise sharply out of the Cook Inlet. There are many turnouts along the road and I recommend stopping often to soak up the view. If you time it right, you may have an opportunity to watch the bore tide rush into the inlet.
Bore tides come in after extreme minus low tides created by the full or new moon. The water climbs 6 – 10 feet tall and can reach speeds of 10 to 15 miles per hour. Harbor seals often ride the tide into Turnagain Arm, and beluga whales may come in a half hour later to feed off fish that come in on the tide.
Get more info on the bore tide schedule and best viewing locations. Next time I visit Alaska I’m going to plan it around a bore tide.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a sanctuary for local Alaskan animals that can no longer live in the wild. Set on the shores of Turnagain Arm, surrounded by mountains and hanging glaciers, the center is the perfect setting to learn about Alaskan wildlife.
You get close to the animals, which gives an appreciation for how large and imposing Alaskan animals are. I knew I didn’t want to run into moose or bear in the wild but after seeing just how big and powerful they are, I was ready to take extra precautions.
You can spend a
4. Kenai Fjords National Park
Deep fjords cut through the forested mountains, creating spectacular scenery and a haven for wildlife. The stunning fjords are best seen by boat, with the possibility of seeing animals on the shore and in the water, including whales, porpoises, puffins, and mountain goats.
There are a number of tour boat companies that operate out of Seward, the closest town to Anchorage. The two major boat tour companies are Major Marine and Kenai Fjord Tours but there are many types of boat tours to choose from, depending on how you want to see the fjords.
Once you get off the water, there are spectacular adventures on dry land. The Harding Icefield is a playground for adventurers who want to trek across the 714 square mile icefield that feeds nearly 3 dozen glaciers.
Or keep it simple and visit Exit Glacier. This is a short, fun hike to a beautiful view-point of the glacier flowing out of the mountain pass. It’s a great hike for families with young kids.
Read about all the best things to do in Seward Alaska, with recommendations from local Alaskans!
There are many hikes into the forest and along the shoreline in Kenai Fjords National Park. Each has their own magical moments.
While Seward can be a day trip from Anchorage, I recommend spending at least one night here to experience everything this area has to offer. We spent two nights in Seward, which gave us time to explore this beautiful region.
5. Chugach National Forest
The second largest National Forest in the United States with impressive forests, rivers, lakes, mountains, and glaciers. Chugach is one of the few places left in the world where glaciers spill out of the mountains and into the seas.
When combined with the Bagley Icefield, Bering Glacier is larger than Switzerland. Columbia Glacier is one of the largest tidewater glaciers in the world while Portage Glacier and its Begich-Boggs Visitor Center is one of the most popular stop for tourists in Alaska.
More than 200 miles of trails are open to hikers and mountain bikers. Winner Creek Trail is a popular hike outside of the small town of Girdwood. It’s a memorable hike through a lush rainforest, across boardwalks and to a hand tram that crosses Glacier Creek.
Here is a list of the most popular trails in the Chugach National Forest.
The Alyeska Resort Aerial Tram is an incredible way to reach panoramic views of the Turnagain Arm, hanging glaciers, and mountain peaks deep in the Chugach National Forest.
At the top, an observation deck offers telescopes and a great place for a relaxed lunch, either packed yourself (recommended) or from the Bore Tide Deli and Bar in the upper tram terminal.
More than just a view, the top offers access to the Roundhouse Museum, a free community museum. The summer months also provide access to berry picking and a trek across the Alyeska Glacier.
Glen Alps is another beautiful place to hike in Chugach National Forest and its just outside of Anchorage. Read about it in my post on the best things to do in Anchorage Alaska.
6. Portage Valley
This gorgeous valley is surrounded by mountains covered in ice fields and glaciers. There is good hiking and biking opportunities, paddling on the relatively gentle Portage River and a couple of easily accessible lakes.
Start your adventure at the Begich Bogg Visitor Center to learn about the surrounding glaciers and wildlife. You can schedule a one-hour boat in Portage lake to get up close and personal with Portage Glacier.
Near the visitor center is the Trail of Blue Ice. This easy, beautiful trail is a mix of gravel and boardwalks that wind through woods, past ponds, and over small streams on the east side of the valley. Biking this trail
Another nearby trail is the Byron Glacier Trail, which is an easy stroll along the glacial-fed creek to Byron Glacier. A fun, short hike that’s great for little kids.
Check the weather before you set out to the Portage Valley. Like Prince William Sound, the valley can sometimes be quite stormy.
7. Alaska Railroad
A delightful journey is to ride the train from Anchorage. This enchanting experience offers the opportunity to take in the astounding beauty of Alaska in comfort. The train travels from Fairbanks to Seward and provides beautiful views that you won’t see from the road.
The best views come from the glass-domed ceiling of the GoldStar railcar. You get panoramic views of the countryside and access to an outdoor viewing platform. A meal in the full-service dining car is included with the ticket.
For a less expensive but beautiful trip, book an adventure class ticket. The large windows ensure you won’t miss the surrounding beauty.
There is so much beauty in Alaska and you don’t have to travel far to experience it. These day trips from Anchorage provide the spectacular scenery you imagine of Alaska. So spend a few days in Alaska’s largest city, explore some of the best things to do in Anchorage and the surrounding beauty.
Be sure to read about the great things to do in Seward Alaska. Seward is a wonderful town surrounded by fjords, mountains, and glaciers. Consider spending a couple days in Seward while on your Alaskan adventures.