Traveling with family: Anchorage, AK

A moose hangs out at the alaska wildlife conservation center

A moose hangs out at the alaska wildlife conservation center

Last year, my sister-in-law and her two boys moved to Anchorage, Alaska, much to the chagrin of the family and especially my son, who ADORES his older cousins. As soon as we heard about the move, we knew we’d be taking a trip to visit them in their new home sooner rather than later. 

We booked a trip for June.

When the temperature in Phoenix reaches triple digits, the idea of a brisk wonderland sounds heavenly. There are a few things to keep in mind

  • In actuality, June in Alaska is COLD! Like, REALLY eff-ing cold! I wore my winter woolens every day...even on the warm(ish) ones.
  • It's light all the time. Sun sets after 11 p.m....or WAY past bedtime and rises before 5 a.m. Black out shades are a necessity.
  • Car rental is a must in Alaska. Visiting all that rugged wilderness logs miles. 
  • Everything you do in Alaska has the threat of death. Want to take a stroll on the beach? The beach is actually mud that has weird air pockets that act like quicksand. If you get stuck and the tide comes in…you die. You’re hiking and you see a bear. You might die. You’re hiking or biking and you see a moose, it could charge and you might die. Hiking on one of the many glaciers and you can fall into a crevasse…and, yes, die. This, as you might imagine, can be nerve wracking if you’ve got young ones in tow. But, never fear, with some attention, education and a few precautions you can navigate a safe trip to Anchorage.

Here are a few itinerary ideas for spending your days in Anchorage…

Day 1: Head to Girdwood 

About a 45-minute drive from Anchorage is the cute little ski town of Girdwood.

Enjoy an easy lunch at The Bakeshop, a cute mom & pop shop serving delicious sandwiches, soups, salads and cinnamon rolls the size of your head.

Work off aforementioned lunch at Virgin Creek Trail. Drive to the end of Timberline Road and look for a wooden sign marking the entrance of the trail. The hike to the waterfall is short (10-15 minutes) and not too arduous except for the knotty tree roots you’ll have to navigate. Note: Make some noise, there might be bears.

If the hike was not enough to wear out the kids, stop by Girdwood Playground for some structure climbing.

View some of Alaska’s most impressive animals, safely fenced in, at the gigantic Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Musk ox, bison, moose, bear, deer, porcupine and more are all milling about in their own giant enclosures behind electric wire. View from your car or one of the many observation decks. Check the schedule for the feeding times for the different animals. Tickets are $10-15 per person. Kids 6 and under are free.

Other stuff at or near Girdwood:

  • Take in the amazing views on the tram at Alieska 
  • Pan for Gold at Crow Creek Mine. For $10-20 a person get a pan, shovel, bucket and collection vial and head to the creek for a chance to strike it rich. Your admission will get you a bag of dirt with a few gold flakes for a quick test run before you head down to the actual creek. Those four flakes were all we found — but it was totally worth it. 
PANNING FOR GOLD at crow creek mine

PANNING FOR GOLD at crow creek mine

Day 2: Seward

The drive to Seward is a lovely 2-3 hour drive past placid lakes and snowy mountain tops. By the time you're near Seward, it’s like, “Just stop it Alaska, we know you’re beautiful!”

For a relatively easy hike up to a cool glacier, visit Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. Go to the visitors center and pick up a Junior Ranger Adventure Guide. There are also backpacks on loan for kids — one has science-themed activities (a thermometer, binoculars, magnifying glass, bird, plant and animal guides), the other is full of art supplies.

Exit glacier near seward

Exit glacier near seward

The hike to the glacier is anywhere from just under to just over a mile, depending on the route. 

Finish the guide and get a cool wooden pin and sworn in as an official junior ranger. Finish the exercises in the backpack and get a cool patch. 

For a closer look at the animals of Resurrection Bay, visit Alaska Sealife Center. The cool facility rehabilitates sick/injured animals and releases them back into the wild when they can. Watch some harbor seals dart about, touch anemone and star fish, get up-close-and-personal with puffins. 

Day 3: Chestnut Creek Trail and Westchester Lagoon Park

There are loads of biking trails all around Anchorage, many which pass by cool parks. One of our favorites was Margaret Eaton Sullivan Park (aka Westchester Lagoon). Located right across from the lake, the park has a bunch of cool structures old and new, plus there’s a snack shack with hot dogs, ice cream and snacks. Don't have a bike? Rent one here.

In rainy, snowy or otherwise unpleasant weather:

If I visited Alaska again during the summer I'd bring...