Anchorage is special among cities of its size anywhere in the world for the number of places right in and near town to hike, bike, ski, and otherwise get into the wild. In town, the city's bike trails connect through greenbelts that span the noisy, asphalt urban core with soothing creek-side woods. Kincaid Park and Far North Bicentennial Park are both on the trail system within the city, and encompass thousands of acres and scores of miles of trails for Nordic skiing, hiking, and mountain-biking. The Chugach Mountains, which form the backdrop to the town, offer tundra hiking, backpacking, mountain-biking, and climbs that range from easy to technical. Many cruises, tours, fishing charters, and sea-kayaking trips leave from nearby Whittier, easily managed as a day trip.
The Alaska Public Lands Information Center (tel. 907/644-3661; www.alaskacenters.gov) offers guidance for all these recreation areas and more throughout Alaska. For information on the bike trails, parks, swimming, and other city recreation, contact Anchorage Parks & Recreation (tel. 907/343-4355; www.muni.org/parks). Cross-country skiers can get information from the Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage (tel. 907/276-7609; www.anchoragenordicski.com).
Get information specific to Chugach State Park from the public lands center or directly from the park's website (www.alaskastateparks.org; click on "Individual Parks"). Chugach National Forest can be reached at tel. 907/743-9500 or www.fs.fed.us/r10/chugach. The best trail guide to the entire region is John Wolfe, Jr., and Helen Nienhueser's 55 Ways to the Wilderness, 5th edition (The Mountaineers), available in any bookstore in the area. Excellent trail maps of Chugach State Park, the national forest, and even paths in the city are widely available in sporting goods stores and at information centers.
You can rent most anything you need for outdoor activities. For bike rentals, Get advice, buy gear, and rent cross-country skis, snowshoes, bear-proof containers, and mountaineering equipment at Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking, 2633 Spenard Rd. (tel. 907/272-1811; www.alaskamountaineering.com). It's a small shop where the staff takes the time to help you plan a trip. A block away, at 1200 W. Northern Lights Blvd., REI has a larger store (tel. 907/272-4565; www.rei.com) that rents a wide range of gear, including lightweight canoes and touring kayaks with car-top carriers, camping gear, packs, tents, sleeping bags, and cross-country skis (but not bikes or ice climbing gear). It is the best-stocked place in town to buy outdoor athletic clothing as well. A used equipment shop in the same area, Play It Again Sports, 2636 Spenard Rd. (tel. 907/278-7529), rents skis inexpensively and has ice skates for $20 a day. Champions Choice is a more specialized place for skates; it's a hockey shop in the University Center Mall at Old Seward Highway and 36th Avenue (tel. 907/563-3503). Skates rent for $10 a day.
Within 30 minutes of Anchorage, guides take small groups on a little-known trail through the forest of big spruce trees near Bird Creek, south of the city, leading to a hike down to a waterfall where spawning salmon and occasionally bears can be seen. The 3-hour tours with Alaska ATV Adventures (tel. 907/694-4294; www.alaskaatvadventures.com) are $165 for drivers, or $120 for a passenger on the back of a machine.
The Anchorage bowl contains varied bird habitat that is easily accessed and close at hand: lakes, streams, marshes, seashore, woodlands, and mountains. Visiting birders can see species they don't encounter at home (Pacific loons, Hudsonian godwits, boreal chickadees) and familiar birds in breeding plumage unique to these northern latitudes (a red-necked grebe that actually does have a red neck, for example). Local birders have recorded more than 225 species in the city. You will need the help of a rental car or at least a bike. Potter Marsh is a superb fresh-water birding area. Salt marshes and mud flats lie along much of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. Right downtown, Ship Creek provides a river habitat. Glen Alps, described above, is the place to go for alpine birding. You can join field trips, network with local birders, and purchase a $10 birding map of the city through the Anchorage Audubon Society (www.anchorageaudubon.org).
A terrific booklet, Anchorage Wildlife Viewing Hot Spots, published by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, is sold at the Alaska Public Lands Information Center. It has more places to go than we can include here, detailed directions, and helpful information. Learn more about wildlife viewing around Alaska at www.wildlifeviewing.alaska.gov.
There are hatchery salmon in several of Anchorage's streams, and stocked trout, salmon, or char in 28 lakes, so you need not leave town to catch a fish. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, 333 Raspberry Rd., Anchorage, AK 99518-1599 (tel. 907/267-2218; www.sf.adfg.state.ak.us), publishes informative booklets on the Web and on paper, and an online fishing report updated weekly in season. There's also a recorded information line (tel. 907/267-2503) with what's hot and lots of other advice.
Roadside Fishing -- Although the setting (under a highway bridge in an industrial area) might not be the wilderness experience you've dreamed about, the 25- to 40-pound king salmon you pull from Ship Creek may make up for it. From downtown, just walk down the hill to the railroad yard. You'll probably need your own gear, as rental shacks are not currently operating. Fishing for kings is best in June and for silvers in late July, August, and September. Fish on the rising tide, when the fish come into the creek. Fishing near the end of the rising tide will mean crossing less mud, but one successful angler we know insists it's the start of the tide that's best. Either way, you'll need rubber boots, preferably neoprene chest waders, for the muddy banks, but don't go too far out, as the mud flats are dangerous and several times every summer the fire department has to rescue stuck fishermen.
Campbell Creek, a more natural urban stream, is stocked with silver salmon that make good fishing in August and September, and rainbow trout and Dolly Varden char are in the creek year-round. The creek runs along a greenbelt across the city through residential and industrial neighborhoods; the adjacent bike trail is a good access route. You can join the trail on Dimond Boulevard east of Jewel Lake Road, or where C Street crosses the creek just north of Dimond, among other places; or ask for directions and tips at the Public Lands Information Center.
Bird Creek, 25 miles south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway, is known for hot silver salmon fishing in the late summer and fall. Pinks run from late June to early August during even-numbered years. Other creeks along the Arm have similar but smaller runs.
Fly-In Fishing -- Serious anglers will use Anchorage as a base from which to fly to a remote lake or river with more fish and fewer people. Such a flight can be an unforgettable experience for those who are less than enthusiastic about fishing, too. The plane lifts off from Anchorage's Lake Hood floatplane base and within 30 minutes smoothly lands on a lake or river. You climb out and watch as the plane lifts off and disappears, leaving behind the kind of silence unique to true wilderness. It's on these trips that avid anglers are made -- or spoiled. We've heard people complain of how sore their arms got from pulling in too many salmon.
Several companies offer fly-in trips; the best-established is Rust's Flying Service (tel. 800/544-2299 or 907/243-1595; www.flyrusts.com). It's a family-owned company with a strong safety ethic. They can take you out guided or on your own, for the day or for a longer stay in a cabin or lodge. If you fly to a lake, they'll provide a boat. They can't make fish appear if none are running, but they will try to take you to the hot spots. You can bring your own gear, or they can provide it. Prices for an unguided day trip start at around $295 per person, with a two-person minimum; guided, $495. Pickup from most hotels is included, but not fishing licenses.
Flightseeing/Bear Viewing -- Small planes are the blood cells of Alaska's circulatory system, and Anchorage its heart. There are several busy airports in Anchorage, and Lake Hood is the world's busiest floatplane base. If you'll be traveling to Talkeetna, Denali National Park, Juneau, Glacier Bay National Park, or Ketchikan, you may want to save your flightseeing splurge for those extraordinary places, which are closer to famous attractions. Likewise, for bear-viewing flights, Katmai National Park, Kodiak, Juneau, and Wrangell may be closer to the action. On the other hand, plenty of spectacular territory is near Anchorage, and if time is short, you can see bears or Denali in an afternoon. We recommend Rust's Flying Service, a reliable operator that has designed a menu of choices around visitors' most common interests. They can take you on a floatplane ride for as little as $100. A flight to see Mount McKinley is $375 and takes 3 hours. An all-day bear-viewing tour from Anchorage is $595 to $785 per person. The exact destination -- Lake Clark or Katmai national parks, or somewhere else -- depends on where bears are active when you are traveling.
Rafting -- There are several white-water rivers within a 90-minute drive of Anchorage. Nova Raft and Adventure Tours (tel. 800/746-5753 or 907/745-5753; http://novalaska.com) has more than 30 years of experience offering trips all over the state, and five different half-day floats near Anchorage. Various rafting trips are available, ranging from the relatively easygoing Matanuska and Kings rivers, north of town, to the class IV and V white water of Sixmile Creek, which begins with a required instructional swim and includes fun optional swims, a 90-minute drive south of the city. White-water rafting always entails risk, but Nova's schedule allows you to calibrate how wild you want to get. Call to reserve and let them guide you as to what float fits you best. The company also offers add-ons for self-paddling, helicopter flightseeing, or glacier hiking. The half-day trips range in price from $60 to $139. Children 5 to 11 can go on the calmer Glacier Run float for $40. Other trips are suitable only for older children and adults. You'll need your own transportation to the river and may need to bring your own lunch. Chugach Outdoor Center (tel. 866/277-RAFT  or 907/277-RAFT ; www.chugachoutdoorcenter.com) also offers several rafting options south of Anchorage. The company has two daily choices on Sixmile Creek, and trips in nearby Turnagain Pass that allow your party to split up, with some doing the crazy Sixmile white water and others having a leisurely float in the pass. They also raft Seward's Resurrection River.
Sea Kayaking -- Except at Eklutna Lake , kayaking day trips from Anchorage go through Whittier, on Prince William Sound.
Swimming -- Few visitors from warmer climes will be interested in chilly lake swimming in Anchorage (the best spot is Goose Lake, off Northern Lights Blvd. east of Lake Otis Pkwy.). If you have children and need to burn off some energy, however, you won't find a better spot than an indoor water park called H2Oasis (tel. 888/H2OASIS [426-2747] or 907/522-4420; www.h2oasiswaterpark.com), near the intersection of O'Malley Road and the New Seward Highway. A big wave pool and a 500-foot "watercoaster" are the top attractions. Adults should bring earplugs, as the noise level is high, and a full wallet, as admission is $24 for ages 13 and older, $19 ages 3 to 12, free ages 2 and under.
Skiing -- Kincaid Park is one of the best cross-country skiing areas in the country, with the first World Cup-certified trails in the U.S. National Championships and Olympic trials were held here in 2010. About 65km of trails are geared to every ability level, but mostly intermediate and expert. Besides the superb trails, it's a beautiful place to ski, through rolling hills of open birch and spruce, with views of the mountains and ocean. Most trails are expertly groomed for skating and classical techniques, with two loops reserved for classical only. Sixteen kilometers are lighted, an important feature on short winter days. According to some familiar with the park, one old gravel pit at the end of the airport runway dips lower than the high tide level, which would make it the only place in the world where you can ski below sea level. The Kincaid Park Outdoor Center (tel. 907/343-6397) is open daily from noon to 9pm, shorter hours on holidays. The gate closes at 10pm, so park at one of the lots outside it if you will be skiing later. Skiing usually lasts well into March and sometimes into April. Big races come in late February and early March. Far North Bicentennial Park also has some excellent trails -- 32km total, 7km lighted -- and a slightly longer season because of a hillside location. Start at Hilltop Ski Area. Many other parks and the bike trails have lengthy skiing routes, too, some lighted, including Russian Jack Park, in the middle of the city. For current trail conditions, check www.anchoragenordicski.com and www.crosscountryalaska.org/trails.
Anchorage has several downhill ski areas. The best, Mount Alyeska, in Girdwood. Hilltop Ski Area, in Bicentennial Park in town, is a great place to learn to ski, with one long beginner slope, at 7015 Abbott Rd. (tel. 907/346-2167; www.hilltopskiarea.org). One-day lift tickets are $24 to $30, $16 for those ages 7 and younger, and ski package rentals about the same price.
Anchorage is also a great starting point for backcountry skiing. Nonexperts should go with a guide (you can find one through Mount Alyeska Resort). The key safety consideration is, of course, avalanche awareness and preparation. An avalanche hot line is available for the Chugach National Forest near Anchorage (tel. 907/754-2369); for much more information, including updated avalanche forecasts, maps, and educational material, check www.cnfaic.org.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.