Budget Travel

How you can enjoy Anchorage for free, come sunshine or snow

Temperatures may drop as you head north of the 60th parallel, but prices tend to go in the alternative direction. The good news? A trip to Anchorage doesn't have to throw your financial allowance completely off-balance.

If you come in summer time and are prepared to take advantage of the warmer weather and long, light evenings to go to alfresco sights, Alaska's largest city can offer an economical introduction to among the pricier corners of the United States.

To help your financial allowance go further, here are a few of Anchorage's best free (or almost free) sights.

Watch avid anglers at Ship Creek

If you don't think fishing is really a spectator sport, then you clearly haven't been to Ship Creek, where every summer aggressive anglers compete for king, coho and pink salmon because they head upriver to spawn. As fishing spectacles go, there's nothing like it – thanks for visiting the only urban king salmon fishery in the world.

Get the first taste of the action in the wide stretch of river between downtown's C-Street Bridge and the Knik Arm Power Plant dam and spillway, in which the wooden walkway crosses the water. Fishers gather expectantly along the banks from late May to early September. From here, the two.6-mile Ship Creek trailheads upriver, winding east past industrial warehouses and, afterwards, more salubrious woodland. There are many access points to river overlooks and gravel bars where salmon crowd in pools from mid to late summer.

Close towards the trail's eastern terminus, the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery comes with an observation deck along with a collection of huge aquariums that produce up to six million salmon, trout and char annually for sport fishing.

Map out your trip at the Alaska Public Lands Info Center

In the grand tradition of the US National Park Service, Anchorage's Public Lands Center is informative, multifarious and free. Housed within the historic Federal Building downtown, this is ground zero for aspiring hikers, bikers, kayakers, glacier gazers and merely about anyone looking to indulge in some research on America's "Last Frontier" before heading upstate.

It also acts as a mini-museum with wildlife displays, free movies, fun dioramas, and ranger-led walks of Anchorage offered twice daily in summer. Bring ID and expect airport-style security – this is a government building.

Dip into cop culture in the Alaska Police force Museum

Charging a modest $5 entry, this museum captures some of the finer moments of law enforcement in the US's most rugged and – according to official crime statistics – unruliest state. Highlights include cops' state-issued sealskin boots, a beautifully restored 1952 Hudson Hornet police car and mug shots of film-star, Steve McQueen, who was arrested in Anchorage in 1972 for alcohol-assisted "reckless driving" in a rented Oldsmobile Toronado.

Brave the waters of Goose Lake

Malibu it isn't, but in the slightly less balmy climate available at 61oN, Goose Lake is where sun-deprived Alaskans can, a minimum of, pretend. Located just east of midtown in the U-Med district, the park surrounding the lake features a municipal beach, seasonal lifeguards along with a safe, roped-off swimming area. On warm summer days, it attracts bathers, families and enthusiastic tots equipped with buckets and spades.

If you're visiting from California, or elsewhere in which the beaches are sandier and sunnier, you're probably best focusing on the forested trails that surround the lake, where you can admire wide-angle views of the Chugach Mountains and take notice of the resident bird-life, including loons and, as you may expect, geese.

Go people- and wildlife-watching on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

Anchorage's favorite bit of free-access land may be the 11-mile Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, quite a much obligatory hike or bike for anyone who's been in the city in excess of Twenty four hours. The paved multi-use path begins at the west end of 2nd Ave downtown and passes Elderberry Park before winding through Earthquake Park, around Point Woronzof and lastly to suggest Campbell in Kincaid Park.

Bisecting forests and mud-flats, the road rarely strays far from the shoreline. Knik Arm and Cook Inlet are the two main waterways en route. On the shore opposite, the Alaska Range glowers intimidatingly while the snowy hump of Denali reveals itself on clear days, appearing deceptively tiny within the distance.

Interpretive signs detail the local flora and fauna and there are handy distance posts marking every half-mile. For an unofficial anthropological study of Anchorage's citizenry, there is no better spot to be. You're also highly prone to spot moose (often on the path itself) and sometimes bears in Kincaid Park. Bring bear spray and take the normal precautions.

View sunsets and low flying planes in Kincaid Park

Follow the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail for very long enough and you will end up in this beloved 1400-acre park, sharing space with bikers in the summer and Nordic skiers during the cold months. Occupying the nose of the Anchorage peninsula in the point where it juts into Cook Inlet, Kincaid is threaded with trails and peppered with low hills, sand dunes and a beach that's noted for its fiery sunsets.

Mostly forested having a mix of birch, spruce and cottonwood trees, the park occupies the site of the former Cold War missile base which was decommissioned within the late 1970s. Nowadays, the only jets you'll see are low-flying Boeings and Airbuses descending into nearby Ted Stevens International Airport.

Absorb some unexpected art at the Alaska Native Medical Center

Adorning the walls of this 167-bed nonprofit hospital close to the University is a well-curated collection of Alaska Native art and artifacts that's well worth an independent visit, even when you're in tip-top shape. The museum is free of charge while offering some interesting cultural insights.

Take the elevator to the top floor and descend through the main staircase past different displays on each floor which include dolls, basketry and tools from all over Alaska. The center also offers a craft shop whose proceeds are invested back into the local arts community.

Go wild in Far North Bicentennial Park

Bringing the wilderness into the city, Far North Bicentennial Park is definitely an elongated finger of land protruding in the bigger mass of Chugach State Park. Comprising 4000 acres of forest and muskeg, it is the municipal area's largest park, equipped with myriad marked trails and residential to a protected wildlife preserve – the so-called Campbell Tract.

It's easy to see moose and bears early in the year and brilliant fall colors in mid-September. There's also an active grizzly population, and, rumor has it, a lonesome 600lb cow called Betsy who escaped from the rodeo in 2022.

Take a downtown art walk around Anchorage

Anchorage has around twelve eye-catching murals scattered around downtown, plus a handful of handsome statues including a bronze depiction of Captain Cook gazing out within the namesake Cook Inlet. The murals need a little bit of travelling to see but it's good practicing trips towards the backcountry.

Pieces worth searching for are a psychedelic study of Gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson, a 400ft-long whaling wall, along with a climate change-themed mural imitating a row of stained glass windows on the side of the Seed Lab building opposite the Anchorage Museum.

See artists at the office at 4th Avenue Market Place

This retail center includes a small collection of Native Alaskan and crafty gift shops, as well as in several, you can view artists at work. Outside, walls are painted having a historic timeline of Anchorage, while inside are displays dedicated to the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, which brought destruction and tsunami waves to south-central Alaska.

Admire architecture and greenery in the U-Med District

The University of Alaska Anchorage, aka UAA, is the largest college campus in Alaska and inhabits a green belt in the U-Med District, four miles southeast of downtown. Spread round the campus is a planetarium showing films on space, a sports arena, live music venues along with a burger joint having a deck that faces the lake.

Next door is Alaska Pacific University, which is anchored through the perfectly symmetrical Atwood Campus Center, a beautiful structure embellished with frontal fountains and rectangular columns. Although only built-in 1966, the Atwood shows up around the National Register of Historic Places. Six hundred Alaska Native representatives met within 1971 to formalize the landmark Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

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