ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Most tourists making a summer trip to Alaska will pass through Anchorage on their way to cruises, Denali National Park and other scenic adventures. While in Alaska’s biggest city, also home to the state’s largest airport, there are plenty of free things to do. Here are a few.
TONY KNOWLES COASTAL TRAIL
This is the gem of the city’s extensive trail system, which boasts more than 120 miles (193 kilometers) of paved trails.
The coastal trail is accessible from many points in downtown Anchorage, and takes walkers or joggers about a mile and a half (2.4 kilometers) to the scenic Westchester Lagoon. However, earlier this summer a bridge collapsed near the lagoon so there’s a slight detour off-trail through neighborhoods.
If you make it to the lagoon with energy to burn, the trail continues for another 9 miles (14 kilometers) to Kincaid Park. Moose sightings are more likely as you go by Earthquake Park – which offers great views of downtown Anchorage draped under the Chugach Mountains – and Point Woronzof.
Walk a few blocks from the city’s hustle and bustle and you’ll find a salmon stream. Ship Creek runs along the edge of downtown Anchorage, attracting anglers who often stand shoulder-to-shoulder in, or on, the creek bed hoping to hook a salmon. You can watch from the side of the creek but several pedestrian bridges offer the best viewing.
Karen Bierman and her son, Aidan, spent some time on one bridge on July Fourth while waiting eight hours for their flight home to Houston. “It’s just something to do, to get away from the airport,” Bierman said. “Back in Houston, we do offshore fishing or bay fishing. This is a little bit different for us.”
ALASKA TROOPERS MUSEUM
Are you a fan of the Alaska State Troopers, either the actual officers or the TV show? If so, you’ll find this free museum arresting.
The official name is the Fraternal Order of Alaska State Troopers Law Enforcement Museum. It features the history of law enforcement in the state, going back to the days of the U.S. Marshal’s office.
Patches representing departments from all 50 states, along with international and federal agencies, hang from the ceiling, and there’s a copy of the wanted poster for Ed Krause, called Alaska’s first serial killer. He was a miner and Army deserter who preyed on unattached men during the Klondike gold rush.
There’s also a famous mug shot of actor Steve McQueen flashing a peace sign after his 1972 arrest for reckless driving in a Toronado in downtown Anchorage. The hard-partying actor, known for his swagger and for movies like “Bullitt” and “Papillon,” was spinning the car – doing “brodies.” He “was having a good time,” said the museum’s executive director, Laura Caperton.
Another exhibit is a restored 1952 Hudson Hornet. The Hornet’s power and road-handling made it perfect for patrolling Alaska’s less-than-ideal roads six decades ago in an era when cars didn’t even have seat belts. The chrome bumper has been buffed to a shine but still has some vintage dings in it.
PUBLIC LANDS BUILDING
In the heart of downtown is the Public Lands Building, a 1930s Modern white concrete structure that’s a clearinghouse of information for all state and federal land in Alaska (about 300 million acres) and what you can do on them, from mushing to hiking to camping. You can plan a trip here or view movies or natural history exhibits about Alaska, including an outdoor display of bear hides and moose antlers.
The center also offers two walking tours of Anchorage daily in summer. One retraces damage along Anchorage’s 4th Avenue from the 1964 Good Friday earthquake. At magnitude 9.2, the temblor remains the largest ever recorded in North America and the second-largest in the world. The other tour is dedicated to Captain Cook, the famed explorer who looked for the Northwest Passage, with a stop at a statue of Cook overlooking Cook Inlet.
Alaska is the only state with Public Lands Information Centers. The other three are in Tok, Fairbanks and Ketchikan.
ANCHORAGE MARKET AND FESTIVAL
Billed as Alaska’s largest open-air market, it’s a must for tourists on Saturdays and Sundays. Located in a parking lot near the Hilton Hotel, the market offers music, food for purchase and Alaska vendors peddling their wares. The food court area features locally grown food (yes, there is agriculture in Alaska), and a big seller is salmon quesadillas.
Products range from all types of clothing with “Alaska” printed on it to photographs of the northern lights to locally made jewelry.
An open-air stage features local musicians.