A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.
Candice Thomas moved to Alaska last summer, arriving in time to explore her new home before beginning school. From the trees to the moose to the mountains, it was all new to the 10-year-old Chugiak Elementary School fourth-grader.
In a way, Candice was much like you, the traveler to Alaska, experiencing this huge state for the first time and overwhelmed with all the options. As adults, planning a trip to Alaska is filled with potential - long engrossing hours studying museum exhibits; all-day bus tours taking in the views; hours-long boat tours swaying back and forth, up and down, looking for breaching whales or calving glaciers. And kids are at the mercy of their folks. What Mom and Dad or Grandma and Grandpa plan tends to become the order of the day, like it or not. It can be a scary proposition.
So we decided to go straight to the source. We asked Alaska kids what they like to do in Alaska, and why. Never mind what the advertisements say. These children have been there, done that, and they will share with you what they think is the best way to while away your Alaska afternoons.
Thomas Nathan "Nate" Jordan, for instance, likes to move. The 11-year-old fifth-grader said given a choice, he'd go swimming or running.
"I would like to find a swimming pool or a track and go running," he said. "I would choose a pool because ponds are cold."
Most of Southcentral Alaska's high schools have swimming pools open to the community, and tracks also open most days. A family of four can swim for less than $15, and running is free. The swimming pool at Anchorage's West High is particularly popular because it has a water slide. Check www.muni.org/parks and click on the "pools and waterslide" link for the open-swim schedules at each of the pools.
For multiday trips, Nate suggested a trip to Seldovia, across Kachemak Bay on the southern Kenai Peninsula. Ferry service is available to the small community, as well as daily charter boat or air flights. Once there, you can enjoy hiking, fishing and beachcombing. Check out www.seldovia.com , a community Web site, for details on this charming town.
Ten-year-old Khaila Andrews differs on the pond-swimming issue. She said her cousin would jump into any cold water and go swimming, no matter the time of year. She likes to swim outside and inside, and there are options for both.
During the summer, the municipality of Anchorage staffs two area lakes with lifeguards for urban swimming. On those rare hot-weather days, Anchorage children flock to these lakes to enjoy the water and play on the sandy beaches. Check www.muni.org/parks and click the "lakes" link for details. Beware of swimmer's itch, though, which is caused by a naturally occurring, harmless but irritating parasite found in the water in late summer. Toweling off and showering soon after swimming is the best preventative for this nuisance. Bethany Voge, 9, said her favorite place to enjoy the water is Homer, also on the shores of Kachemak Bay. It's one of Alaska's most scenic and recreation-filled towns with options for hiking, camping, kayaking and fishing, among a host of other activities. Visit www.homeralaska.org for details.
"It's nice to walk by the beaches, but it's cold going in the water," she said. "It's nice to sit in the camp chairs and roast hot dogs." In fact, camping is one activity most Alaska kids enjoy. Whether it's from a comfortable campground such as Bird Creek campground, 15 minutes south of Anchorage proper, or rugged backcountry camping along such trails as the Resurrection Pass or Crow Pass, there are options galore.
There are several sources for planning camping trips in Southcentral Alaska, depending on your destination. Alaska State Parks (www.alaska stateparks.org ) oversees several of the more popular camping areas including Eklutna Lake, Bird Creek and the Eagle River campground, which are run by a concessionaire (www.lifetimeadventures.net ) There also are camping options within Chugach National Forest (www.fs.fed.us/r10/chugach/).
Some camp spots can be reserved in advance, but others are on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Dustin Holta, 10, is an avid hiker, strapping on his boots for jaunts from Girdwood to Eagle River. He said one of his favorite summertime activities is going to Alyeska Resort (www.alyeskaresort.com ) to hike the mountainside and trails in that area. An added bonus? The blueberry picking in this area is great in August.
Dustin also likes hiking closer to home. Mount Baldy is a popular day hike for those in Eagle River, to the north of Anchorage. He also enjoys the hiking opportunities from the Eagle River Nature Center (www.ernc.org ), which offers guided hikes throughout the summer. A bit north of that is the Bear Mountain Trail, a locals' favorite that offers sweeping views of the town below. Both hikes briefly cross private property, though, so visitors are cautioned to be courteous and observe all signage in the areas.
Most kids like riding bikes, and students at Chugiak Elementary School are no exception. Most of the children we talked to ride bikes around their neighborhoods, but visitors to Anchorage have options too. Bicycle rentals can be had from Downtown Bicycle Rental (www.alaska-bike-rentals.com ), which offers child- and adult-sized bikes, trailers and trail-a-bikes on an hourly, half-day and full-day basis.
For some fantastic riding, check out the 11-mile Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, which starts in downtown Anchorage and skirts the water's edge, eventually ending at Kincaid Park on the south end of town.
Freelance writer Melissa D. Hall lives in Chugiak.
- Hit the trails: Kids love to get out and run, so let them. From downtown, enjoy the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. One special way to enjoy it is by using the Anchorage Light Speed Planet Walk, which lets you walk between "planets."
- Park it: Anchorage has tons of great community parks. Enjoy Delaney Park Strip at the edge of the downtown area or Valley of the Moon Park on E Street. The Chester Creek Trail cuts through Valley of the Moon.
- Flattop, because it's there: Flattop Mountain is the most-climbed peak in Alaska. If your youngsters are big enough, consider a trip to the top of this 3,500-foot peak. If they're too small, there is still a great overlook of Anchorage just a little way from the Glen Alps parking lot.
- Anchorage Museum: Don't spend too much time indoors, but get to the Children's Gallery exhibition.
Favorite indoor spots
We polled some students at Chugiak Elementary School on their favorite indoor activities in Southcentral Alaska. Here are their responses, in order of preference:
1. H2Oasis Waterpark: Located in South Anchorage, the indoor waterpark has slides and a lazy river. (www.h2Oasiswaterpark.com ).
2. Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center: Located in downtown Anchorage, it features a children's gallery and Alaska history section (www.anchoragemuseum.org ).
3. The Imaginarium: A child's science and education center, with lots of fun, hands-on activities. Located in downtown Anchorage (www.imaginarium.org ).
4. Century 16 Theatres: A Midtown movie theater with the latest movies in several theaters. (www.fandango.com , search for Anchorage location). We also suggest the Bear Tooth Theatrepub, which offers inexpensive second-run movies and in-theater dining with Anchorage's most popular pizza (www.beartooththeatre.net).