A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.
Fairbanks: 16°/34°/Partly sunny
The round-rumped grizzly bear ambled toward us, and I swallowed a scream and the urge to run. It had 6 million acres of Denali National Park and Preserve wilderness in which to roam, yet somehow this bear had managed to find my backpacking partner and me, alone on the Savage River.
Southcentral towns outside Anchorage often have a wide selection of lodging to accommodate visitors who come to town for a weekend's relaxation, to fish or to show off the state to relatives.
Western Alaska's grand expanse of terrain, water and wildlife attracts many visitors with an interest in the outdoors. Its larger cities -- Kodiak, Bethel, Unalaska/Dutch Harbor and Nome -- put up quite a few visitors and governmental and commercial guests for the night.
Hotels in Barrow and Kotzebue, in Northern Alaska, cater to tour groups, which arrive by plane from Anchorage or Fairbanks.
Get out of the car and hike or ride
Anchorage is not just the largest city in Alaska; it's also a hub for outdoor activities -- and not just for extreme sports. The city has almost 11,000 acres of parkland in more than 200 parks. Some 250 miles of greenbelt trails link the city with the wilder parts of Alaska. Many trails, especially the paved ones, are good for both cyclists and bipeds.
Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and Earthquake Park
If you're just in Anchorage for a day, this trail is a great way to enjoy the scenery. It begins at Second Avenue in downtown and stretches more than 10 miles, hugging Cook Inlet and Knik Arm. It then spills into Earthquake Park, where you can see the destruction caused by the 1964 earthquake. In the summer you might be lucky and catch a glimpse of a beluga whale in the Inlet. This park is right in the fly zone of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, but don't be turned off by the occasional airplane flying low; the wildlife isn't. It's possible to see bald eagles, porcupines, owls or moose at any time of year. It's worth taking time to consider how to react if you run into wildlife; see story on Page 12.
Right off the Coastal Trail, the lagoon is a great place to sit on a summer day and watch the wildlife congregate. The eastern side of the lagoon is a sanctuary for waterfowl and migrating birds such as Canada geese, red-necked grebes and mallards. Moose, muskrats and the sly red fox are also often seen in this area.
On the west side of town, this park has a great trail system and the city's largest moose population. The park boasts more than 35 miles of trails developed as a world-class cross-country ski system. It's the ultimate playground for mountain bikers. Reach the park at the west end of Raspberry Road.
Chugach State Park
The Chugach Mountains frame Anchorage. Just to the east, this massive mountain range is a popular destination for visitors and locals. The park is home to Flattop Mountain (3,510 feet), the most visited destination in the 500,000-acre park. There is constant foot traffic to the summit, though the hike can be a little tough on the knees. The area is filled with trails suitable for people with varied physical abilities.
Start this 11-mile trail at the Glen Alps trail head parking lot, or make the hike a couple of miles shorter by starting at the Upper Huffman parking lot. The first half of the trail is relatively well traveled, but most hikers peter out well before the summit. Following the power lines all the way to Indian, the trail can be deceivingly simple: It has gradual climbs and long, flat stretches, but just past its summit the endurance factor jumps in with a steep 3,500-foot descent.
Beginning at Prospect Heights trail head off O'Malley Road, this 11-mile round-trip hike climbs several ridges and then goes straight up to an elevation of 5,054 feet. The climb to the summit is often covered in snow well into summer, making it easier to traverse. When the snow is gone, however, the climb is a slippery mess through mud and bog. But the view is so outstanding it's hard to believe you're just outside the state's largest city.
Resurrection Pass Trail
For 38 miles, this trail is the quintessence of solitude and serenity. Connecting Hope to the Sterling Highway near Cooper Landing, it can be hiked in three to six days. Most of the trail is single-track -- some of the best single-track mountain biking terrain in the region -- and there are eight cabins along the trail that can be booked in advance. Book cabins with the National Recreation Reservation Service at 877-444-6777 or www.recreation.gov. n
Coastal Trail Rentals
4800 Spenard Road
Downtown Bicycle Rental
Open year-round; studded tires available in the winter
333 W. Fourth Ave., No. 206
Flattop Mountain Shuttle
$22 round trip
For a list of bike trails and directions to them:www.alaska-bike-rentals.com/MoreInfo/AnchorageMapDirections.aspx