A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.
Anchorage: 36°/55°/Partly sunny
Fairbanks: 29°/52°/Partly sunny
Juneau: 37°/55°/Partly sunny
On and off the road system, Alaska is dotted with cities, towns and villages that give the state its real character.
Luck struck around 6:30 a.m. Sunday -- less than nine hours before the end of the 10-day Slam'n Salm'n derby -- when Robert Hayes hooked a 40.97-pound king salmon that made him the winner.
Summer solstice marked the beginning of the warm season last week, but two Anchorage fly-fishermen discovered Monday morning that winter still lingers deep in the Chugach Mountains.
The Kasilof beach is cool and calm at 10 a.m. on Monday as Yolanda Thomas emerges from her family-sized tent for a morning of dipnetting on the shore of the Kasilof River.
Outdoors, arts and fine dining
Just outside Girdwood, the Crow Pass Trail is a feast for the eyes, with waterfalls, glaciers, rivers and lakes. I had hiked only four miles of the steady ascent and already my feet were tired and my pack had grown heavy. All I could think about was going back to Girdwood and devouring a cheeseburger. But I still had a ways to go to my destination, Raven Glacier, less than half the way to the trail's end in Eagle River.
The trail follows an original part of the historic Iditarod Trail and skirts remnants of old mines. Above the tree line at 3,400 feet is a small cabin just across from the brilliant glacier-blue waters of Crystal Lake. If you're lucky or smart enough to have booked in advance, you can stay in this rustic lodging for free. Not being one to plan anything too far in advance, I slept in my tent near Raven Glacier. Needless to say, even in the peak of summer, it proved to be a cold night.
Although my campground that night is not one I would ever suggest to anyone, the view was splendid. There is nothing like sitting in the mountains and looking down into the white and blue crevasses of an enormous world of ice, even though Raven Glacier, two miles long and a half-mile wide, is relatively small by Alaska standards.
Crow Pass Trail is one of many trails that border Girdwood, a small community 40 miles south of Anchorage that offers a wide and varied assortment of outdoor activities, as well as arts and fine dining. It's an ideal day trip at any time of year for travelers making Anchorage their home base.
Get a bird's-eye view of Alaska with the assistance of an experienced tandem paraglider. After a brief introduction, a pilot guides the paraglider around the skies of Girdwood to the valley floor. Guests are able to steer the paraglider while in the air. Anyone age 5 and older can participate, but there is a 250-pound weight limit. The flight averages 10 to 30 minutes depending on wind conditions. A series of photographs is offered for $20.
WHERE: Alyeska Resort, 1000 Arlberg Ave., Girdwood
WHEN: June 1 to Sept. 15
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
The center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Alaska's wildlife through conservation programs and education. AWCC takes in injured and orphaned animals and is currently home to more than 150 animals, including brown bears, black bears, moose, musk oxen, caribou, bison, raptors and more. Visitors can see the only herd of wood bison in the United States. Drive or walk through the scenic park and safely get an up-close look at the animals.
WHERE: Mile 79 Seward Highway
WHEN: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, mid-May to September
COST: $10 adults, $7.50 seniors, military and children ages 4-12; $35 maximum per car
Alpine Air Alaska Inc. and Alyeska Dog Team adventures
Take a helicopter flight from Girdwood and enjoy Alaska's scenic beauty. The company offers flightseeing trips and glacier landings in the Chugach Mountains and Prince William Sound. Or combine two spectacular events in one trip. After a glacial landing, meet a musher and his huskies. Learn how to drive the sled yourself or simply take a ride.
WHERE: Girdwood Airport Road
WHEN: 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily
The resort, nestled at the base of the Chugach Mountains near Turnagain Arm and featuring a luxury hotel, is perfect for outdoors lovers. Access the mountain via the ski area's 60-person aerial tram, which climbs Mount Alyeska daily between 10:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. starting in early May through the end of September. The five-minute, $18 ride ends 2,300 feet above sea level with spectacular views of Turnagain Arm and several surrounding glaciers. The Roundhouse Museum at the top of the tram dates to 1959 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Alyeska hosts a variety of summer activities and celebrations, a summer snowboard and ski camp, the Midnight Sun Paragliding Fly-In and concerts. Other activities at the resort include spa services, tandem paragliding, mountain biking, guided glacier hikes, hiking Winner Creek Trail, helicopter-serviced glacier sled-dog tours and snowmobiling, and a number of dining options. RV parking is available.
WHERE: 1000 Arlberg Ave., Girdwood
Begich, Boggs Visitor Center
The popular center overlooks Portage Lake and is surrounded by the Chugach and Kenai mountains. Exhibits focus on Portage Valley, Prince William Sound, glaciers, wild weather, Alaska animals and stories about Alaskans. A 20-minute film, "Voices From the Ice," is shown twice hourly. Interpretive presentations or walks are offered daily, including the Iceworm Safari on Tuesday and Saturday afternoons. There are hiking trails from the center, and icebergs from Portage Glacier often drift into view. There is a bookstore.
WHERE: Portage Glacier Highway, off the Seward Highway
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, Memorial Day weekend through September
COST: Free; $3 adults for movie and exhibits
Chair Five Restaurant
An original Alaskan roadhouse, locally owned and operated for 27 years. Pool table, jukebox, seven flat-screen TVs and great food.
WHERE: 171 Linblad St.
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily; bar open until 1 a.m.
Crow Creek Mine
The working mine, on the National Register of Historic Places and featured on NBC's "America's Toughest Jobs," gives visitors the opportunity to strike it rich. The first gold strike here was made in 1896. Today, visitors can enjoy the beautiful gardens and grounds, explore the buildings or take a trip to the panning shed to pick up their equipment before heading to the creek to search for gold. The site includes eight original buildings and mining equipment left by the old miners. The area around the buildings is wheelchair-accessible. Overnight camping is available.
WHERE: Three miles up Crow Creek Road, off the Alyeska Highway
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, May 15 to Sept. 15
COST: $5 admission; gold panning is $15 adults, $10 seniors and active military and $5 for children younger than 7
Girdwood Center for Visual Arts
The center is a nonprofit organization featuring solo and group exhibits, workshops and an artists' cooperative gallery. The gallery features fine art and gifts from more than 40 Alaska artists, including paintings, ceramics, weaving, jewelry, glass and woodworking.
WHERE: Olympic Mountain Loop (next to the Bake Shop)
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily
Girdwood Forest Fair
The fair features Alaska artists, handcrafted items, exotic foods and entertainers from all over the state. The Forest Fair Parade is 11 a.m. July 4.
WHERE: Mile 2.2 Alyeska Highway
WHEN: July 3-5
The paved trail follows Turnagain Arm for a dozen miles near the Seward Highway, which was designated a National Scenic Byway in 1998. The trail continues to Alyeska Resort. There are several pullouts and outstanding viewpoints, including the Bird Point rest area. The trail was named a National Recreation Trail in 2006.
WHERE: Indian to Alyeska Resort; there are several parking spots
WHEN: Open daily
Indian Valley Mine
Learn how to pan for gold at this mine that started with a claim along Turnagain Arm in 1910. The miner's cabin and the assay office are on the National Register of Historic Places. Gold panning is available.
WHERE: Mile 104 Seward Highway
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, May 15 to Sept. 15
COST: $1; $5 to $100 to pan for gold
Portage Glacier Cruises
Portage Glacier is one of the easiest glaciers to view in Southcentral Alaska, and Gray Line offers one-hour cruises on Portage Lake to within a few hundred yards of the glacier. The MV Ptarmigan weaves through iceberg-dotted waters on a narrated tour. Tours can be booked at the Anchorage office, 745 W. Fourth Ave.
WHERE: Portage Lake Road
WHEN: 10:30 a.m., noon, 1:30 p.m., 3 p.m., 4:30 p.m. daily, mid-May to mid-September
COST: $29 adults, $14.50 children ages 12 and younger
Spencer Glacier whistle-stop tour
A partnership between the Alaska Railroad and Chugach National Forest provides access to the backcountry aboard the railroad. Passengers can hop off the train at the Spencer Whistle Stop for a narrated three-mile hike with a ranger.
WHERE: Portage to Spencer Glacier and back
COST: Starting at $64
PHONE: 265-2494, 800-544-0552, 783-2326, 783-3001
Chugach Outdoor Center
The center offers a pair of trips through Sixmile Creek's Class IV and V canyons. The company also offers scenic Resurrection River float trips near Seward, kayaking on Kenai Lake, and rafting near Denali National Park and on the Talkeetna River.
WHERE: Mile 7.5 Hope Highway
WHEN: Summer season
PHONE: 277-7238, 866-277-7238
Class V Whitewater Inc.
The company features a variety of itineraries and offers trips on Sixmile Creek. It also has scenic float trips on the Portage River and fly-and-float trips on the Twentymile River. Also available is the popular Glacier Explorer Canoe trip, where participants paddle a Native-style canoe on iceberg-filled Spencer Lake. The trip includes a ride on the Alaska Railroad.
The company has several day trips in Alaska, including one down Sixmile Creek. Nova has guided oar rafting with paddle assistance or paddle rafting. It also offers day trips on the Matanuska River and multiday trips on the Talkeetna, Copper, Chickaloon and Kings rivers.
WHERE: Hope and Chickaloon
WEB: nova-alaska.com n