Alaska Excursions

Alaska Excursions

A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.

Iditarod 41

Photos and stories from the last great race.

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Juneau: 32°/54°/Cloudy

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Stretch your legs near home

Matt Szundy, a guide for The Ascending Path, leads clients from Minnesota up the north face of Mount Alyeska in Girdwood. The company offers three-hour hikes on the mountain, which in the winter is a ski mountain.

Matt Szundy, a guide for The Ascending Path, leads clients from Minnesota up the north face of Mount Alyeska in Girdwood. The company offers three-hour hikes on the mountain, which in the winter is a ski mountain.

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Stretch your legs near home

Matt Szundy, a guide for The Ascending Path, leads clients from Minnesota up the north face of Mount Alyeska in Girdwood. The company offers three-hour hikes on the mountain, which in the winter is a ski mountain.

If Alaska has a metropolitan pulse, it beats in Anchorage, the state's largest city. Theater, music, culture, fine dining -- it's all here. So are strip malls, parking garages, and coffee shops that make parts of Anchorage look like Anywhere, U.S.A.

Hike this way

You don't have to go far to hit breath-taking trails.

Kenai Peninsula hiking (10-12-2005)

The fish are plentiful on the Kenai Peninsula, but getting out into the woods is one of the best ways to experience the beauty of this place.

Trails in town

Hikers take in the sunset at about  11:30 p.m. on the 2008 summer solstice atop Flattop Mountain in Chugach State Park. Hiking Flattop is a solstice tradition for many in Anchorage and a way to enjoy some of the more than 19 hours of daylight.

Whether they're mild or wild, the trails of Anchorage and Southcentral Alaska have plenty to keep hikers or bicycle riders busy for an hour, a day or longer.

The long, hard race -- Iditasport Impossible

By the end, after weeks of wallowing in deep snow and battling headwinds that blew the frozen tundra bare, only four of the 20 athletes who began the 1,000-mile Iditasport Impossible race crossed the finish line in Nome.

HIKING: Anchorage area is rife with trails and opportunities.

If Alaska has a metropolitan pulse, it beats in Anchorage, the state's largest city. Theater, music, culture, fine dining -- it's all here. So are strip malls, parking garages, and coffee shops that make parts of Anchorage look like Anywhere, U.S.A.

But Anywhere isn't backed by the Chugach State Park like Anchorage is. In fact, few American cities offer the scenery and accessibility to that scenery that Anchorage does. In a town that holds Alaska's four-star entertainment, Anchorage also offers five-star hiking options for locals and visitors.

"It is so unique -- it doesn't take much to get out there and feel like you're completely removed from the rat race," said Harlow Robinson, 43, a Alaska mountain running star who works in urban Anchorage but resides in the city's Hillside area, where some of Alaska's most popular hiking trails begin.

The hiking in Anchorage isn't accessible just by proximity. There are trails, hikes and adventures accessible to all levels of outdoors enthusiasts.

"I think the Chugach Range outside the back door of Anchorage is as diverse and beautiful as anywhere I've ever been," added Robinson. "Anyone from the most casual, fair-weather hiker or blueberry picker to the really talented, extreme adventurer types can find something here."

When folks start seeking Anchorage hikes, most discover Flattop Mountain first. Looming above Anchorage with its distinct horizontal peak, Flattop is Alaska's most popular hike, visited by thousands each year. Flattop is beloved for many reasons -- at 1.5 miles each way, a pedestrian ascent and much of its 3,550 feet altitude covered on the drive to the trail head, it's a relatively easy hike; its trail head, Glen Alps, is a quick drive from most parts of Anchorage and offers many additional trail options, from a long walk on Powerline Pass, or longer overnight visits to Williwaw Lakes, to steep climbs up Peaks 2 and 3; and its positioning offers hikers an unparalleled panorama, with views of Anchorage, multiple mountain ranges and awe-inspiring sunsets.

Visit Flattop and you might find elite athletes like Robinson and Anchorage's Olympic cross-country skiers training on the trails, running past families picking blueberries and elderly tourists in jeans walking shorter portions of the trail.

"I think it's really cool that (Flattop) has the feel of a mecca for outdoorsy people in Anchorage," Robinson said. "On any given day of the week, winter or summer, even under bad, inclement weather, you're bound to find somebody up there. I like that it's a social gather place in the outdoors."

During peak hiking season, most nearby trails are going to be busy, though crowds tend to dissipate as difficulty increases. Just north of Anchorage, Eagle River houses a handful of hiking options, from easy jaunts to alpine overnighters. South Anchorage has Turnagain Arm Trail, a wide path that's perfect for a gentle walk or a steady run. Drive past Eagle River to discover Thunderbird Falls, which is more of an easy walk than a hike and usually has a steady flow of foot traffic. Wolverine Peak is a neighbor of Flattop and shares its city views but has a much longer approach and, thus, fewer visitors. About a half-hour drive south is Bird Ridge, a locals' favorite with heart-stopping views and lung-burning climbs.

If your idea of hiking is more about getting away from people, you'll have to travel and hike farther. On a sunny day in Girdwood, a hike along Winner Creek or up Crow Pass, with its view of Raven Glacier, gives a payoff worth every second spent behind the steering wheel to get there.

Whether you're going for a quick walk or a long hike, remember a few things when you're on the trails:

Many trail heads have parking fees.

Always be bear aware.

Wear comfortable clothing and pack extra layers, including hat and gloves, even in summer.

Pack a snack and water.

Always tell people of your plan and even consider sticking your cell phone in your bag.

"A lot of people want to be comfortable and travel light but it's also really important to be prepared," said Robinson. "You have to bring enough gear in case the weather changes or there's an injury, so you don't put yourself in a perilous situation."

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