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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Fairbanks: 27°/46°/Cloudy

Juneau: 37°/54°/Cloudy

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Eagle River: Mother Nature's suburb

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Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America, is seen just before sunset on a late March flightseeing trip. The south peak, right, is the summit at 20,320 feet; the north peak stands 19,470 feet high. Climbing season on the big mountain is May through July.

Alaska can be divided into five broad regions.

Northern Alaska

The Arrigetch Peaks are found in Gates of the Arctic National Park, which is in the Brooks Range.

In this area above the Arctic Circle people depend on the land and its many resources.

Southeast Alaska

The waterfront at Ketchikan.

See America's northernmost rain forest or a humpback whale.

Western Alaska

A recreational boat follows the channel markers leading into Iliuliuk Harbor near Unalaska's Church of the Holy Ascension. Unalaska and its companion settlement, Dutch Harbor, are in the Aleutian Islands.

This area is home to the country's busiest fishing port.

The Interior

The Alaska Range is the Interior's defining feature. In Denali National Park, Wonder Lake reflects Mount McKinley reflects at sunset.

This vast area is alive with gold mining and plenty of outdoor activities.

South east

Southcentral Alaska has the state's largest city, Anchorage, but it also has scenic wonders such as Passage Canal at Whittier.

Also known as Alaska's Panhandle, the area is filled with forests, glaciers and hiking trails.

Even though Eagle River is part of the municipality of Anchorage, it has a vibe that sets it apart from its more-citified big sister. Here, you get the suburbs and, as you drive to neighboring Chugiak, even a taste of country living.

"It's the best of small-town Alaska," said Merry Braham of the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce. "The pace is slower, and it's the kind of place when you go to the grocery store you have to add 20 minutes because ... doing those errands becomes part of your social scene."

Flanked by the half-million-acre Chugach State Park, bisected by the scenic Eagle River and packed with hiking trails, Chugiak-Eagle River is above all an outdoor-lover's paradise. Those who come here can explore its mountains and valleys by day and make it back into Eagle River for a nice dinner.

"We've got great restaurants," Braham said. "Thai, Korean, sushi and more. And we're not called Eagle River for nothing. You really do see eagles here."

Hiking ranges from the steep 1.5-mile Mount Baldy overlooking town to the 26-mile Crow Pass Trail, which traverses the mountains to Girdwood, at the other end of Anchorage.

For those who want something more relaxed, try the Thunderbird Falls Trail, which follows a well-maintained, 1-mile path to the falls, or go to Eklutna Lake, which not only boasts a family-friendly campground, but also offers hikes along the lake and up into the mountains. Kayaks, canoes and bikes can be rented on site.

Always popular, Braham said, is the Eagle River Nature Center, which offers year-round outdoor and nature programs, and guided hikes, most of them free.

Mirror Lake, at the north end of Chugiak, features a large sandy beach, picnic area, horseshoe pit and grass fields for volleyball, badminton or soccer. On hot days, the beach teems with the sounds of summer revelers, enjoying the midnight sun.

ATTRACTIONS

Eagle River Nature Center

The center offers interpretive nature trails, education programs and a wildlife viewing deck, and also is the launching point for the 26-mile Crow Pass Trail. A cabin and two yurts are available for overnight camping, renting at $65 and $55, respectively.

WHERE: 32750 Eagle River Road, at the very end of the road. (Take the Hiland Road exit off the Glenn Highway, and turn right on Eagle River Road, at the Walmart.)

WHEN: Trails are open 24 hours a day, year-round (unless noted by seasonal trail closures when bear activity is high). The center is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from May to August, then 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday in September. From October to April, the center is only open weekends.

COST: $5 parking; most programs are free, although some, such as art programs, have small fees for supplies.

Phone: 907-694-2108

Web: www.ernc.org

Native Village of Eklutna

Eklutna is the oldest inhabited area in Anchorage and home to the Dena'ina Athabascans. The Eklutna Village Historical Park hosts tours of the cemetery, which features the colorful and traditional spirit houses, as well as the old Russian Orthodox St. Nicholas Church, built as early as 1830 and thought to be Anchorage's oldest building.

WHERE: Eklutna Village Road off Glenn Highway

WHEN: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, May through September

COST: $5 adults, $2.50 for ages 12-18

PHONE: 688-6026

WEB: www.eklutnahistoricalpark.org

Thunderbird Falls

This easy hike is just a mile long on a maintained path, and rewards hikers with a spectacular view of Thunderbird Falls.

WHERE: Chugach State Park; take the Glenn Highway to Thunderbird Falls exit, follow signs to the trail head.

WHEN: Year-round

COST: $5 parking fee

PHONE: 907-345-5014

Eklutna Lake

Just beyond the trail head to Thunderbird Falls is the access road to Eklutna Lake, which is part of Chugach State Park. The glacier-fed lake is popular for boating and lakeside mountain biking and all-terrain vehicle use, and is surrounded by a campground and several hiking trails.

WHERE: Take the Glenn Highway north from Anchorage to the Thunderbird Falls exit, and turn right on the Eklutna Lake access road. Follow Eklutna Lake Road to the end.

WHEN: Year-round use available but campground opens seasonally.

COST: $5 parking fee, $10 per site for camping

PHONE: 907-345-5014

WEB: /dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/chugach/eklutna.htm

Eagle River Campground

The campground is just off the highway, and campsites are on the banks of the Eagle River. There are latrines and flush toilets as well as drinking water and waste stations for the 57 campsites.

WHEN: May 1 to Sept. 19

WHERE: Glenn Highway, take Hiland Road Exit (Mile 12). Follow park signs onto frontage road to river and campground.

COST: Campsite, $15 per night; day-use parking, $5 per vehicle

Phone: 907-746-4644 or 800-952-8624

WEB: lifetimeadventures.net/eagleRiver.html

Events

Scottish Highland Games

Celebrate Scottish heritage at this annual event held the last Saturday in June. The traditional Scottish Games are the big draw, as well as the bagpipes, traditional food and other Scottish piping and drumming.

WHEN: June 30

WHERE: Eagle River Lions Park, at the corner of Eagle River Loop and Eagle River Road

COST: Advance tickets are $12.50 adults, $4 for children 5 and older. Tickets at the gate are $15 adults, $5 for children 5 and older.

WEB: www.alaskascottish.org

,b>Independence Day Celebrations

The two-day celebration includes July 3 fireworks in Eagle River and a parade in Chugiak.

WHEN: July 3-4, fireworks begin at midnight

WHERE: Fireworks at Eagle River Lions Park. The parade follows the Old Glenn Highway from 17124 Old Glenn Highway to 19932 Old Glenn Highway, at Chugiak Elementary School

COST: Free

PHONE: 907-694-4702

WEB: www.cer.org

Bear Paw Festival

The 27th annual Bear Paw Festival features the theme "It's a Jungle Out There," and it will be a jungle -- of people, festivities, food and fun. The community celebration includes a parade, carnival, food, and arts and crafts vendors. The annual salmon cookoff, slippery salmon Olympics and Odor-Eaters rotten sneaker contest are some of the highlights. Another popular event is the annual Bear Paw 5K race, set for July 14.

WHEN: July 11-15

WHERE: Downtown Eagle River

COST: Free admission; tickets required for rides

WEB: www.bearpawfestival.org

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