Spectacular sunset over Anchorage from Arctic Valley. The citys lights are twinkling in the foreground with Mt. Iliamna and Mt. Redoubt on the west side of Cook Inlet.
One hike was all it took for Doug Van Etten to fall in love with Anchorage, Alaska.
In the early 1980s, he traveled there from Missoula, Mont., meeting a friend from California along the way. Both avid hikers, the two boarded a city bus headed east and rode it to a trailhead that would lead them up the western wall of the Chugach Mountains into Chugach State Park. They tramped through a frigid rainfall and finally reached Rabbit Creek Valley, where they set up camp, warmed themselves by a camp stove and admired the view of the city and the waters of Cook Inlet beyond it.
We were sitting out in front of the camp that evening, looking at a red summer sky at sunset, Van Etten remembers. An atmospheric temperature inversion, in which warm air layers on top of cold air, created a superior mirage, causing the mountains to look distorted and stretched, like a mighty stronghold.
The mountains across the way were all risen up into plateaus and towers, he says. That convinced me that Anchorage was the prettiest place in the world.
Van Etten is not the first person and will hardly be the last to be captivated by this coastal city. From its panoramic mountain views and the king salmon rushing through its lower creeks to its Native American heritage and contemporary pioneering adventurers, Anchorage beckons the explorers, the individualists and the bold. Early each summer, Anchorage transforms from its spring facade of blues and grays into a city of bright-green trees bursting with blossoms. For visitors, that green signals go, and truly, theres no better time to do just that: With the sun setting after 10 p.m. from the end of April until mid-August, the 16 weeks of long summer days beg to be filled with all Anchorage has to offer.
So how best to enjoy this vast adventure land? Just ask the local experts.
Van Etten, now a 30-year Anchorage resident, would tell you to go take a hike literally. As the head of the Anchorage Adventurers Meetup Group, an activities group of nearly 600 outdoor enthusiasts, he can recommend any number of trails and routes for adventurers of all skill levels. Sitting at a Kaladi Brothers café off the Old Seward Highway, he grabs a strewn copy of the Anchorage Press and draws the Anchorage peninsula and the mountain traverses that cross it from the waters of the Knik Arm north of the city to the southern waters of the Turnagain Arm.
You can go up Rabbit Creek and then come down McHugh Creek, he says, tracing the trail on his makeshift map. You can go up Powerline from Glen Alps, and you can go down to Indian, he says, referring to the historic railroad flag stop along the Seward Highway, 23 miles south of Anchorage. You can go up Ship Creek and down Bird Creek, he continues, drawing line after line across the mountain range.
For the less experienced, he suggests an array of options that require no technical equipment but still offer spectacular views. Kincaid Park at the western tip of Anchorage, for instance, and the Hillside Loop on the eastern edge of the city are easy jaunts for beginners. For an additional challenge, he advises hiking Spencer Loop at Far North Bicentennial Park or Rendezvous Peak in Arctic Valley, located a few miles north of the city. And for an even greater challenge, he recommends hiking the Bird Ridge trail, south of the city, or the Rabbit Creek side of Flattop Mountain the very route he took on the trip that made him fall in love with Anchorage.
Not much for climbing? Take a cue instead from Dirk Westfall, a freelance photographer, who got to know Anchorage through a camera lens when his military career brought him here 20 years ago. Today, he continues to document the natural beauty of Alaskas landscape and animal life through his work. For him, just as for many amateur shutterbugs who visit Anchorage, photography was a great way to learn about the area.
If youre taking pictures, you think more about what youre taking pictures of, he says.