• Image about Anchorage

“Pack-rafts really excel in small, low-volume creeks, and [the Anchorage area] has plenty,” explains Dial, who adds that ¬because there is also such great hiking in the area, combining hiking with river rafting is “superfun.”

So what’s a beginner’s best bet for a fun, introductory pack-rafting adventure? “If you only have a day,” Dial says, “rent a pack-raft and head for Eagle River.” A trail near the Eagle River Campground takes about an hour to hike, and then it’s a quick ride down class I and II rapids back to the grounds. For a longer trek, aspiring rafters can drive 30 miles south of the city to Girdwood, where they can pick up the Crow Pass Trail and walk it all the way to Eagle River. This excursion can take a full day or can even last overnight. But he warns riders to avoid the river in the middle of summer if there have been several sunny days in a row; the glacial melt can greatly increase the class of the rapids, making for a more treacherous ride.

Dial says that now, whether he’s competing in adventure races, biking 700 miles across the Alaska range or climbing icy mountain peaks, his pack-raft is one thing he doesn’t leave home without. “I take my pack-raft just about everywhere I travel,” he says.

So after hiking Anchorage’s rough terrain, scouting for wild animals, angling for salmon and riding the rivers, a day of rest may be in order. What better way to spend a quiet afternoon than to learn about the native culture of Anchorage? Jack Dalton, a Native American storyteller and an expert on Alaskan indigenous cultures, recommends that visitors check out the Alaska Native Medical Center, the Anchorage Museum’s Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center and the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Dalton says visitors could easily spend a day at each and leave with a vast knowledge of the city’s proud heritage.

“The Alaska Native Medical Center is amazing just because it has one of the most comprehensive concentrations of Alaska Native art,” says Dalton, who suggests that visitors ride the elevator to the top and gradually make their way down the five floors of displays, which showcase art as well as handmade dolls, baskets and craftwork. The journey ends in the first-floor gift shop — hailed by Dalton as the best in the city — which sells work by local artists on consignment.

Visitors can see a comprehensive collection of Alaskan artifacts and ¬historical objects and the Anchorage Museum’s 10,000-square-foot Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, a brand-new part of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. “It’s completely state of the art in terms of displays and also in terms of the way they’re sharing information with people,” Dalton says.

But for a truly interactive cultural experience, Dalton recommends the Alaska ¬Native Heritage Center, where Alaskan-born employees are always on hand to share their stories and to educate visitors. Patrons can also watch local craftspeople create goods such as boots, parkas, dolls or Eskimo yo-yos — traditional toys that are also used as hunting tools — as well as purchase them.

“You don’t just go and learn about life traditionally — you actually meet people who are living these lives,” Dalton says. “I think that’s invaluable to anyone wanting to experience native culture.”

Dalton himself is part Yup’ik Inuit, the name given to the group of people native to the far western region near Bethel, Alaska. Because native Alaskans, including the Yup’iks, are typically known as a reserved and humble people, Dalton says there are many misconceptions about them as a whole. He takes delight in dispelling some of those myths.

For one, he says, “I think so many people outside of native cultures are not necessarily aware how important humor is to us.” His comedy show, Raven’s Radio Hour, which features all native actors and will debut at Cyrano’s Off-Center Playhouse this July, is his way of “letting people in on that.”

Indeed, all the people of Anchorage are proud to let newcomers in on what makes their city great. And for most people who visit, whether it be a hike, a shot, a catch, a ride or an encounter, it only takes one Anchorage experience to fall in love. So as the blues and grays of winter begin to give way to summer green, there’s only one thing left to do: Go!

From May 13 to Sept. 30, American Airlines will offer seasonal nonstop service to Anchorage from Dallas/Fort Worth and Chicago O’Hare.