Alaska is a great place to visit and is likely already on your bucketlist. Most Alaskan visitors arrive in Anchorage and either spend their whole trip nearby or setup a base in the city for larger adventures. The good news is that there are countless ways to enjoy Anchorage on a budget and I’m here to share free things to do in and around Anchorage.
I want to preface this with saying that Anchorage is a great place but you’ll need some form of transportation to get from place to place. There are countless free parks and free parking places but I will also include a few suggestions that have a $5 parking fee, don’t worry I’ll specifically mention which ones have a parking fee and they are well worth it!
Wildlife Viewing in Anchorage
Wildlife viewing is a top free activity in Alaska but before I give any suggestions I want to remind you to please be careful near wild animals! Bear and moose look cool from afar and your budget friendly trip can end with a hospital visit and costly really quick if you get too close to one of these animals.
Wildlife can be seen anywhere in Anchorage and we’ve even had moose walk through store and hospital doors! Check out Russian Jack Springs, Kincaid and Campbell Creek for some outdoor wildlife viewing without worrying about paid parking.
Chasing the Northern Lights
Chasing the Aurora Borealis is one of my favorite free hobbies in Alaska and you can do it as long as the skies are dark. The best months are in the spring and fall when it isn’t too cold but you can get lucky and see northern lights from late August until May.
Get away from all the lights for a better view but if you can’t go to Knik River, or Hatcher Pass than cross your fingers and go to Point Woronzoff or Earthquake Park for a free viewing spot.
Cycling Around the Moose Loop
One of my favorite day trips in Anchorage is biking the campbell creek, chester creek and coastal trails. Together these trails loop with a few other urban trails to create what locals call the “moose loop.” If you do the whole 23-mile loop your GPS map will resemble that of a mama moose.
This is a popular bike ride and roller ski among locals but visitors tend to stick to the sections in Kincaid Park, near Westchester Lagoon and along the Coastal Trail. I’ve seen countless moose and bear all over the moose loop. Travel in a group, make noise and keep your distance if you encounter any animals.
See the Chugach National Forest
If you’ve got access to a car then the best free place to see in Anchorage is Chugach National Forest. It begins about 40 minutes south of downtown in the Turnagain Arm and continues past Girdwood all the way to Seward. A road trip in the national forest is sure to please everyone and there are no fees in the national forest.
Backcountry camping is free in Chugach National Forest but there are paid campsites along the road too. Drive to Portage Lake and Byron Glacier for an easy trail that rewards you with glacier views. Byron Glacier’s ice cave is an adventurer’s dream but only enter at your own risk.
The safer option is to enjoy each icy massif from a distance. The drive in will display more hanging glaciers and has lots of trails to stop at. Begich Boggs Visitor center does a great job of explaining the earth science and history of the region. A stop at the nearby Alaska Wildlife conservation center isn’t free but is worth splurging on to see rescued wildlife in an animal friendly setting.
Explore the Beluga Point
Beluga Point is a beautiful roadside pullout that gives you a chance to see the sea. It’s named for the belgua whales that can be spotted chasing the salmon runs in the summer and you can park here for free to take some photos and scan the water for these white whales. Mountain goats can often be seen from the road near Beluga Point as well!
The Planet Walk
Back in downtown Anchorage, the planet walk is a great family friend free activity. This walk starts downtown with the sun and goes along the aforementioned coastal trail to Kincaid Park with signs placed to scale detailing how far apart each of our solar system’s celestial bodies are. You can easily walk or bike this trail and stop at playgrounds by Westchester Lagoon and Lyn Ary Park.
Check Out the Dog Parks in Anchorage
Anchorage is a dog friendly town and if you’re a dog lover you should visit one of the dog parks to meet some friendly pups. The University Lake Dog park is my personal favorite as its got a nice loop that takes you from a field into the woods and around the lake. Connor’s Bog, Valley of the Moon and South Anchorage dog park are other great options.
Cross Country Skiing
If you have your own cross country skis you can enjoy miles of free trails throughout the city. Most of the moose loop is groomed from Kincaid Park down the coastal trail, past Westchester Lagoon, up the chester creek trail along the tour of Anchorage trail all the way to Hillside park. Alltogether you’ll have access to almost 100 miles of groomed ski trails for free! If you need to rent skis you can get a great deal at AMH and REI.
Anchorage has multiple free outdoor icerinks and plenty of wild ice to skate on. Bring your own skates to Westchester Lagoon or Cheeney Lake and you get some pickup hocket going, there are usually nets and people hanging out.
The weather needs to cooperate a bit more for wild ice but Oct through December could have some good ice at Potter Marsh and Rabbit Slough depending on the weather.
Chugach State Park
Chugach State Park is one of the best features of Anchorage and requires a $5 parking fee. It’s well worth it and the fee will work all day at multiple trails. You can backcountry camp for free in Chugach State Park Thunderbird Falls is a great stop leading to Eklutna Lake and the Glen Alps is a local favorite for a quck hike up Flattop, Little O’Malley or down the powerline trail.
The powerline valley between Flattop and O’Malley at Glen Alps is a great spot for moose sightings and this whole area is perfect for skiing, sledding and so much more in the winter. Head to Near Point, or Wolverine at the Prospect Heights Trailhead and there are numerous stops along the Turnagain Arm as well.
Drive up Arctic Valley
Arctic Valley is on military land a beautiful drive just north of Anchorage. You pass a few trailheads and there’s a ski area at the top but it’ll cost $5 to park. Summer brings great hiking weather, head up to the saddle for a view of Eagle River or any of the nearby peaks. Adventurous cross country skiers can ski from Arctic to Indian in a 21-mile ski traverse through the Chugach Mountains.
Eagle River Nature Center
Eagle River Nature Center is another great place to bring your familiy and has a separate $5 fee from the Chugach State Park. The trails here ar well maintained with boardwalks taking you along Eagle River and into a mountain valley. The nature center has great ranger talks and information about the local ecosystem.
Frisbee Golf at Kincaid
Pack your disc for another family friendly free thing to do in Anchorage. There are disc golf courses in Kincaid Park, Westchester Lagoon and numerous other places around Anchorage. These are great ways to explore the trails.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Most national parks in the US have an entrance fee but if you are up for an all day drive you can get to Kenai Fjords National Park and enjoy the fact that they don’t have any parking or entry fees! Learn about glacier recession with the rangers or hike to the toe of Exit Glacier for an easy stroll. If you’re up for a more difficult hike the Harding Ice Field Trail takes you parallel to Exit Glacier and gives you spectacular views of the blue ice from the marmot meadows on up.
This trail is only open in late summer after snow melts and gives you a beautiful experience of starting in the oceanside forest full of summer fun and ending at the top of the mountain overlooking a winter scene with the Harding Icefield sprawling as far as the eye can see.
Hatcher Pass is an hour north of Anchorage and home to countless trails and lots of history at Independence Mine State Park. Abandoned mine buildings access mining buildings with infographics and more explaining the history of gold mining in the area. Winter brings free groomed trails to the area and adventurous backcountry skiers and boarders enjoy this terrain long into the spring. Be sure to use make sure your avalanche beacon is working at the transponder station in the parking lot.
Potter marsh is a great place for birdwatching and has a boardwalk that goes over the marsh. Most years a bald eagle inhabits a nest on the eastern treeline of this wildlife sanctuary. You can usually find a variety of ducks, swans and geese in addition to some more rare birds. One year we even had a rare falcated duck taking up summer residence and drawing birders from all over the state.
Another popular bike ride is “bird to gird” from bird point on the Turnagain Arm to Girdwood. This bike trail is paved and quite popular int he summer with rolling hills and gorgeous views. Be careful during salmon season because you’ll pass numerous rivers with spawning salmon that attract bears. I’ve encountered a handful of bears here while trail running and biking so be sure to bring some bear spray!
Point Woronzof and other Anchorage Favorites
Walk along a rocky Alaskan beach or jump on the bike trail at Point Woronzof. Bring a picnic and hang out for a while in the summer and you might even sea beluga whale off the coast! Stop at the hill just above the parking lot and join other plane spotters.
Snowball fights, snowman making and sledding are great ways to enjoy Anchorage for free and you can have one in the backyard where you’re staying or at any number of parks. I suggest heading to Russian Jack Springs for all this snow fun and more. You’ll find a small groomed ski loop in Russian Jack and it connects to the Chester Creek trail with the rest of the aforementioned moose loop.
Service and East highschools have great fields for sledding and snow fun as well and are free to use. Unlike elementary schools where kids play inthe snow daily at recess, you’ll likely have the a huge swatch of virgin snow to play in.
Free Classes & Festivals
Local radio station hosts a free country line dance and two step lessons every Thursday at Eddie’s sports bar. Join the Alaska heel scuffers and local dance lovers for a fun filled evening year-round!
Delaney Park, aka the park strip, is a few blocks from downtown and a great place for a more urban stroll. Summer months bring free outdoor yoga classes and is great for pickup frisbee, soccer or just tossing a ball around. While you’re there be sure to visit Star The Reindeer. Star has an open air pen on the corner of a house that overlooks the park strip and even has its own facebook page!
There are countless races and festivals that you can watch in Anchorage, the most famous of which is the Iditarod and couples with the Fur Rondy festival downtown. Cheer for competitors in the Tour of Anchorage, Mayor’s Marathon or any number of ski races for an exciting change of pace.
The Fur Rondy festival has a running of the reindeer, ice sculpture competition and much more for a family to enjoy.
Mike is a teacher from New Jersey who first moved to South Korea and then 4 years later, Alaska where he currently lives with his wife and dog. They are both teachers and love all things outdoors. When he isn’t lesson planning, Mike can often be found in the mountains, skiing, hiking or biking around Anchorage. At night you might see him chasing the aurora borealis or sharing photos or videos from his camera and drone. Follow Mike on Social Media @LiveTravelTeach and read his blogs at www.LiveTravelTeach.com for Alaskan adventures.