More than half of Alaska's residents live in this region of spectacular glaciers, fjords, roadside lakes, beaches, and salmon streams. The region's cities, towns, and farmlands are like islands in the surrounding wilderness, and year-round recreation and adventure are easily accessible.
Alaska's largest city, Anchorage (pop. 248, 296), is a popular visitor destination and center of commerce for the region. Luxury hotels, fine cuisine, and shopping are only minutes from state parks, an extensive paved coastal trail system, and several historical sites. Visitors enjoy local wildlife museums, the Alaska Zoo, and Potter's Marsh, where up to 130 species of waterfowl can be viewed from a boardwalk. See geographic reminders of the 1964 Good Friday earthquake at Earthquake Park. Visit the National Bank of Alaska Heritage Library and Museum, and the Anchorage Museum of History and Art for changing exhibits of local history, Alaskan art and Native culture.
A short trip north of town takes you to the Eagle River Visitor Center and the alpine scenery of Chugach State Park. At Eklutna Village Historical Park, tour St. Nicholas Russian Church and see brightly painted "spirit houses."
South of Anchorage, pan for gold nuggets and visit authentic mining buildings at Crow Creek Mine. For spectacular views of Turnagain Arm, hike Crow Pass Trail, part of the Iditarod Trail to the gold fields of Interior Alaska in the early 1900s.
A few miles south of Crow Creek, the Begich-Boggs Visitor Center offers interpretive displays and a view of Portage Glacier. At a nearby Alaska Railroad stop, you can load your vehicle onto a flatcar for a 30-minute trip to Whittier and the recreational opportunities of Prince William Sound.
The Sound encompasses 10,000 square miles of protected waterways, islands, fjords, and 100,000 glaciers. The region offers ocean habitat for whales, porpoise, sea otters, sea lions, and seals. Deer, bear, goats, and sheep inhabit the mainland.
The communities of Whittier, Valdez, and Cordova provide access to the area via day cruises, charter boats, flightseeing tours, and state ferry. One of the most famous attractions is Columbia Glacier (four miles wide and over 200 feet high at the face). On some trips, the Alaska state ferries cruise within 3.5 miles of the glacier.
From Whittier, cruises take visitors to many of the Sound's most spectacular glaciers, and offer a chance to see a variety of sea birds and marine mammals. The town was created during World War II, for use as a cargo port and petroleum depot.
Visitor services are available in Valdez. Tour the Marine Terminal of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, visit the town's museum or drive to the beautiful waterfall at Solomon Gulch.
Accessible by ferry or air, the port of Cordova offers exceptional sportfishing and hiking on nearby trails.
Seward is a major port of call for cruiseships and a popular spot for fishing charters. You can also cruise or flightsee beautiful Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords National Park. The park shelters whales, sea otters, sea lions, and seals. Take a drive to nearby Exit Glacier at the edge of Harding Icefield. Fourth of July celebrations include a grueling race up and down Seward's 3,022-foot Mt. Marathon.
Travel southwest through Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, a habitat for 6,500 moose, to the town of Soldotna, where you can fish for "Kenai River Kings." One of these salmon, caught in 1985, set the state record at 97 pounds, 4 ounces. In nearby Kenai, visit one of the finest Russian Orthodox churches in Alaska.
The town of Ninilchik offers impressive views of Mt. Redoubt and Mt. Iliamna across Cook Inlet. Local scenery includes a colorful fishing fleet and a Russian Orthodox church. Fish for salmon or halibut, or go clamming on easily accessible beaches.
Heading south, visit Anchor Point, the westernmost highway point in North America. Several campgrounds in the area provide opportunities to enjoy the coastal scenery.
At the end of the Sterling Highway, you'll find Homer, an art community and fish processing center. The Homer Spit offers five miles of beaches beside Kachemak Bay, where the fishing for halibut is excellent. From Homer, take the ferry to Seldovia for fishing, camping, and a visit to the beautiful St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox church.
The Matanuska Valley is fertile farmland, where cabbages can grow to 96 pounds. Huge vegetables are just one of the attractions at the State Fair in Palmer during August. The area was settled by farm families who came from the Midwest as part of a New Deal relief program in 1935. Enjoy a guided raft trip, or take a walk on nearby Matanuska Glacier.
In the Susitna Valley, explore Wasilla, home of the Iditarod Trail Committee Visitor Center. Near town, you'll find the unique Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry. Visit the Knik Museum and Sled Dog Musher's Hall of Fame. A few miles to the west, Big Lake is a popular destination for boating and fishing.
A 50-mile scenic loop between the George Parks and Glenn highways takes you over Hatcher Pass to Independence Mine State Historic Park. Visit the park's interpretive center, and explore buildings and equipment at two abandoned gold mines.
Talkeetna is a staging center for Mt. McKinley climbers. Flightseeing tours of the mountain are a local specialty. On clear days, Denali State Park offers vistas of Mt. McKinley.
Glennallen provides access to the Wrangell Mountains, a popular destination for backcountry recreation. The ranger station for Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is at Copper Center. Take the Edgerton Highway and McCarthy Road, a 93-mile paved/gravel route, to the historical mining towns of McCarthy and Kennicott.