This summer marked an exciting goal for my husband and I – we finally got to visit Alaska, something that has been on both of our bucket lists for a long time! We split our trip into two sections, exploring north of Anchorage for about 5 days…and within the city and southward for another 4 days. As we planned our trip, we were worried we wouldn’t be able to sample enough of Alaska by staying close to Anchorage – suggestions from other travelers made us feel like we might need to spend long stretches of time driving inland to see anything worthwhile! We are happy to announce that there is plenty of adventure to be had even within an hour of Anchorage.
Alaska did not disappoint us. The entire nine-day trip was a paradise of green, larger-than-life trees and mountains, beautiful overcast weather (such a nice break from the 90+ degrees we were experiencing at home!) and postcard-worthy views at every turn. In this post you can hear all about our activities from Eagle River to Willow, Alaska, including salmon fishing, hiking, and our stay in a private cabin nestled between two private lakes in Wasilla!
North of Anchorage: Eagle River
We made Eagle River our home base for most of our travels around Anchorage. Just a 20-minute drive north of Anchorage, Eagle River is a perfect launching spot because it’s close to beautiful attractions but not as crowded or busy as Anchorage. It’s also much more scenic than downtown Anchorage. In Eagle River we enjoyed close-by sites like Mirror Lake, a recreational lake for canoeing, fishing, and swimming, as well as the beautiful Thunderbird Falls.
Along the Thunderbird Falls trail (a very easy and short stroll on a wide and well maintained trail) we enjoyed picking and eating wild berries, constantly consulting with Google to make sure we weren’t eating anything poisonous (tip, stay away from the mushrooms which also grow bountifully in this area).
Probably one of Eagle River’s greatest assets is the Eagle River Nature Center, surrounded by a plethora of beautiful hikes and educational experiences within Chugach State Park. Near this area my husband and brother-in-law enjoyed some overnight backpacking. Working northward from Eagle River you can see Eklutna Lake, a glacial lake where Anchorage gets most of its drinking water, and enjoy hiking, kayaking and fishing.
Many (but not all) of these outdoor attractions require a $5 fee that you place in an envelope and slide into a payment box, so carry lots of $5 bills with you because no one will have change for you and you can’t pay with a card! We ended up scrounging our car and wallets for every single coin we could find! Also, be bear aware! The first thing you should purchase in Alaska is bear spray if you intend to do any outdoor activities. We saw one black bear from afar in the vicinity of the Eagle River Nature Center – you would never want to run into a bear unprepared!
A Little Farther North of Anchorage: Wasilla
The highlight of our time north of Anchorage was our stay in a private cabin in Wasilla, Alaska. This cabin is nestled up on a ridge, overlooking two small lakes with the most breathtaking view. Even though we did have neighbors (very spread out, nothing at all like the crowded neighborhoods I’m used to in suburban Utah), the cabin was completely secluded and from our view atop the ridge, we felt as if we were deep in the forests of Alaska. In reality we had the convenience of a grocery store, gas station and restaurants only 10 minutes away. The cabin itself is a cozy 14×20 feet but offers great amenities – an oven, stove top, microwave, coffee maker, small fridge/freezer, space heater, a full-sized bed as well as a futon and loft sleeping area, and a TV with a DVD player.
The cabin is a dry cabin, which means it has no running water or plumbing. Yes, this means there’s no conventional bathroom but rather an outhouse. The owner also provided two 5-gallon containers of clean water, set up on a draining wash basin for rinsing dishes, brushing teeth, filling up water bottles, etc. Expect a degree of rustic-ness in the cabin, but the owners generously provide plenty of dishes, utensils, pots, clean linens, camping chairs, use of their canoe and life jackets (this was one of my favorite parts of our stay!), a small collection of DVDs, and a large dose of hospitality, making our stay comfortable. After all, if you can plug in your phone and recharge it, pop popcorn and watch a movie, how much are you really “roughing it” anyway?! While there’s no WiFi, both of our phones had full reception and perfect use of data while we were there.
The owner is one of the best perks about the cabin – he’s the kind of guy who will make you a hand-drawn map and tell you about the best restaurants in town. He even told us about the best location to watch locals, himself included, go dip netting – a form of fishing using large diameter nets to scoop salmon out of the water that can only be performed by Alaskan residents. Seeing the banks of Fish Creek (in Knik) lined with entire families–kids included–in mud up to their knees scooping fish was one of my favorite things in Alaska!
If you are a camper, this cabin would be a great fit for you! If you’re not a camper, go with a Best Western. But you will never forget what it feels like to wake up to views like this, and to me this kind of front row seat to nature’s best is worth the sacrifice of a few luxuries. It’s also a fraction of the cost compared to the hotels in the area!
Fishing in Wasilla
Wasilla, about an hour north of Anchorage, was a great home base for our fishing adventures. We decided not to shell out the money for a fishing guide as we have some fishing experience already, but I can totally understand why people do – the fishing guide book instructing anglers on local restrictions, guidelines, schedules, and approved equipment and methods is daunting to say the least! We felt much better after we got some clarification from the employees at the 3 Rivers Fly and Tackle store in Wasilla. Salmon is basically Alaska’s currency so fishing there is no casual thing. Per the recommendations from 3 Rivers, we found good fishing at Willow Creek State Park in Willow, AK as well as the Little Susitna River in Houston, AK. Both provided shore-fishing opportunities without too much hiking or getting your feet wet, although many people do wear waders or boots.
Also, be prepared to fish with neighbors. If it’s a good spot for fishing, you will not be alone. There were even signs at Willow Creek State Park instructing anglers on the rules of crowded fishing. Like removing your line from the water if a neighboring fisher yells “Fish on!” and not stealing someone’s fishing spot while they are cleaning a fish. Here’s something we learned from Alaskan locals – don’t keep the salmon if they’ve already spawned. Apparently the meat turns to mush and doesn’t taste good. You’ll know they’ve spawned already if their coloring has turned from silver to a rich array of calico colors like bright red and olive green, depending on the species. Unfortunately, spawned chum salmon (which the locals also call dog salmon) were all we caught during late July.
Our time north of Anchorage gave us all the wild, rugged Alaskan experiences we were looking for, all within our budget and without spending hours traveling far from Anchorage. Stay tuned for another post about our adventures in the city of Anchorage and south to Portage Valley!
Where do you go for a taste of adventure?
About the author:
As you know, Postcards & Passports promotes family and family travel. This post was written by my oldest daughter, Jessie Heaton. Jessie has always loved exploring new places and trying new foods. She manages a dance company in Provo, UT and works in social media promotion while juggling the demands of a home, two precious children and an adventurous husband! If you’d like to read more from Jessie, see Free for Kids in Salt Lake County, Light of the World Garden (in Lehi, Utah), and Luminaria – A New Christmas Tradition (also in Lehi, Utah).
Disclaimer: Jessie was hosted for her stay at the Wasilla dry cabin; her review in this post is based on her actual experiences and her honest opinion.
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