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72 Hours in Anchorage, Alaska

72 Hours in Anchorage, Alaska

Alaska is a beautiful state and there are so many things to do in Anchorage or Alaska in general that 3 days hardly seems enough time.  Whether you are just dipping your toe in everything that the chilly Bering Sea has to offer on a long weekend getaway, or this is just one stop on a greater adventure in the last frontier, here is a detailed itinerary for a 72 hour trip to Anchorage, Alaska.  See the end of the post for arrival information and hotel recommendations.

My Itinerary

Check out a copy of the super detailed itinerary that I made for my family when we had our trip to Alaska.  Contact me if you would like me to build you a detailed itinerary based on the general itinerary below, or customized to other activities you are interested in.

Your Itinerary

  • Day 1 - plans for 4+ hours based on travel in the morning with an afternoon/evening arrival
    • For more details and photos, check out my trip report from the field for this day
    • 30 min: Pickup rental car from airport and head towards the Turnagain Arm 
    • Optional 15+ min: Stop along the road at the Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary
      • walk along the .5 mi of boardwalks and use your binoculars to check out the wildlife
    • 30 min: See the boor tide
      • Check the tide tables and see if you can park the car, find a good lookout spot near Beluga Point, and sit down to catch a view of the boor tide
    • 30+ min: Grab dinner at Turnagain Arm Pit BBQ in the little town called Indian
    • 30 min: Follow Seward Hwy towards Portage enjoying the views
    • 1 hour: Visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center 
      • Open until 8 pm May-Sept; go within 2 hours of closing to have the place to yourself
      • Note: Allow at least 45+ min to see all the animals, less if you drive around, more if you want to get out and walk the loop.
    • Optional 20+ min: Take a detour on Portage Glacier Road
      • Catch a glimpse of the tunnel to the port of Whittier and some great glacier and water views
    • ~1 hour: Return to your hotel
      • Settle in for the night; be sure to draw blackout curtains since the sun is out late and up early
      • Charge the camera since you will want it on the glacier hike tomorrow
  • Day 2 - plans for the entire day
    • For more details and photos, check out my trip report from the field for this day
    • Wake up and gear up: pack a day bag with water and snacks, and layers for an outdoor adventure
      • You probably want zip off pants, or something that will transition well from the warmer temps in Anchorage to 40+ temps on the glacier face
      • Boots recommended today for the hike, but treaded sneakers will work; no flip flops or sandals on the ice
      • Pack water, sunglasses, sunscreen, and an outer layer that is windproof to keep you warm
TIP: Bring a trash bag or something to put muddy shoes in after the glacier hike; wear or bring another pair of shoes/sandals to change into
  • 45 min: breakfast at B&B, hotel, or nearby café
    • Take breakfast to go for the car if you slept in because of jet lag but don't skip breakfast because you will need the fuel for the glacier hike!
  • 2.5 hours: drive from Anchorage to the Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Area at milepost 101on Glenn Hwy
    • Stop at Carrs/Safeway Grocery in Palmer along the way to get supplies for a picnic lunch
    • Enjoy the scenic overview of the glacier and read about the history and how the glacier formed; tables here to have a picnic if you are ready to eat now
  • 15 min: drive to milepost 102 on Glenn Hwy and take the turn for the Matanuska Glacier Park
    • follow the gravelly road to the main office/store where you need to pay an access fee per person and sign your life away but can then drive up to the glacier and hike around on your own
  • Explore the Glacier
    • Option 1 - 1+ hour: park the car, gear up, and hike about 15 min across the gravel and mud to the face of the glacier.  Walk around on your own and take pictures for as long as you like.  Bring your lunch stuff to eat at one of the picnic tables.
    • Option 2 - 1.5+ hours: If you want to explore more than just the face of the glacier, pre-arrange a guided glacier trek with MICA Guides who offers high and low adventure options
  • 1.5 hrs: Drive to Thunderbird Falls
    • Ditch the muddy shoes in the trunk then get back in the car returning towards Anchorage, but plan to stop at Thunderbird Falls
  • 45+ min: Explore Thunderbird Falls
    • Enjoy the lookout from the viewing platform, or take a short 1 mile hike to the face of the falls
  • 45+ min: Return by car to your hotel in Anchorage
  • 45+ min: Clean up and power napping if needed
    • be sure to rinse your muddy boots/shoes so they dry overnight
  • 1.5 hrs: Head to Humpy's Alaskan Alehouse for dinner
    • Be prepared for a wait time if it is a Friday or Sat night but you can grab a drink at the bar and relax
    • Ask for seats on the back patio
    • Try the local brews if you are a beer fan
    • The fresh fish is excellent, but there are plenty of carnivore options for non-fish eaters
  • Day 3 - plans through late afternoon, assuming evening travel back home or to the next destination on your Alaskan Adventure
    • Wake up and take breakfast to go on a morning stroll to the waterfront
      • If you are staying downtown, Resolution Park has a beautiful overlook of the Knik Arm, and the Alaskan Mountain Ranges visible from Anchorage
    • Packup and check out of hotel
      • leave bags in car or with front desk
      • attire for today is casual; no special gear needed other than the usual day bag and something comfortable for an easy bike ride
    • 2+ hours: Head to the Anchorage Museum 
      • Learn more about the culture and heritage of Alaska
      • Start at the Alaska Native Cultures exhibit, then branch out to whatever catches your interest
      • Catch a docent led tour for a 45 min overview of the museum highlights; daily at 11 am, 12 pm, and 1 pm; included with museum admission
      • Note: museum buffs could be content to spend the entire day here
    • 45 min: Grab lunch at the Midnight Sun Café
      • Call 30 min ahead for to go orders if you want to take it on the trail with you
  • 30 min: Head to Pablo's Bicycle Rentals and pick up bikes and helmets
    • Use coupon on their website for a free drink
  • 2+ hours: Cycle along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail 
    • Enjoy views of wildlife and the Cook Inlet
    • Use this map to decide your route based on how much time you before your departure
    • Its about 4.5 mi from the rental place south on the trail towards Earthquake Park which is a good visit, and a good turnaround point for an afternoon outing.  Plenty of stops along the way to rest and enjoy the view.
  • If departing by air:
    • plan to arrive at the airport 1.5+ hours before your flight to return the rental car and check in

If you have an extra day, drive north to Talkeetna, the town used as the base camp for climbing Denali.  Book with Talkeetna Air Taxi in advance to do a flightseeing tour, with or without glacier landing.  Enjoy incredible views of the landscape and the mountains.  Well worth the cost to see so much of Alaska from a bird's eye view.

Getting There

Most travelers arrive in Anchorage by plane, or by cruise ship.  If you fly into Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, it is relatively small, but still has all the standard amenities.  Plan to pick up your rental car before you leave the airport.

If you are arriving by cruise ship, most likely you will dock in the nearby town of Whittier. Books tickets in advance to take the 6:45 pm Alaska Train from the port of Whittier directly to downtown Anchorage.  The train has dome cars and plenty of windows and external platforms to enjoy scenic views of Portage Glacier, Turnagain Arm, and Anchorage over the 2.5 hour journey.  Plan to pick up a rental car at the airport once you get to downtown Anchorage.

Where to Stay

If you prefer to stay downtown, which puts you closer to shops, restaurants, and the airport, I recommend two options:

  • Save - Holiday Inn Express Anchorage
    • budget friendly and breakfast included; slightly further away from the main streets of downtown but if have your rental car you can easily drive where you want to go
  • Splurge - Hotel Captain Cook
    • 4 star hotel with posh rooms and quality service; breakfast not included but there are some great places to eat within a 3 block walk if you want to avoid the pricey and unmemorable dine in or takeout options within the hotel
      • Nearby Snow City Café has the best rated breakfast in town; if you have time to sit and eat this should be your pick
      • Just across the street, the K Street Convenience Store is handy if you need something quick to go, or snacks for the day

If you are willing to stay 30 min outside of town, I personally recommend:

  • The Turnagain View B&B
    • We stayed in the Rock Room but all three of the guest rooms looked wonderful
    • The owners were so warm and welcoming and made a fabulous breakfast spread
    • In July 2015, they had a litter of puppies that were tons of fun to play with if you have children
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