ALTHOUGH ANCHORAGE IS NESTLED IN THE HEART OF ALASKA'S WILDERNESS—you might see moose meandering through town—it's a modern metropolis surrounded by miles and miles of mountains, lakes and almost 20 state parks. It's the official starting line for the 1,150-mile Iditarod dogsled race and home to the world's largest chocolate waterfall. Your clients can also count on easy-to-get-to day trips to places like Whittier, Prince William Sound and the nation's third largest state park, Chugach.
Recommend the Alaska Native Heritage Center (www.alaskanative.net) as a first stop. The exhibits provide an excellent understanding of Alaska's people in the Hall of Cultures and the opportunity to explore authentic native homes in a wooded village area around Lake Tiulana. We also suggest family visits to the center's Gathering Place for performances of native dances, storytelling and songs.
While on the subject of family activities, the main store of Alaska Wild Berry Products (www.alaskawildberryproducts.com) features the aforementioned chocolate waterfall and the Alaska Wild Berry Park and Theater, where you can visit reindeer. Anchorage's Alaska Zoo (www.alaskazoo.org) lets kids spend an hour or two with polar bears, snow leopards or wolves and their keepers.
For those agents with clients who crave nature exploration, book half- or full-day Prince William Sound glacier cruises (www.princewilliamsound.com) from Whittier, which is one hour away. The sound is loved for its million-dollar vistas, thundering waterfalls, narrow fjords, icy-blue glaciers and humpback, killer and gray whales. Clients can take a scenic train ride to and from Whittier via the Alaska Railroad (www.akrr.com).
Alaska Bush Safari (www.alaskabushsafari.com) offers flightseeing tours over Prince William Sound. Other highlights include a flight over the Chugach Mountains before meandering the park's forest trails to spot moose and maybe catch a glimpse of a grizzly bear, but insiders tell us their favorite is going to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes inside Katmai National Park, where thousands of vents have been spewing steamy vapors from its fissured floor since Mount Katmai erupted in 1912 (the world's largest eruption of the 20th century).
Flyfishing in Kenai
Another side trip to suggest is Kenai. About 150 miles from Anchorage, it's notable for world-class salmon fishing in the Kenai River. Avid flyfishermen should sign up for classes at the world-renowned Kenai Fishing Academy (www.kenaifishingacademy.org). Kenai is also the site of the second-oldest permanent settlement in Alaska, and touring the Old Town should include a stop at the 1881 Parish House Rectory. The oldest building on the peninsula, it remains the residence of priests who serve the tri-domed Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church across the street.
About 100 miles north of Anchorage, Denali National Park (www.nps.gov/dena) is brimming with amazing sights and activities. The park's Murie Science and Learning Center (www.murieslc.org) holds exhibits and seminars for all ages on subjects ranging from wildlife to wildflowers to dinosaurs and ecology.
The drive up to the park—where America's tallest peak, the 20,320-foot-high Mount McKinley, stands—is grand, but you might suggest clients get there in a first-class seat with unobstructed views aboard the GoldStar dome cars of Alaska Railroad's Denali Star. The train travels through Broad Pass (the highest point on the Alaska railway, at 2,363 feet) and over the 918-foot Hurricane Gulch trestle for nearly nose-to-nose photo snaps of wolves, bears and caribou—made easy by the conductor's slowing the train down. The multi-level railcar's amenities include priority check-in, complimentary beverage service, access to the open-air viewing deck and priority dining room seating.