Four Unique Hiking Adventures Near Anchorage, Alaska
Explore Areas within Minutes of The Anchorage Airport with Knight S.
Your afternoon flight lands in Anchorage, Alaska and your boots are itching to hit the trails. But where can you go in such a short window of time? Alaska is very large and expansive state. It would be impossible to see most of this beautiful state without a lot of free time and resources because only 20% of Alaska is accessible by road. You’d have to know someone that can fly a plane or book yourself onto a cruise ship. But there are still a few great options to take advantage of within one hour of the Anchorage, Alaska airport if all you have are your own two feet, four wheels and a couple hours. Take a step outside the city and you’ll find yourself in a whole new land.
But first, let me introduce you to my fellow globe trotting friend Knight. I met Knight via the world wide web during my Xanga blogging days. He’s a fellow adventure lover and free spirit that you can’t keep cooped up for too long. He was one of a few people that I really connected with and almost 12 year later, we still keep in touch.
On my family’s recent trip to Alaska (for a cruise), I finally got the chance to meet Knight in person. I mean really, what were the chances he was in Alaska and free the one day I was?? I know, the coincidence was too good to pass up. So we chatted for a couple hours (after I saw he wasn’t a serial killer….just kidding!) and later decided to hit the road and drive into the midnight sun. It was like we knew each other but didn’t. The conversation flowed and the exploration commenced. It was a weird collision of worlds.
As we drove around the country side, I quickly learned that this guy had a wealth of knowledge. My mom and I were learning knew things left and right. We probably should have paid tuition! Our time spent with him was far too short and left us wishing for more. So of course, I thought he would be the perfect person to interview for this article. So here we go!
Knight, one of your sayings that really resonates with me is “this is my world.” How many years have you taken to the trails with that feeling in mind? Can you remember the first time you felt that way and where you were?
On a nice summer weekend in 2008, I closed my textbook and decided to solo-climb five 14,000-ft. peaks called the “Decalibrons”. The name comes from the first 2-letters of each of the peaks in Central Rockies: Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, and Bross (the north and south peaks). On-route up Mount Lincoln, I met a University of Colorado student who also attempted the solo but decided to turn around due to the high wind that nearly knocked him off his feet; at around 6’2” his height was a liability on those exposed ridges and mountain sides. His warning caused me to hunker down behind a large boulder and sought a creative solution: I unzipped my backpack and filled it with as many rocks and boulders as I could carry in an effort to weigh myself down. By the time I had climbed to the top of Lincoln, the highest of the five peaks, the wind had died down; however, it was the calm before the storm. To the northwest, I could see a storm pounding the nearby lower peaks. The heavy rain forced the clouds to descend in jellyfish-like tentacles. Being alone that afternoon, I quickly set up my camera on timer and it snapped 2 shots. In one of the photos, you can see a white streak across my temple; that was a hail pellet.
His warning caused me to hunker down behind a large boulder and sought a creative solution: I unzipped my backpack and filled it with as many rocks and boulders as I could carry in an effort to weigh myself down.
On this trip, I encountered hail, rain, snow shower, and then sunshine by the time I returned to the car which had been parked at the trailhead. Being in this raw state of frailty, I remember thinking that “THIS Is My World”, a world that few have seen and experienced. I wouldn’t be able to realize this had I decided to further read another two chapters in my textbook. Instead I left the comfort of my sanctuary and created “a new experience” for myself. The accumulation of those experiences is what I hold dear; it becomes an intimate part of my own private world. I intentionally see it, create it, and choose to live in it as the new norm for myself. In this life if we’re super lucky, we’ll get invited into these unique worlds and the experience – whatever they may be. What we’ll gain from, it will change our perspectives, our identity and consciousness, and our ability to understand of ourselves and our place as we relate and interact with the world. We can only hope that it’ll be for the better.
What a great story! Now you currently live in the Pacific Northwest, how is that treating your adventurous spirit?
I did some stupid stuff before 2008, but that’s a different conversation. Eight years ago two beautiful blondes “kidnapped” me to Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver for two weeks of fun in the rain and the sun. I fell in love with the region, the atmosphere, and the seafood. I secretly made plan to move to the Pacific Northwest “someday”.
That day came on Sunday, January 18, 2015. It was a defining moment for me: I left my fears and frustration, families and friends behind for a new adventure where I became the sole actor in this play called “Life”. It has become such a positive experience to set sail like that so I’ve never looked back…for I am here to carve my own World. The move stunned many people; perhaps that was because I only told a small handful.
Now like minds want to know, as someone who truly lives the outdoorsy life, tell us what it’s like to explore the area around Anchorage, Alaska! It’s my understanding that you have been up there a couple times and have become acquainted with the area. Is that right?
I’ve only been to Alaska three times for a total of about 2 months if you were to add up all the days. I was there mainly for work, but for one of those trips, my friend decided to rendezvous with me so that I could show them true wilderness. There are many nooks and crannies around the urban areas; for example, the Far North Bicentennial Park is a crazy large park to jog and hike. Many people do so in group and if you’re alone, I’m sure bear spray is a must. I’ve also seen signs warning people that it is unwise to be jacked into your devices and listening to a favorite tune; scenic parks do have dangerous wildlife.
What are 4 of your favorite sites to explore in and around Anchorage, Alaska, places that give you that “this is my world” feeling?
I have my top four favorite sites around Anchorage; these will, of course change, as I spend more time there exploring. These sites are also dependent on the season.
1.) Knik Arm – For example, I’ve run along the Knik Arm at 1:30 a.m. on a warm July “night”…it wasn’t really nighttime because the sun was still up. It barely set below the horizon.
2.) Twin Peaks – I’ve also been to places like the Twin Peaks that overlooks Eklutna Lake. This reservoir is surrounded by a clonal grove of aspen trees. In the higher elevations, the sides of the Twin Peaks are covered with thousands of blueberries and crowberries. I ate them like there was no tomorrow.
We also took a detour – deeper into the forest – to see an old Checker car that I spotted while climbing; it had rolled down the mountainside decades ago. This was the same car that was assigned to me at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Greenbank, West Virginia.
3.) Artic Valley Road – In interacting with the locals, including my friend & colleague, Mark Mew (former Anchorage police chief) told me about a panoramic vista where you can see all of Anchorage. It’s called “Arctic Valley Road”. It was here where saw my first “cluster” of bears, a mom with 3 cute cubs. Yaaah!!
4.) Margaret Eagan Sullivan Park – If you have a lot of energy like me and happen to be in Anchorage in the summer months, get out of the hotel or your B&B and go for a hike or jog at Margaret Eagan Sullivan Park. It wraps around the Westchester Lagoon. The well-maintained trail takes you along the Knik Arm, the body of water that flanks the northern part Anchorage. I did a 5k jog around that area at 1:30 a.m when the lazy sun was just lingering slightly below the horizon; I then slept like a baby.
What’s the best way to see and experience these Alaskan sites?
Trail running, hiking, biking, kayaking, driving, riding a whale bronco style?
Of the sites I’ve mentioned above, I’d recommend renting a bike and packing a pair of boots or sneakers for an incredible jog or hike and ride along the countless trails.
What kind of wildlife might you see in those locations? I know we saw some mountain sheep and had hoped to see some Beluga whales. Don’t laugh at my Beluga whale dreams!
Along the way, I saw eagles, mountain goats, big horn sheep, bears, moose, elks, and many species of birds. Some are not shy. I’ve yet to see a whale and yes that includes your Beluga.
What time of year would you do these trips around Alaska?
Most of my exploratory trips occur at the end of my work week; I’d stay the weekend or an additional 5 to 10 days to travel and explore, either by myself or have friends fly in for an unforgettable adventures. 95% of my friends aren’t “outdoorsy” so when there’s an opportunity to travel with me, they’d come in droves.
What kind of gear do you go out with?
I always have rain gear with me; something that repel water including an extra pair of socks and liner gloves. It’s not fun to be wet in the woods. If I’m out alone, I’ve a small canister of bear spray. This is important because when you hike alone, you normally don’t make noise. The danger is that you might surprise a bear or be stalked by a mountain lion; whereas when you’re with friends the conversations are usually louder than normal. Most animals will run away upon hearing it.
The Last Frontier isn’t a tamed land.
What’s one of the best memories you’ve had while exploring The Last Frontier? Any close calls or moments that made you speechless?
Ya know, shed a single salty tear?
Along Arctic Valley Road, I took my friends to hike a trail that was unmarked, one where I had traveled before. 2.5 miles into the hike we stop to break at a creek; while everyone rested, I went ahead to explore a bend in the trail that wraps its way deeper into the forest. My heart skipped a beat when I saw bear dropping. From the look of it, the dropping happened recently. It was so recent that I could see steam rising from the poop. I took a photo, backed off slowly, and told my friends about it. We doubled our trek out of that area as quickly as we could while making a lot of noises. The Last Frontier isn’t a tamed land.
What’s next on your list to explore both in Alaska and anywhere else?
The City of Anchorage Ombudsman. Darrell Hess told me about a restaurant with the most abundant, freshly caught seafood buffet in the state. That’s my next Alaskan destination. It’s in…shhhhhh. LoL!! He told me about it while on a cruise that I had arranged with the Seattle Police Department’s patrol boat in Lake Union. On that evening all guests who came to speak at my Hate Crimes Conference got to ride the boat. The location is actually Dutch Harbor and the yummy seafood is served at a historic hotel.
Lastly, the most important question, because I know you are
a major foodie. Best place for a delicious mouth watering meal in Anchorage?….because after exploring, that appetite will be roaring!
The Thai Restaurant (954 Muldoon Rd.) serves traditional Thai food, but it far north of the city. Closer to Anchorage, there’s the Glacier Brewhouse & Orso (both are at 737 W. 5th Ave., American with drinks), La Cabana (312 E 4th Ave., Mexican) Pho Lena (3311 Spenard Rd., Vietnamese), and F Street Station (325 F St., American, seafood, bar).
Knight, thank you so much for sharing your insider tips. Can’t wait to tag along on the next trip. ☺ But no bears please!
Photography by Knight S.