Anchorage Area Has Plenty of Low-Cost Offerings

Reed Travel Features

ANCHORAGE -- Visitors can get a taste of Alaska for free, or very close to it, by picking their spots carefully in the state's largest city.

Knowing what to look for is essential for those who would take advantage of the low-cost offerings, so it is advisable to start with two sources of information located in town, close to one another -- the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau's visitor information center and the Alaska Public Lands Information Center.

The bureau-sponsored facility is at 4th Avenue and F Street and the Public Lands Center is directly opposite.

Armed with the brochures, maps and insights provided by the staffs of each center, visitors on a budget may then begin to explore Anchorage-area opportunities, which include the following:

* Begich Boggs Visitor Center at Portage Glacier. The glacier is Alaska's No. 1 attraction, according to visitor studies.

The center offers displays indicating how glaciers are formed and the tremendous force they exert on the state's landscape.

A film, for which there is a small charge, runs continually with highlights of the glacial ecology of the area.

* Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. This 11-mile trail winds from downtown along the coastline of the Cook Inlet to the scenic Kincaid Park.

The view of the Anchorage skyline from the trail, at a spot known as Earthquake Park, is spectacular.

It is possible to walk or cycle the Tony Knowles Trail in summer and ski, Nordic-style, along much of it in winter.

* Eagle River Visitors Center at Chugach State Park. Look through telescopes in the converted frontier-style homestead for moose, sheep and other wildlife in the surrounding hills.

Nature hikes and lectures are scheduled frequently at the center.

* Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge. This 2,300-acre wetland is home to more than 120 species of birds in the summer.

Visitors also get to see moose, foxes and muskrats.

During winter, it is a favorite skating rink for visitors and locals alike.

* Alaska Heritage Library and Museum. Basketry, painting, sculpture and other crafts and artifacts highlight the cultures of Alaska's natives.

* Reeve Aviation Picture Museum. A must for airplane buffs, this museum traces the state's aviation history, from bush monoplanes to modern jets, in pictures collected by pioneer pilot Robert Reeve.

* Chocolate Waterfall. This is a factory where chocolate and Alaskan berries are processed. Definitely for those with a sweet tooth.

* Wildlife Museums at Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson. Both facilities are open year-round, offering displays of Alaska's fish and game.

* Elmendorf Air Force Base. Free guided tours are offered on certain days in the summer.

Elmendorf, a home for F-15 squadrons, was established during World War II to serve as the airfield for nearby Fort Richardson, an army camp. Elmendorf became a separate base in 1952.

Reservations are required for this tour. Call (907) 552-5755.

* Saturday Market. Fruits and vegetables grown locally are sold from stalls at the corner of 3rd Avenue and E Street each weekend throughout the summer months.

* Ship Creek Salmon Overlook. There are several places on Ship Creek, just on the outskirts of downtown, from which to watch salmon struggle upstream to their spawning grounds in the fall.

* Big Game Alaska. This is the state's only drive-through wildlife park, which is home to herds of bison, moose, elk and musk ox, among other species.

* Oscar Anderson House. The city's first permanent frame home, it was built in 1915, at a time when people were living in tents and makeshift huts.

* Anchorage Museum of History and Art. Here, native life from ancient days to modern times is traced through the works of Alaskan artists.

* Eklutna Village Historical Park. More than 350 years of Alaska history are recalled in architecture, art, mementos and places of worship.

Eklutna Village is just 30 minutes from downtown Anchorage.

* Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum. Located along the south shore of Lake Hood Air Harbor, this museum is the home of more than 20 bush planes.

For more information about the low-cost opportunities in the city, write to the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau at 524 W. Fourth Ave., 99501-2212, or call (907) 278-5559.

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