Northern lights over Anchorage

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Virtual tour: Experience Anchorage from afar

by Lydia Schrandt for USA TODAY 10Best

Locals like to say that Anchorage is just 30 minutes from Alaska. The biggest city in the state has some of the world’s most pristine wilderness areas right in its backyard.

Fourth Avenue serves as Anchorage’s unofficial main street, complete with boutiques, cafes, restaurants, museums and a theater.

Some 1,500 moose call the Anchorage area home, so it’s not uncommon to spot them, even in the heart of the city. To up your moose sighting chances, spend some time at Kincaid Park.

Photo courtesy of JodyO.Photos | Visit Anchorage

The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, a popular recreational trail for jogging, biking and cross-country skiing, hugs the shores of Cook Inlet for 11 miles between downtown and Kincaid Park.

Kincaid Park – on the western tip of the city – features almost 40 miles of trails, a fishing lake, an 18-hole disc golf course and even a sandy beach (Kincaid Beach).

Photo courtesy of Jack Bonney | Visit Anchorage

Keep an eye out for the city’s most famous resident as you walk around town. Star the reindeer lives along 10th Avenue but likes to go on leashed walks around town.

Photo courtesy of Frank Flavin | Visit Anchorage

Ship Creek flows from the Chugach Mountains before emptying into Cook Inlet. Almost the entire river lies inside the city limits.

Visitors can learn about the city’s gold mining history – and try their luck at gold panning – at the two area mines, Crow Creek and Indian Valley.

Some of the world’s freshest seafood comes from the chilly waters of Alaska. King crab and salmon appear frequently on menus, but you’ll also find rockfish, shellfish and halibut.

Photo courtesy of JodyO.Photos | Visit Anchorage

Hikers in Anchorage have more than 300 miles of trails to choose from in the area. Among the most popular is the easy Winner Creek Trail through the Chugach National Forest.

Photo courtesy of Juno Kim | Visit Anchorage

Eklutna Lake, a long lake fed by the Eklutna Glacier, is one of the most popular spots near the city to get out on the water.

Chugach State Park is among Alaska’s largest state parks. The Eagle River Nature Center, located within the park, offers 10 miles of hiking trails, perfect for wildlife viewing.

With more than 60 glaciers within a day’s journey, Anchorage is a great place to see one. Many of the state’s most accessible glaciers lie within the Portage Valley.

The Portage Glacier is the star of the Portage Valley, measuring 10 stories tall and miles in length. Visitors can get up-close on a sightseeing cruise or by hiking Portage Pass.

Photo courtesy of Teri Hendricks | Visit Anchorage

A trip to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center brings visitors up close to some of Alaska’s most iconic wildlife including moose, brown and black bears, and wood bison.

Come to Anchorage in the winter, and you’ll have the chance to see the aurora borealis. Some hotels even have a northern lights wake-up call, where you’re notified if the lights are visible.

On the first Saturday of March each year, the iconic Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race kicks off on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage. The early part of the race follows an 11-mile route through the city.

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