It’s no wonder people often refer to Alaska as the trip of a lifetime; it’s a wild and wonderful place with eight national parks, North America’s tallest peak and rare wildlife sightings. Think orcas, muskoxen (which have been around since the Ice Age) and wolverines.

Make Anchorage your launching pad for exploration. From there, it’s easy to access a whole slew of adventures, including heli-biking down an active volcano, scaling a mountain and landing on a massive glacier. What do all these activities have in common? They all provide sweeping views from above that will give you an even deeper appreciation for the 49th state.

The rear of a helicopter with bike racks loaded with fat tire bikes
Take a helicopter loaded with bikes to the top of the mountain and have a blast getting back down © Sarah Sekula / Lonely Planet

Heli-bike down an active volcano

For adventurers, Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, a luxury retreat about 60 miles west of Anchorage, is the ultimate playground. To get to this remote area, make your way to Lake Hood Seaplane Base where Sportsman’s Air Service will shuttle you over in a floatplane. 

Here is when you sign up for heli-biking, which is exactly what it sounds like: you'll hop into a fancy chopper with bike racks attached to the sides. Then, you’ll swoop across wide-open spaces and be dropped off in a remote location.

After choppering over south-central Alaska, it’s time for a quick test ride on your fat-tire bike. Next stop: Crater Ridge, an active volcano covered by pumice and surrounded by beauty. To your right: Capps Glacier at the base of Mount Spurr. Oh, and a 5,000-foot drop off. 

The unbelievable surroundings actually make it hard to concentrate on the riding. There’s open alpine tundra as far as the eye can see. Plus, every valley you race down on your mountain bike is different from the last. 

The coolest thing is: Very few people have biked this area of brushless terrain. Why? It’s reachable only by helicopter and because heli-biking is relatively new; Tordrillo Mountain Lodge became the first resort in the nation to offer heli-biking in 2017. Because the Lodge has access to 70 miles by 40 miles of potential biking space, there is an endless amount of opportunities. And although it may sound like a daring excursion, it doesn’t have to be. Lodge guides can take anyone who can ride a bike, from a child to a senior citizen, on a customized heli-biking adventure. 

A woman picks her way along a rock wall with a mountain view and ocean in the background
The writer picks her way along the via-ferrata, one of only 10 in the US and the only one in Alaska © Brandon Cole / Lonely Planet

Climb a mountain via-ferrata style

Alaska’s first via ferrata, a 1,200-foot iron path that leads you up and down killer rock faces in the Tordrillo Mountains, will simultaneously put a big fat smile on your face. Not only does the route offer up dreamy views of the Triumvirate Glacier, which spans 28 miles, you can also see Windex-colored glacial lagoons, hundreds of feet of ice and deep crevasses. 

Start from 4,000 feet above sea level and climb 900 vertical feet. Then, cross two suspension bridges with dizzying views all the way down to the ice. If you dare to look down, that is.

In June, Tordrillo Mountain Lodge put the finishing touches on the climbing route, which is strategically located 80 miles away from the nearest road. This means only a handful of people have ever walked or climbed here. What’s even cooler is, you can only get there via chopper.

While via ferratas are popular around the world, they are only just starting to become popular in the U.S. There are less than 10 across the nation, and this one is the most remote, by far.

Back at the Lodge, rest and recover in the hot tub or at the spa. And get ready for more adventure the next day: The Lodge’s excursions include ice climbing, wake surfing, heli-fishing in the summer. In the winter, choose from things like heli-skiing, hiking and sky trekking.

The writer enjoys the view after the tough scramble up the mountain © Sarah Sekula / Lonely Planet

Hike up Rainbow Peak

For the next part of your trip, check in at Lakefront Anchorage and meet up with your Hike Alaska guide who will take you up Rainbow Peak, an epic trail in Chugach State Park. The 4.5-mile trail begins with a stroll among the paper birch tree forest. Then, it’s time to scramble over boulders and try not to lose your footing on the scree. Pass Saskatoon berry bushes and take a PB&J break for a quick breather. 

Pro tip: It helps to grab onto the Cottonwood trunks to help make your way up the super steep sections. The serious scrambling pays off with the ultimate view of Turnagain Arm, the top of Cook Inlet and the town of Hope. You can also see Beluga Point from here, a spot where belugas are often seen from mid-July through August. 

Trek the North Face Trail

The next day drive to Girdwood, a cozy little ski town about a 50-minute drive from Anchorage. For a challenging hike without the scrambling try the North Face trail at Alyeska Resort. Besides the views of Mount Alyeska and the hanging glaciers of Turnagain Arm at the top, you’ll also be rewarded with a meal at Bore Tide Deli. From this vantage point, you can actually see the Bore Tide, a wave that brave souls actually surf for miles and miles.

 Starting at the hotel, it’s easy to find the 2.2-mile trail. As you ascend 2,000 vertical feet through steep inclines and narrow switchbacks keep an eye out for moose and bears. Speaking of that, don’t forget your bear spray. Good news is: You can take a complimentary aerial tram ride back down.

Afterward head back to Anchorage for a bite to eat at The Lakefront Anchorage, where seaplanes pass overhead all day. If you haven’t have any luck spotting wildlife yet, Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a surefire way to safely hang out with rescued animals of all sorts. Moose, brown and black bears, musk ox, caribou, wood bison and porcupines call this place home.  

Once you’re back in Anchorage, rent a bike at The Trek Store Anchorage and explore the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail for moose-filled forests and views of the impressive 20,310-foot Denali.

a woman crouches low over a brilliant blue lake on the top of a glacier with mountains in the background
The writer gets close to the glacial pond on the Knik Glacier © Sarah Sekula / Lonely Planet

Land on one of Alaska’s most active glaciers

Last but not least, end your trip at Knik River Lodge, just outside of Anchorage in Palmer, Alaska. Stay for a few nights in one of 22 cabins overlooking the Knik River Valley. Then, book yourself a glacier tour. Alaska has more than 300 named glaciers, and you can reach 60 of them fairly easily from Anchorage. This one is special because not only it is one of Alaska’s oldest and most active glaciers, you can only reach it via helicopter or plane. 

Here’s how it goes down: 1) Board a chopper. Score insane views within a few minutes of taking off. You’ll be surrounded by glacial landscapes and ancient ice fields flowing out of the Chugach Mountains. 2) Fly over the Knik Glacier’s expansive crevasses and glacial lagoons. 3) Land on the glacier. 4) Squeal with glee; you and your group of six have the place to yourselves. Roam among the bizarrely beautiful ice formations and take a sip from the glacial lagoon.

Once hunger strikes, dine at Raven’s Perch Restaurant for wild berry salmon caught nearby and a vegan mixed bowl made with fresh ingredients from Palmer farms. Not to mention stellar views of the Knik River Valley. Other epic adventures from the lodge include dog sledding, Aurora-viewing tours and ATV excursions.

Ultimately, you could spend an entire lifetime exploring Alaska and still not see it all. The 49th state is more than twice the size of Texas. In other words, you can never run out of amazing things to do in the Last Frontier. 

Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.

Explore related stories

September 2, 2016: Flames shooting from a mutant vehicle at Burning Man in the evening.


2023 bucket-list trips you should start planning now

Jan 2, 2023 • 12 min read