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Whether on a cruise amongst glaciers, in a bush plane flying low over jagged peaks, or weaving along winding mountain roads in a rental car, Alaska provides one of the most amazing outdoor experiences to be found on this planet. While Brandon and I spend the majority of our weekends getting away from the city, sometimes it’s nice to experience this glorious nature without having to venture far from home. On weekends such as this, two of our favorite wildlife viewing spots are the Eagle River Nature Center (north of Anchorage off the Glenn Highway) and Potter Marsh (south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway).
Eagle River Nature Center
Located about 12 miles past the Walmart in Eagle River (on Eagle River Road), the drive to this nature center takes you past breathtaking mountains as you snake along Eagle River itself (are we seeing a trend yet??) The visitor center is situated at the very end of the road and while the building itself is only open at certain days/times, the land and trails are open 24/7/365. There is a $5 parking fee (even when the visitor center is closed; there is a self-serve kiosk) and parking restrictions outside the lot are strictly enforced (residents do NOT want you parking in front of their homes!) so make sure to remember cash or your checkbook.
Once you’ve got your parking permit on the dash, you’re ready to explore! The Nature Center boasts hiking trails leading back to the river and various waterfalls, and a portion of the paths even overlap the historic Iditarod trail! Even if you choose not to go for a full hike, though, there is an excellent wooden viewing deck situated perfectly for capturing waterfowl, salmon, otters, moose–really, it just depends on the season and the day!
We have been here at the end of summer when parts of the trail system were closed due to increased bear activity–this is definitely a spot we recommend bringing along your bear spray and bear bells. Call ahead if you have questions about current conditions or wildlife activity. This year, we were fortunate enough to see the trumpeter swans when they first returned from their southern migration! We went around dusk (sunrise/sunset tend to be the most active times for many types of wildlife) and were able to capture some of it:
This wildlife viewing deck can be found on the left-hand side of the Seward Highway as you leave Anchorage going south. As I mentioned in a previous post, any opportunity to drive down the Seward is well worth it–it truly is one of the most scenic highways in the world. Once you get parked, the boardwalk itself is only a few steps away, offering several hundred yards of elevated pathway. This design provides not only an excellent vantage point for photographers and onlookers, but it also protects the marshy area that serves as a nesting grounds for many different local species of bird.
Again, we find the best luck when we go around sunrise or sunset (the “golden hours”), and we consistently see moose, eagles, geese, chickadees and other seasonal birds. There have been bears seen in this area, as well, but you may feel more secure on a boardwalk such as this than in the woods like at the Nature Center. Don’t forget to bring your camera (I pack my Canon T6i) and maybe throw in your telephoto lense (like this Tamron) if you want to get some great closeups.
These are just two of many wildlife areas right around the city of Anchorage–I will point out that the majority of the moose I’ve seen since moving here have been wandering the streets downtown! So, you really can’t go wrong when it comes to picking a viewing point. The main thing is to get yourself out there–you won’t see anything if you don’t get outside.
Wherever your wildlife search takes you, happy wandering!