Anchorage, the biggest city in Alaska, has a scenic location on a peninsula fronted by the waters of the Cook Inlet and backed by the Chugach Mountains. It's not difficult to escape from the city for some back to nature recreation as there are several wildernesses including the Chugach State Park and the Chugach National Forest that reach right up to the city boundaries.
If you're living there or visiting with your family you'll find Anchorage is a good city for kids and there are some exciting things they can do there. They'll enjoy browsing around the Alaska Museum of Science & Nature, taking a boat ride around the Cook Inlet or visiting the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Sometimes, though, it's great to leave the city behind and give them a first-hand experience of Alaskan nature in all its magnificent splendor.
On this family weekend RV road trip from Anchorage to Valdez you can take them hiking or skiing along forest trails where they can discover cascading waterfalls, let them meet animals up close including one that's a living dinosaur, and show them just how impressive a glacier is. Leave Anchorage on the AK 1 and you'll be motoring through the stunning landscapes of the Matanuska Valley alongside the Matanuska River nearly all the way. That means you'll have plenty of opportunities to stop off along the route to show them how to catch a trout or salmon for their supper and guaranteed, they'll agree it tastes a whole lot better than a takeaway pizza.
If you make the drive from Anchorage to Valdez on your weekend RV road trip without stopping it won't take you more than six hours. That will be almost an impossibility though as you'll want to pitch camp for at least one night in the Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Area because it will give the kids the idea of what Alaska is really all about. Unspoiled nature, wide-open spaces, mountains, pine forests, and ice.
You'll find the campground in the Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Area is signposted at the mile 101 marker on the AK 1. It's a small, primitive campground with only twelve campsites, none of which have utility hook-ups so it will be a real back-to-the-wild experience for them which is never a bad thing. From the campground, you'll be able to take them hiking along a short trail that leads to a glacier viewing point, although there's no access to the glacier from there. Seeing the glacier from a distance will probably be enough as getting up close can be a chilling experience – no pun intended.
There are two farms you'll pass close to on your way from Anchorage to Alaska and it really depends on the age of your kids as to which one you decide to visit. Or, if you're not in any hurry, you might want to take them to both.
For small children, who still believe in Santa Claus, a visit to the Reindeer Farm could be something magical especially if you lead them to believe the reindeer are Santa's and taking a vacation before doing their seasonal occupation. The Reindeer Farm is near the town of Butte which is on the other side of the Matanuska River to the highway. It's a short diversion when you think of the lovely illusion it'll give the little ones. There are over one-hundred reindeer at the farm - sadly none of them has a red nose - as well as elk, moose, and bison. It's the reindeer who steal the show though and love to be hand-fed by the kids.
The Musk Ox Farm is north of Palmer just off the AK 1 on the same side of the river as you'll be traveling on your road trip from Anchorage to Valdez, so no detour required. The farm is home to a herd of some of the hairiest bovines on the planet – the musk ox. Take the forty minute walking tour of the farm with the kids and they'll find out all about how these strange animals, that are really living dinosaurs that have survived from the Ice Age, can cope with the freezing conditions of Alaskan winters and why they're important to isolated communities.
There's one way to make sure the kids will sleep well on the first night of your weekend RV road trip and that's to take them for another hike before you pitch camp. This is a hike you can do whatever the season, though the end result will be spectacularly different in winter to what they will be in the summer. You can also make it easy if you're with toddlers or more adventurous if you have older children.
The trailhead to the Thunderbird Falls is signposted on the AK 1 and there is a parking area where you can leave your rig for a small charge. From the trailhead, it's a mile-long trek through a lovely wooded area of birch trees and cottonwood to the two-hundred-foot falls where there is a viewing deck. If you have bigger kids, they'll love scrambling down the side trail that leads to the base of the falls. In winter, you can snowshoe the main trail to see the cascades of the waterfall frozen into blue ice. But take care to have the correct footwear to deal with the slippery side trail if you want to get a close up look at the frozen wonder.
If the kids are having trouble containing their excitement, the Eagle River Nature Center is the ideal first stop on your family weekend RV vacation. The center is located just off the AK 1 in the heart of the Chugach State Park a forty-minute drive out of Alaska. The ethos of the center is to connect kids to nature so a visit here will get them in tune for the rest of the road trip. There is some parking for RVs at the center for which there is a small fee, but spaces are limited. If there's none left, you can park along Eagle River Road but take care not to leave your vehicle where there are no parking signs or you'll get fined.
Once you've parked up at the Eagle River Nature Center, take the kids on the Rodak Nature Trail. At three-quarters of a mile long, even the youngest family members will handle it easily. If they need a rest there are benches at strategic points along the trail. The young ones will particularly enjoy the beaver and salmon viewing docks. If your youngsters are seasoned hikers, there are two longer and more demanding trails they'll love to tackle. The three-mile-long Albert Loop Trail or the six-mile-long Dew Mound Trail.
The advantage of letting the kids loose in the fresh air to get some exercise this early in the journey is – they'll get tired quickly and be quiet for the next couple of hours while you're driving.
Valdez might be the turning point to start the journey back home on your weekend family RV road trip from Anchorage, but there are some memorable things there too that you might want to do with the kids before you leave.
If they're old enough, take them kayaking across Valdez Glacier Lake, if not and so long as it doesn't give them nightmares, take them to see the Eskimo doll collection in the Maxine and Jesse Whitney Museum. Either way, it'll be a memorable end to your weekend.