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Most folks are aware of the awesome national parks covering Alaska’s wild landscape, but that doesn't mean there aren’t equally impressive state parks. In fact, one of the largest state parks in the United States borders the city of Anchorage. Chugach State Park covers just shy of 500,000 acres, with a vast complement of mountains, bays, rivers, and glaciers. Popular activities within the park include RV camping, hiking, surfing, and snowmobiling.
Chugach State Park was originally inhabited by Native Americans and was later explored by Captain Cook in the late 18th century. Its origins as a state park are much more recent, when rapid urban expansion threatened to take over. The area was already notable for the diversity of ecosystems and wildlife so close to a big city. Concerned citizens wanted to protect the conifer forests, tundra, glaciers, and wetlands contained in the area. They formed the Chugach State Park Ad Hoc Committee in 1969 to explore the idea of a state park, eventually requesting 490,000 acres be put into protection. It didn’t take more than a year for the governor to sign the bill, protecting all of the land asked by the committee and then some. Thanks to their efforts, today you can book an RV in Anchorage County and explore everything it has to offer.
The massive coverage of Chugach State Park provides ample opportunity for exploring by foot. There are 16 trailheads around the boundary of the park giving you access to nearly 300 miles of trails. The Glen Alps trailhead in southern Anchorage is a popular starting point for numerous trails. You can find easy walks, strenuous mountain biking trails, and extended hiking trips to the tops of peaks offering breathtaking views. Another popular trail is the Turnagain Arm Trail, a ten-mile out-and-back hike through a mixed forest with occasional views of the bay. East of the Bird Point Campground, you can explore the Bird Point Trail, where you can often view whales, mountain goats, and the unique bore tide that fills the bay with massive waves as the tide comes in. Just be sure to stay off the mudflats; like quicksand, these dangerous areas have trapped and drowned many animals and humans.
Many people who go camping in Alaska do so for the world-famous fishing, and Chugach State Park is often on the list. The most abundant fish include trout, sockeye salmon, and king salmon. Eagle River provides opportunities for king salmon fishing, but the window is slim, and you should check with rangers before fishing here. The giant Turnagain Arm also has many possibilities, one of which is at Bird Creek. You can hike to your own private spot along the river and cast your line for salmon, taking in breathtaking views the entire time.
Wildlife viewing will just naturally happen while you’re camping at Chugach State Park, and photographers can’t get enough of it. Your safe encounters will include black bears, grizzly bears, bald eagles, marmots, mountain goats, and moose. Visit the Eagle River Nature Center, which will educate you about all of the different wildlife in the park and how the ecosystems bring it all together. They maintain ten miles of trails to explore throughout the year, many leading to yurts if you fancy an overnight stay in the backcountry.
Chugach State Park hosts three wonderful campgrounds, all set in the Alaskan tundra and surrounded by conifers. Dogs are allowed in all three state park campgrounds and on trails if kept on a leash and under control. All campgrounds at Chugach State Park feature the basic amenities such as fire rings, picnic tables, water, and restrooms. None of them, however, include water or electric hookups.
The Bird Creek Campground is at the south end of the park and has 28 sites for RVs up to 35 feet in length. There's also an overflow campground with an additional 20 sites if the main campground is full. Bird Creek Campground is popular among hikers, anglers, and whale watchers.
You’ll find the Eagle River Campground 12 miles northeast of Anchorage. This campground has 57 sites that can accommodate the largest rental RV you might be able to find, with an overflow area with an additional ten sites. This campground also has a dump station for your RV and flushing toilets. It’s largely seasonal, depending on conditions. When it's open, you can gain access to outstanding hiking and fishing.
Finally, there’s Eklutna Lake Campground in the interior of the park with 50 sites in the main campground and an overflow area with 15 sites. This campground is open year-round and is popular for winter sports like cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.
You can‘t rent an RV in Alaska without exploring the many other amazingly impressive parks, the largest and most diverse in the country. Must-sees include Katmai National Park and Denali National Park. Aside from the national parks, you can head up to Fairbanks to see the Northern Lights or experience what it’s like to command a dog sled team. There are also numerous glaciers in Alaska that you can visit either by helicopter, boat, or foot.
There’s still plenty to do closer to Anchorage if you don’t want to go far. One popular activity is taking the railroad tour from Anchorage to Seward, near Kenai Fjords National Park. Anchorage also has a large arts scene with numerous theaters and galleries, and you’ll find an abundance of fresh smoked salmon, craft beers, and homemade sausage throughout the city. If you’re continuing on in your rental RV after leaving Anchorage, be sure to fill up the gas tank and do any supply shopping before you leave the city.