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Anchorage, Matsu & Cook Inlet
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Anchorage, Matsu & Cook Inlet



Chugach State Park

Seward Highway (AK9)--Portage to Anchorage

Girdwood & Alyeska

Portage Glacier Recreation Area (Chugach National Forest)

Knik Arm

Glenn Highway (AK1)--Anchorage to Parks Highway Junction





Hatcher Pass

Independence Mine State Historic Park

Lake Clark National Park & Preserve


Well over half of all Alaskans live on or near the eastern shore of Cook Inlet—most in metropolitan Anchorage. The word “metropolitan” may seem an unlikely choice to describe anything in the 49th state, but the visitor will soon see the truth of it. Suburban features from strip malls to traffic jams are yours to enjoy. Fortunately, development is limited in scope and you are never more than a few minutes away from hikes, views, and solitude.

Anchorage occupies the tip of a peninsula set between two branches of Cook Inlet—Knik Arm to the north and Turnagain Arm to the south. The Chugach Mountains dominate the peninsula and are preserved almost entirely in Chugach State Park and Chugach National Forest. The mountains rise directly from the north shores of Turnagain Arm, while Knik Arm has gentler shores and hosts the bedroom communities of Eagle River, Peters Creek, and Birchwood.

Northeast of Anchorage is “MatSu” (Matanuska-Susitna), Alaska’s fastest growing region. MatSu spreads east of the Susitna River, south of the Talkeetna Mountains, and north of Knik Arm, and includes the towns of Wasilla and Palmer. The Matanuska River flows into Knik Arm from the east, while the Susitna River watershed drains much of the central Alaska Range into Cook Inlet. The Glenn Highway follows the Matanuska River east through the towns of Palmer and Sutton, while the George Parks Highway heads west through Wasilla, then north along the Susitna and on to Denali and Fairbanks.

Area development is limited by the rugged Chugach and Talkeetna Mountains—much of which is public land—and by the broad, forested flats of the Susitna basin with its huge expanses of wetlands. Further north and east, the land rises and the climate is less hospitable. In some respects, Anchorage is already nearing capacity, its neighborhoods bordering the margins of parklands, the shores of Cook Inlet, and the military bases to the north. Managing future growth will be a challenge.

No roads access the region west of the Susitna River and Cook Inlet, where the Alaska Range collides with the volcano-strewn Aleutian Range. This land features a jumble of fantastically ragged peaks and long, U-shaped valleys, many of which are protected in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Visitors to the area enjoy some of the wildest adventures the state has to offer. Access is difficult or expensive, and gateway towns are small and remote.

It is perhaps strange that Cook Inlet offers such a schizophrenic window on Alaska—to the east, traffic and tract homes; to the west, trackless tranquillity. If you want to get out of Anchorage to find some splendid natural destinations, you don’t have to go too far.