As you drive south of Anchorage, you’ll find yourself on the Seward Highway, a USDA Forest Service Scenic Byway that parallels Alaska’s Turnagain Arm.
The Turnagain Arm is the body of water that stretches between the towering Chugach and Kenai Mountains, with Anchorage set in the north and Hope in the South.
Besides being one of the top scenic drives in the entire state, this area of Alaska has so many fun and incredible things to do!
From hiking 3000-foot peaks and wildlife spotting to jaw-dropping views around every corner, the Turnagain Arm drive is a must for travelers that want to experience Alaska’s stunning landscapes.
In this post, I’m going to share the best things to do along Turnagain Arm. I’ve also included a map with the exact locations of activities.
- 1. Potter Marsh
- 2. Chasing Waterfalls
- 3. Beluga Point
- 4. Salmon Fishing and Viewing
- 5. Bike Bird to Gird
- 6. Watch the Bore Tide
- 7. Photograph Bald Eagles
- 8. Visit Girdwood
- 9. Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
- 10. Hike Hope Point
Where is Turnagain Arm?
Turnagain Arm is located just south of Anchorage. The drive starts from Potter Marsh and ends as you head into the Kenai Peninsula, which takes less than one hour (if you don’t stop anywhere). You can continue to drive the Seward Highway to Seward, which takes 2.5 hours.
Hope is also located on the arm, but must be accessed from the Hope Highway, which is further inland.
10 Best Things To Do Along Turnagain Arm
1. Potter Marsh
Potter Marsh is one of the first stops you’ll want to make along Turnagain Arm because it’s one of the most accessible and scenic wildlife viewing areas in Anchorage and it’s home to over 130 different bird species! From the parking lot, you can access a 0.5-mile wooden boardwalk that winds through the marshland. As you walk along the boardwalk, you can read interpretative signs about the different local habitats and wildlife species. During the winter, you can ice skate across the marsh.
2. Chasing Waterfalls
During the summer, you’ll pass by countless waterfalls streaming down the steep sides of the Chugach Mountains. But one of the most popular waterfalls to visit along the Turnagain Arm is the McHugh Creek waterfall. From the McHugh Creek Day Use Area parking lot, the waterfall can be seen off to the right. Here you will also find picnic tables, bathrooms, and a trail leading to the Turnagain Arm Trail.
3. Beluga Point
One of my favorite things to do along the Turnagain Arm is whale watching. During the fall, you can find beluga whales as they follow the salmon and hooligan runs. One of the best places to see these whales up close is at Beluga Point. I recommend visiting during high tide. While waiting for the tide to come in, turn around towards the peaks behind you and see if you can spot any dall sheep! Sometimes they come all the way down to the highway.
4. Salmon Fishing and Viewing
Grab your fishing pole and head to Bird Creek, one of the most popular fishing holes along the Turnagain Arm. When the fish are running here, you will see fishermen lined up on both sides of the creek. This is also a great place to see bears that are also in search of tasty salmon. If you’re not into fishing, this is still a great place to see lots of salmon and get a taste of the local Alaskan culture.
5. Bike Bird to Gird
One of the best outdoor activities along the Turnagain Arm is biking the Bird to Gird Trail. I like to start at the Bird Creek Campground and Trailhead and end at the Girdwood Brewery or Ice Cream Shop (it’s next to the gas station). It’s about 12 miles to bike from Bird Creek to Girdwood. The trail is paved and rated as moderate because of its length and you do have to climb up the hillside. If you only want to bike one way, stage another vehicle at the other end. The Bird Creek Campground has 19 campsites if you want to camp overnight.
6. Watch the Bore Tide
A bore tide is a natural phenomenon that happens when the incoming tide forms a wave of water that travels up a river or narrow bay, against the current. In this case, the Turnagain Arm bore tide is formed by the area’s large tidal range as a wave of water up to six feet tall and top speeds of 20 mph rushes in. This is the second-highest bore tide in North America and many locals actually attempt to surf it! It’s really fun to watch.
7. Photograph Bald Eagles
The bald eagle is Alaska’s largest resident bird of prey with a wing span of up to 7.5 feet. Alaska is abundant with bald eagles and one of the best places to see bald eagles is along Turnagain Arm. Keep your eyes open and your cameras on as you may see a bald eagle soaring right above you. If that doesn’t happen, search for them in the dead trees along the highway near Girdwood. The next place to look for bald eagles to photograph is along the mudflats near Portage!
8. Visit Girdwood
Girdwood is my favorite town to visit along the Turnagain Arm. There are so many fun things to do in Girdwood and you could spend many days exploring the area. During summer, you can hike the Winner Creek Trail or visit the Girdwood Forest Fair. During winter, you can ski at Alyeska Resort or enjoy a relaxing day at the nordic spa. The town is full of shops and restaurants, plenty of live music events, and a great brewery.
9. Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a nonprofit wildlife sanctuary dedicated to preserving Alaska’s wildlife. If you only had one day to see wildlife in Alaska this would be the place to go. You can see bears, wolves, coyotes, lynx, foxes, elk, moose, wood bison, reindeer, porcupine, and more. I love visiting the bear pen to watch the bears feed! You can choose to walk or drive around the center. Tickets are $17 USD per adult.
10. Hike Hope Point
There are a ton of hiking trails along Turnagain Arm but one of my favorites is Hope Point. Hope Point is a steep, 8.44-mile roundtrip hike in Hope that rewards you with amazing views of Turnagain Arm, Anchorage, Cook Inlet, and the Chugach Mountains! Other hikes to consider are Bird Ridge, Rainbow Peak, Falls Creek, and Gull Rock Trail.
Other things to do along Turnagain Arm
There are many more things to do along this drive, including visiting Indian Valley Meats, driving through Portage Valley to see glaciers, rock climbing in the summer and ice climbing in the winter, taking a picture with the Chugach National Forest sign, panning for gold at Indian Valley Mine, staying at a public use cabin, camping, watching locals hooligan fishing, taking a ride on the Alaska Railroad, packrafting down TwentyMile River, or fatbiking to Spencer Glacier.
Answering Your Questions
Does the Turnagain Arm freeze?
Yes, parts of the arm freezes in the winter and ice floes are common to see.
Are there whales in Turnagain Arm?
Yes, you can see beluga whales and humpback whales.
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Do you have any questions on best things to do along Turnagain Arm? Let me know in the comments.