Learn and Explore: Back-to-School for JBER Families

Amanda AmadonAmanda Amadon

Amanda Amadon

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The days are getting chillier and shorter, and the air is crisp with a hint of excitement. This can only mean one thing; Summer is over and it’s officially “Back To School” season! The structure and regularity that comes with the school year is every parent's dream. While it may seem like Winter is closing in fast (because, well, it is) there are still plenty of activities to get your family out and about during this beautiful season and beyond.

Perhaps the most valuable resource in the area is your local library. The Anchorage Public Library consists of 6 branches spanning Girdwood to Eagle River. They are a treasure to the community; offering a wide range of free activities throughout the week for every age group. From Lego Club to science experiments, to story time for your littlest ones, you’ll be sure to find something that sparks your child’s interest at your local library branch. APL also does an excellent job of keeping their Facebook events updated so be sure to like and follow their pages!

For the more nature-driven kiddos, the Eagle River Nature Center offers some incredible programs and workshops to get the whole family out to appreciate the natural beauty that is Alaska. For preschool-age, they offer guided nature walks “at a toddlers pace”. For your older kids, they offer everything from shelter building to nature-journaling events. If you’re looking for a great family hike, the Nature Center has beautiful, well-maintained trails for every level of hiker. Still not feeling super comfortable taking on the trails solo? The Nature Center offers guided walks Wednesday through Sunday at 3pm. For a full list of upcoming events and more information on everything the Eagle River Nature Center does, be sure to visit their website at: https://www.ernc.org/.

Are your kids crazy about animals? If this is the case, you’ve come to the right place! There are multiple animal viewing facilities just a short drive from Anchorage. The Reindeer Farm in Palmer is a must-visit. For families with older kids, you can pay for the VIP experience and get right in the pen to walk around with the reindeer! Even without the VIP package, feeding the reindeer and petting them through the fence is a fun-filled experience for all ages (it’s entirely possible I was even more excited about this day trip than my one-year old). They also have alpacas, moose, horses, tractor rides, a food truck and cafe that offers local must-trys like the fireweed milkshake, and play areas for your kids to burn off some energy.

The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is another great place to explore while simultaneously learning all there is to know about Alaska's native animals. This place is huge! You can drive through and park as you wish to get out and see the exhibits, or you can park in the lot and walk around at your leisure. Whichever you decide to do, The AWCC does a great job of providing information about their exhibits and making their animal-viewing experience accessible to all.

For a quick trip that’s a bit closer to home, The Alaska Zoo is a great option as well. Located in Anchorage, The Zoo is quite a bit closer than The Reindeer Farm or the AWCC (which are both about an hour outside of Anchorage). They have weekly events highlighting a variety of topics relating to their animal exhibits. They also offer Storytime at the Zoo every Wednesday from 10:30am-11am all year long.

Is your family more interested in free-roam, unstructured, pure outdoor bliss? There are plenty of great spots to simply run wild in Anchorage. Eklutna Lake is a beautiful and relatively short ride out of the city. Here you will find wide open spaces and unbelievable views that will spark the wonder of any kid. There are easy to navigate hiking trails, or you can simply mosey down the waterfront taking it all in. This is a great spot to bring a picnic and just hangout on a nice day. Kincaid Park, located in the Anchorage bowl, has something to offer for every outdoor enthusiast. This park has impeccably maintained trails that are perfect for hiking, biking, and jogging. There are wide open fields to play soccer or the sport of your choice. There is a designated archery range, and a lake for fishing. Once the snow falls, the park becomes an impressive system of cross country ski trails. Looking for a place to sled? You guessed it: Kincaid Park. They truly have it all. There is no shortage of outdoor adventure in the Anchorage area.

A bit of advice to propel you through your first Fall and Winter in Alaska: don’t let the weather deter you from getting out. Buy the gear to keep you warm and dry. You won’t regret it. There is so much beauty to be seen and fun to be had here. It will rain a lot, and that rain will turn to snow. The secret is to be prepared, and take the leap in those pockets of sunshine in between. Throw the gear in the car and get out there!