Once you realize that Anchorage isn’t simply a big city on the edge of the wilderness but rather a big city in the wilderness, it starts to make sense.

The town manages to mingle hiking trails and traffic jams, small art galleries and Big Oil like no other city. Among big chain stores and mini-malls, there are more than 100 miles of city trails meandering in hidden greenbelts and a creek downtown where anglers line up to catch trophy salmon.

Towering behind the city is the nation’s third-largest state park, the half-million-acre Chugach. The wilderness is never far away, which is why Anchorage’s young population (the median age is 33) is an active one. Stay for a few days, explore the cycling trails, patronize the art galleries and dine in Alaska’s best restaurants, and you’ll understand why half the state’s population chooses to live in and around this city.

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