Just inside the Anchorage city limits is a quiet town with little to do, little to see, and not much going on. And the residents love it. Eagle River Alaska, isn’t exactly a tourist destination – it has a few places to eat, but most everything shuts down in the evening, and anyone wanting a nightlife has to drive down to Anchorage. Unless you’re looking for great coffee, Eagle River isn’t the place to visit.
By all local accounts, however, it’s absolutely the place to live. There’s very little crime. There are places to go, if you want something to do. The people are friendly, welcoming, and very supportive of new residents. Most of all, it’s absolutely gorgeous, nestled as it is next to the foot of the Chugach Mountain Range.
If you’re thinking of visiting, or thinking of moving, there’s a few things to know before you go.
1. Eagle River Alaska - The Quiet is the Best
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Eagle River is one of the most peaceful places you’ll ever see.
Quite literally the biggest scandal or fight in the town’s history was a battle with nearby Anchorage over whether or not Eagle River would be consumed in its larger neighbor’s borders. Eagle River lost, and is now technically part of Anchorage. It’s still a sore spot with some of the residents. But as disappointed as they might be, the fact is, a fight over zoning is the biggest news in recent town history. That should tell you just how quiet and serene Eagle River is.
It’s also one of the reasons people love it here. Everything offered in nearby Anchorage – a nightlife, bars, movie theaters, etc. – comes with a price tag that Eagle River residents are happy not to pay. There’s no traffic, no noise, and no fuss.
Mentions of that quiet usually transition into the real reasons people are drawn to Eagle River – family. Ask anyone in town why they come and why they stay, and you’ll inevitably hear the phrase, ‘it’s a great place to raise a child.’
They are, frankly, correct.
2. Eagle River Alaska - It’s Geared for Family
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Eagle River is geared towards raising children. The town has two high schools, a university, a Bible college, and is very supportive of homeschooling, which is popular in the area.
The town mostly shuts down in the evenings, but that doesn’t mean the kids are bored. There’s plenty of hiking and exploring available in the nearby Chugach Mountain Range. Outdoor family activities are literally everywhere – the town is right next to Kenai Fjords National Park and Preserve, and a short drive down the highway from Denali National Park. Both offer camping, fishing, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, and rafting.
Fact is, almost everything about Eagle River is perfect for those parents who want their children to get out and experience the world and stay away from time on their screens. Just about everything to do in Eagle River is outside. At present, the town doesn’t even have a movie theater.
What it does have, in apparent abundance, is coffee.
3. Eagle River Alaska - It’s Geared for Community
Image by : Leah Kelley
Discussions of Eagle River almost always include one odd aside – the coffee is great. A quick check of a map shows they aren’t lying. There’s between six and eight separate coffee shops, quite a few for a town that doesn’t have a nightlife or a movie theater.
It’s fitting, to be frank, because caffeine addictions aside, coffee shops are meant to bring people in the community together. Few businesses are as driven by local conversation as coffee shops, and Eagle River has eight – a testament to how close-knit, and how welcoming, everyone can be.
Chances are, if you visit, you’ll be having some of the coffee. We’ve got a rundown for you.
A Few Coffee Shops, and Other Places, to Visit in Eagle River Alaska
There’s a Starbucks, of course – well, there are a few Starbucks. But you can get that literally anywhere. If you want a taste of the local conversation, there are a few places to go.
- Jitters: Where Coffee is an Art. By all accounts, this place is packed from morning until evening. The coffee, of course, is delicious, but what seems to strike people the most is the way the shop has become a hub for community meetings. You’re like to see Bible studies, PTA meetings, and study groups daily. There’s local photography on the walls that showcase the surrounding natural beauty.
The real reason people come here, of course, is the community. The coffee is just an added bonus.
- Sleepy Dog Coffee Co. This may be the closest Eagle River has to a theater. You’ll likely see live performances in the evening, and people gathering daily to talk and eat specialty foods. The locals know all the baristas by name, and no one seems to have anything bad to say about the place.
There’s plenty more – Blondie’s Espresso, Java Hut, and Coho Coffee Company are all just a few blocks away. But while the locals all have their favorite, the reasons for their selection are the same – they know the baristas by name, or their favorite Bible study meets there, or they meet there with friends after work. If it weren’t for the people, no one would show up.
It’s fitting that a small town that boasts a great community as its main attraction would, in turn, have community gathering places as its most thriving niche businesses. Eagle River is about the people.
Of course, there’s not just coffee to see in the daytime. Consider…
- Eagle River Nature Center. This community hub offers guided hikes, live evening performances, and specialized classes for younger kids. Everything here focuses on both exploration and preservation. Residents are serious about preserving the natural beauty around them.
- The Alaska Veterans’ Museum. Few places in the U.S. have been as important for the quick and efficient movement of troops than Alaska. Its proximity to Russia meant it needed a strong defense, and its numerous ports and harbors were and are ideal for supplying a navy. Cold War military history is still fresh here, and will likely remain so for several decades more.
Alaska has a long history with the armed forces, and you can see it all, and pay your respects, at the museum. You’re quite likely to run into a veteran yourself. Ask some questions, and be prepared to listen – some of these stories will be gone forever, and the ones you hear from the visitors aren’t likely to be the ones already enshrined on the walls.
Besides, it’s Eagle River. People are already eager to talk.
- The Alaska Native Heritage Center. You’re never far in Alaska from native tribes that live, hunt, and raise families in much the same way as their ancestors did. The Heritage Center works hard to preserve that knowledge for future curious generations. If you want to learn about one of the eleven separate local cultures, this is the place to do it.
All in all, Eagle River offers quiet, family, and community – and coffee, of course. But there’s one more thing, and we saved it for last.
4. Eagle River Alaska - It’s Gorgeous, and Next to the Most Beautiful Places in the Country
Image by : Simon Matzinger
We mentioned already that much of what’s to do in Eagle River is outside. What we only hinted at was that those outdoors are the most sought-after wilds on the continent.
Eagle River is right at the base of the Chugach Mountain Range. It’s one of many in Alaska that meets up with glaciers, glacial lakes, national forests, national parks, and countless hiking trails for both the novice and the expert. All of it is close, and all of it is gorgeous.
If you like fishing, you’re a skip away from the coast, chartered boats, and Alaskan king salmon – or a short drive away from countless rivers. If you like hunting, you’re a short drive from Anchorage, the grand central station for Alaskan game hunts. If you like paddling, there are quiet lakes, rapids in wintertime, or trips down the coast. If you’re into camping, both Denali and Kenai Fjords National Park and Preserve have hundreds of square miles of wilderness within them.
If you’re raising a family, and want the children to grow up outside, there’s almost no better place in the world to be. The abundance of national parks, trails, and wilderness provides something for everyone, and your kids can easily transition from junior hikers and paddling passengers to young adult experts in surviving and enjoying the outdoors. The best childhood memories aren’t made on a screen. If you’re thinking of raising a family, and Eagle River is within your grasp, it’s worth your consideration.
In short, there’s always a good place to get away. But if it’s quiet and beauty you’re seeking, you might not need it. No matter how chaotic the rest of the world might seem, this place stays calm on purpose. The locals like it this way. You probably will, too.