Nothing sends my kids into whine mode faster than AK Dad and I suggesting a “walk”, as if the mere idea of random strolling with no agenda other than enjoying our worldly surroundings would scar them for life. Please.
I like walks. I like the strolling, the flower-smelling, dog-petting, nowhere to go in particular part a lot. But in general, kids don’t, mostly because they need an end point, a goal. A motive. Ah, hah, visitors to Alaska. Anchorage has a secret, and it’s an orbital objective guaranteed to get even the most eye-rolling professional kid engaged.
Called the Anchorage Lightspeed Planet Walk and created by the Anchorage Rotary Club (who must have a considerable number of parents in the club), this fabulous educational and physical walk of the solar system takes your family on the trip of a lifetime. Yep, and it begins in downtown Anchorage.
Not just the usual self-guided tour experience, the Planet Walk was designed by a 2004 high school graduate who knew what kids needed to get and stay amazed about our solar system. Interactive, engaging, and colorful, the PW is a scale-model solar system created so we terrestrial beings could experience the relative size of planets and their distance from the Sun. A leisurely walking pace (ahem, kids) supports the relative speed of light. So, each step equals the distance light travels in one second (186,000 miles or 300,000 kilometers).
Starting the Planet Walk at the Sun Station at 5th Avenue and G Street, it is approximately eight minutes to the Earth Station at 5th Avenue and K Street. To achieve the finish of the Planet Walk with Pluto (YES, we KNOW Pluto isn’t a planet anymore, but don’t ruin my moment, here) at Kincaid Park 10+ miles away, it would take the casual walker 5.5 hours. Light takes that long to reach little not-planet-Pluto, by the way.
Of course, families do not have to go the entire distance on foot. Many kids bike, roller blade, or do the Walk in sections depending upon ability. The Sun Station features a huge tiled replica of the Sun with an information kiosk about the Walk. Start here and walk west toward Mercury on 5th Avenue and H Street; then to Venus at 5th and I; followed by Earth at 5th and K. Take a break when you reach Mars (5th and Elderberry Park) to play on the little orca statues and watch the people and sometimes Alaska Railroad trains go by while you have a picnic. Continue south along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, a level, paved, and busy trail affording great views of Cook Inlet and Anchorage. Watch for moose and the odd black bear.
From Elderberry Park, walk south to Jupiter’s kiosk at Westchester Lagoon, a great place to observe Alaska’s waterfowl among the shadowy shores of the lagoon and marshland. From Westchester, continue south to Lyn Ary Park, where a pirate ship playground and ball fields await your kids and Saturn can be checked off the Planet Walk list. Either turn around here and return to Anchorage, noting the beautiful views of the cityscape, or continue south (go, kids, go!) to Uranus at Point Woronzof. Point W sits right at the end of Ted Stevens International Airport, and wow, do kids get an eye and earful of aircraft taking off and landing. Take a detour down to the beach at low tide and throw some rocks in the water while debating the next Planet move.
Neptune hides out further south along the trail, and really, this is the “official” end of the Planet Walk if one takes planetary registration seriously. But really, you’re almost to Kincaid Park and Pluto, so why not continue on to check the little guy off the list, anyway?
It’s almost 11 miles from downtown Anchorage to Kincaid Park, not an easy ride or walk for little legs, but done with time and care, your kids can go home and tell their friends they went “out of this world” on vacation to Alaska.
For a downloadable version of the Anchorage Lightspeed Planet Walk, click HERE. The website also offers some great links to other educational resources both in Anchorage and elsewhere to help kids navigate their solar experience.