Arctic Valley is a popular local destination to pick berries, hike, and watch wildlife. East of downtown Anchorage, the valley is home to a variety of birds found in alpine tundra and subalpine shrub thickets, including the golden-crowned sparrow. While these sparrows sport a yellow stripe on the top of the head, most people hear them long before they are seen. Listen for their repeated three-note descending song in the minor key that sounds like "Oh poor me" - you'll remember it well!
Ptarmigan can also be seen in this area at higher elevations and occasionally in the parking lot at the top of the road. This is one of the few places near Anchorage where tundra is only a short walk from the parking lot. This area is studded with wildflowers from spring to fall. Ptarmigan are most visible in fall and winter, when they are in flocks that feed and roost together. In spring, they can gather in groups when they are breeding. Look for the three types of ptarmigan found in Alaska - willow, rock, and white-tailed.
Viewing and Safety Tips
Ptarmigan are relatives of grouse and live in alpine and arctic tundra regions. They have feathered toes and white wings year-round. In winter, their plumage changes to pure white, making them hard to see in snow.
The valley is accessible from Arctic Valley Road, a 20 minute drive from Anchorage. From downtown Anchorage, take the Glenn Highway east toward Eagle River. Take the first exit for Arctic Valley and follow the road to the ski area.