The name Eagle River was first reported in 1939 by the U.S. Geological Survey. The Eagle River/Chugiak area was settled by homesteaders and prospered on agricultural activities. The Eagle River post office was established in 1961.
In spite of some local opposition, both Chugiak and Eagle River became annexed to the Municipality of Anchorage, when the City of Anchorage and the Greater Anchorage Area Borough were unified in 1975. Efforts to secede from the Municipality surfaced around 2000, but are no longer prominent as the community has seen an influx of individuals who have social and economic ties to Anchorage and the nearby Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson.
Neighborhoods along the Glenn Highway and Old Glenn Highway corridor are level or sloping, rising towards the Chugach Mountains east of the Old Glenn Highway. The remainder of the community lies along the canyon of the Eagle River; some neighborhoods built in the late 20th century and early 21st century near the Briggs Bridge are built very close to the bottom of the canyon. Neighborhoods along the northern portions of Eagle River, plus Hiland Road and Eagle River Road east of the curve where the road leaves the section line and descends into the canyon, mainly consist of houses built across the mountainsides. Wallace Mountain, on the far northeast corner of the community's road system, is home to several radio station transmitters and towers at the 1,900 feet (580 m) level.
Eagle River's average temperatures in January range from 6 to 20 degrees; in summer, temperatures range from 50 to 70. Annual precipitation is 15.9 inches, with 69 inches of snowfall. The bulk of the snowfall is usually from mid-October through December, with fewer snowstorms from January through April. On average, the area experiences 2 to 3 "chinooks" - a warm, dry wind that melts much of the snow and creates a minor thaw - during the winter months. Springtime is generally referred to as "break up" in the area and further north, referring to the breaking up of the ice on rivers and lakes. Local lore holds that seedlings should not be planted outdoors until after Memorial Day in May, and even then temperatures should be watched for light frost until June.
The 2000 census found a population of 22,236 in Eagle River and an additional 8,000 in the settlements northeast of Eagle River: Chugiak, Birchwood, Peters Creek, Thunderbird Falls and Eklutna. About 30,000 people live in the Eagle River and Chugiak areas, on both sides of the Glenn Highway. Many personnel from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (and formerly from their predecessors, Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force Base) live in Eagle River, and many of the area's civilian residents additionally commute to jobs in the "Anchorage bowl".
Eagle River is the shopping hub between Anchorage, Palmer, and Wasilla. Major stores are Wal-Mart, Fred Meyer, Carrs Safeway, and Walgreens. The last decade has seen two major improvements in local services: shopping and the availability of medical and dental services. The local movie theater reopened in 2006 with six screens, then closed down in December 2011. The number of local restaurants available has almost doubled in the past 10 years as well. There are restaurants available that serve Mexican, Italian, Thai, local Alaskan and American cuisines, as well as national fast-food places: McDonald's, Arby's, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Papa John's Pizza and Carls Jr.. Local coffee shops are very popular places to get together, with Tinkers Rainforest Deli, Jitters, Starbucks, and Sleepy Dog being very popular places for study groups to meet.
Annual community events include the Highland Games at the end of June and a Fourth of July celebration, both held at Lion's Park, and the Bear Paw Festival which is in July and is celebrated all over Eagle River.
The Bear Paw Festival kicks off on Thursday evening with the Miss Bear Paw pageant held at the Steve Primis Auditorium at Chugiak High School. This scholarship pageant sponsored by the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce also presents awards for Bear Paw Princess, Official Escort, Best Costume with an Alaskan Theme and Miss Congeniality. The Sleeping Lady Mountain Lions Club provides a Community Service Award scholarship as well. Saturday morning there is a 5k foot race, followed by a very well-attended parade; with many events over the weekend, including the Slippery Salmon Derby, Stinky Sneaker competition, Dog & Owner Look-alike, and Iditaduck race. There are carnival games and rides as well as numerous vendors providing food and wares ranging from toys to furniture. A Renaissance anachronistic group does performances several times daily on Saturday and Sunday.
Eagle River has numerous public, parochial and charter school programs available for K-12 grades. The public school district is the Anchorage School District (ASD). Homeschooling is also a popular form of education in the area, both through home based charter schools and independently. Chugiak High School is northeast of town. Eagle River High School is the other High School in the region located Southwest of the town. The town is zoned such that roughly half of its residents go to Eagle River High School, while the other half attends Chugiak High School.
The University of Alaska Anchorage has a branch, located adjacent to the middle Glenn Highway interchange, which provides classes in the area. There is also a local bible college.
There is a lot of local interest in sports: hockey, both indoor and outdoor soccer, baseball, softball, basketball, football, swimming/diving, hiking, and cross-country running and skiing. A bike trail runs alongside the Glenn Highway from Anchorage past Eagle River and to Chugiak. Sidewalks are available and kept clear most of the winter in the downtown area for walking and jogging along the Old Glenn Highway and Business Boulevard. Cross-country skiing trails are available along Birchwood Road near Chugiak High School and recently trails have been put in around Eagle River High School. Hockey, figure skating, leisure skating, and indoor soccer are available at the Harry J. McDonald Memorial Center, which hosted seven games at the 1989 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships. Outdoor soccer is available at the Russell Oberg Soccer Complex. Chugiak Youth Sports Association (CYSA) is a local non-profit organization that offers recreational team sport opportunities to the youth of Chugiak and Eagle River including soccer, basketball, volleyball and flag football. Eagle River Soccer Club (ERSC) provides pre-competitive soccer (U9 and U10) and recreational youth and adult leagues. Chugiak Soccer Club (CSC) provides competitive soccer for U11-U19 soccer players.
Popular local activities include rafting, hiking, skiing and exploring the mountains. One of the more popular local hikes is up Mount Baldy, which overlooks the town. There is little fishing in the river, but anglers do gather at Fire and Mirror Lakes.
The 1996 Arctic Winter Games were held in Chugiak and Eagle River.
The Alaska Star, owned by Morris Communications, is the newspaper serving Eagle River, Chugiak, Eklutna, Peters Creek and Birchwood.