These easy Alaska hikes will get you off the couch this summer
I’ve been hiking and climbing in southcentral Alaska for quite some time, and I’ve often found that one of the most difficult journeys is from the couch to the door, and from the door to the car. Most people would agree that getting into the outdoors, even for short hikes, is a good prescription for improving and maintaining health. Besides, many of us spend too much time indoors during the long, dark winters. So here are some relatively easy hikes that are close by and don’t require the exceptional fitness of champion runner Ali Ostrander. And for the next couple of months, we have endless daylight!
Arctic Valley — Pass between Rendezvous and Gordon Lyon peaks
The Arctic Valley Road takes you to 2,500 feet where there are large parking areas and you are above tree line. By following a gradual trail east about 1-3/4 miles, you’ll reach a pass at 3,460 feet that offers a great view of Eagle River Valley. From this point a hike up Mt. Gordon Lyon, to the left (north) or Rendezvous Peak, to the right or south, are options. Always respect adjacent military property and remember that the road closes each night at 10 p.m. This is a prime blueberry area in August-September.
Getting there: The Arctic Valley Road is accessed from Mile 6.1 of the Glenn Highway. Take it to its end and be cognizant that it crosses military land.
Eagle River Nature Center Trails
Echo Bend/The Perch — If you want one of the most incredible views in southcentral via a relatively easy trail, hike three miles from the Nature Center on the Crow Pass trail to Echo Bend. And by adding another 1.5 miles to your journey, you’ll reach The Perch for an even more incredible view of some Chugach Mountain giants, including Mt. Korohusk, Nantina Point, Kiliak and Mt. Yukla peaks. Goats and sheep are often seen on the mountainsides.
Albert Loop via Eagle River Nature Center — This three-mile trail reaches the banks of Eagle River and provides an excellent opportunity to observe wildlife and an abundance of plant life. It is closed from August until the winter freeze to reduce potential bear-human conflicts.
Rodak Nature Trail — This short, 0.7-mile trail offers a chance to see beaver activity and aquatic life. There are benches and interpretive panels along the trail. Excellent for children.
Dew Mound Trail — This is a three-mile backcountry trail that weaves through moraines and other glacial features before passing Dew Lake. It connects with the Crow Pass Trail in five places. Look for signs marking the route.
Getting there: If coming from Anchorage, take the Glenn Highway to the Eagle River Loop exit at milepost 11.6, turn right on Eagle River Road and continue to the end of the road.
South Fork, Eagle River
This popular five-mile trail to Eagle and Symphony Lakes has a gentle grade with the exception of the return hike just past the bridge, which ascends about 400 feet. The vistas at Eagle and Symphony lakes are stunning, and grayling are stocked in the latter lake.
Getting there: From the Eagle River Loop Road, turn onto Hiland Road. Follow it for several miles, cross a bridge over South Fork Eagle River, and turn right onto South Creek Road. A sign denotes it is the route to the trailhead. Follow this for a short distance and then make a sharp right onto West River Drive. The trailhead and parking lot are on the left, just past the turn.
Eklutna Lake Trails (Chugach State Park)
Eklutna Lakeside Trail — This 12.7-mile (one way), multi-use trail has been one of my favorites for many years, because no matter how far you go, you feel like you’ve immersed yourself in the outdoors. It’s about eight miles to the south end of the lake for a spectacular view of the Chugach Mountains, with a chance of seeing bear, moose, sheep and goats; as well as other wildlife.
Twin Peaks Trail — For years this has been a way for my friends and I to access Pepper Peak. But just tromping up the gradual 2.5-mile (one way) trail to the first wooden bench for a 1,500-foot elevation gain is rewarding enough, offering an incredible view of Eklutna Lake and surrounding mountains. From there a more primitive trail angles off to the right, or southeast, leading to Pepper Peak ridge.
For more information on Eklutna Lake trails, camping and cabin rentals, go to: dnr.alaska.gov/parks/aspunits/chugach/eklutnalkcamp.htm
Getting there: Take the Glenn Highway at milepost 26.5 and follow signs to Eklutna Lake Road. Follow the 10-mile road to its end.
Stewart Homestead around Mt. Baldy
Close to home, the trail past the gate heads north and then east around 3,218-foot Mt. Baldy and is an easy way (about two miles) to ascend the long, flat ridge leading to Blacktail Rocks. From the ridge you can summit Baldy the easy way, rather than the traditional route straight up its face.
Getting there: Take Eagle River Loop Road and turn onto West Skyline Drive. Follow the main road uphill for 2.7 miles to its end at an elevation of 1,700 feet, where there are gates. Park as indicated by signs.
This two-mile (round trip) hike with only 200 feet elevation gain is one of the easiest in Chugach State Park and great for families with children. The trail leads through tall birch and cottonwood trees to a sturdy deck with a vantage point over Thunderbird Falls. Remain on the trail and away from the cliff edges.
Getting there: Heading north on the Glenn Highway, take the Thunderbird Falls exit at Milepost 25. The trailhead and parking area will be obvious, just before the Eklutna River bridge.
This 1.1-mile loop trail in the Palmer Hay Flats is one of those short and easy hikes with a big payoff. The view of the Chugach Mountains, sometimes reflected in the lake, is spectacular. There is a good chance of seeing upland birds and waterfowl, and along the trail there are interpretive panels and rest stops.
Getting there: Take the Knik River Access at Milepost 30.6 of the Glenn Highway. If heading north, the turnoff will be just after crossing the Knik River bridge.
A great family trail in the Matanuska Valley that over 1.5 miles (one way), you climb 845 feet on a very good trail (with a few short, steep sections) for a spectacular view of Knik Glacier, Pioneer Peak and adjacent Chugach Mountains, the Knik River and Matanuska Valley. It can be windy, so dress accordingly.
Getting there: From Anchorage, head north on the Glenn Highway and take the exit onto the Old Glenn Highway before reaching the Knik River. Follow this route until reaching the bridge; cross it and continue for about four miles. Turn left onto Bodenburg Loop Road after passing the Butte. After half a mile, turn left again onto Mothershead Lane and the parking area and trailhead will be obvious.
For the next couple of months we’ll have almost unlimited daylight. I hope you can make time and get out on the trails. Stay alert, make noise, go in groups if you can and carry pepper spray where it is quickly reachable.
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River with his wife Rebekah, a retired elementary school teacher.