State of the trails

by • June 12, 2017 • Feature, HighlightsComments (0)46

 

Alaska’s a great big place to get out and explore

By now, Alaskans have summer on the brain. The sun is up nearly 24-7 and our melatonin is so off-kilter that we tend to maniacally squeeze in activities until we run out of steam like the fading batteries in a windup toy or the mosquitoes drive us inside. Who cares if it’s 11 p.m. and the urge to hike a mountain hits you? This is Alaska: Go for it.

Hikers along Winner Creek Trail enjoy the sounds of nature. jodyO Photo/Visit Anchorage

The unbelievable beauty of this mostly unspoiled land is why most people live in Alaska, in the first place and this is the time of year to really appreciate it at its best. Summer here is a fleeting gift and if you don’t make the most of it, it will be gone before you know it, replaced by cold, dark days and buried under blankets of snow.

So, get out the planner and schedule a few Alaska play days of your own. There really is no better way to enjoy Alaska than a simple hike. You needn’t be Superman strong to hike – just willing to sweat a little to reach the best views. You needn’t break your budget, either: Easy day hike are just minutes from Anchorage, or at most a day trip away. And if walking is out of the question, try paddling a canoe, jumping on a horse or steering a bicycle.

With the snow mostly gone, the trails are in prime shape right now, and we want to share a few of our favorites in Southcentral Alaska. These places beckon a variety of trail users – hikers, mountain bikers, horse folks and more. Take your pick, pack your car and get outside. There’s a lot of Alaska to see, and only a few short summer months in which to do it.

 

Anchorage-Eagle River Area

EKLUTNA LAKESIDE TRAIL: From a paved parking area with outhouses, you can access both the Twin Peaks trail, which is a hike-only trail, and the Lakeside Trail, which gets the most use. With a gentle topography, the lakeside trail follows the north shore, offering gorgeous mountain and water views.

ATVs are permitted Sundays through Wednesdays, April 1-Nov. 30.

Eklutna Lake is popular among hikers, mountain
bikers, ATV riders and equestrians. This area
includes tent and cabin camping options and is a
beautiful place to paddle a canoe or kayak. KIMBERLY KELLAR/ VISIT ANCHORAGE

CAMPING: Eklutna Lake Campground has 60 sites and 15 overflow sites. Camping is $15 per night. Backcountry sites are available off the Eklutna Lakeside Trail as well as the Alaska State Parks’ Yuditnu Cabin, available for rent at $60 per night, depending on the time of year.

BOATING: Nonmotorized boat access, with hand-carry boat launching area from parking lot. Kayak rentals available from Lifetime Adventures, an onsite concessionaire. www.lifetimeadventures.net.

TRAIL LENGTH: Lakeside Trail, 12.8 miles one way; Twin Peaks Trail, 2.5 miles one way

DIFFICULTY: Lakeside Trail, easy; Twin Peaks Trail, moderate to difficult

USE: Multiuse

INFORMATION: Chugach State Park, dnr.alaska.gov/parks/aspunits/chugach/eklutnalkcamp.htm

 

HILLSIDE TRAIL SYSTEM/CHUGACH STATE PARK: Chugach State Park, at a half-million acres, is Southcentral’s back yard and one heck of a playground. The Hillside Trail system includes some of the most widely used trails in the state – from simple strolls to major mountaineering. Three of our favorites include the ever-popular Flattop – because you just can’t visit, or live in Alaska without seeing the city from up there at least once; Rabbit Lakes Trail, because the destination is supremely serene; and Powerline Pass, because what won’t kill you will make you stronger.

CAMPING: Backcountry camping permitted.

ACCESS: Park at the end of Lower Canyon Road for Rabbit Lakes access; Hillside Drive to Upper Huffman and Glen Alps parking lot offers access to Flattop and Powerline Pass

TRAIL LENGTH: Flattop, 3 miles, round-trip; Rabbit Lake, 4.4 miles one way; Powerline Pass, 6 miles one way.

DIFFICULTY: Flattop, short but difficult, only because of steepness at end; Rabbit Lake, easy to moderate; Powerline Pass, moderate to difficult.

USE: Hiking, biking, skiing, horseback riding

INFORMATION: Chugach State Park, dnr.alaska.gov/parks

 

BALDY: Baldy is to Eagle River as Flattop is to Anchorage: Both are short, steep and offer the quintessential birds-eye view of town below, making you feel as if you’ve stepped on top of a cloud. It’s hiked year-round, although ice grippers and even crampons are required in the winter. Skiers even climb up and play on its open slopes. You can continue on to Blacktail Rocks beyond and descend via the valley for a longer hike, but most opt for the up-and-back.

CAMPING: Backcountry camping permitted.

ACCESS: From Anchorage take the Eagle River exit and drive through downtown Eagle River. Turn right at the second Eagle River Loop exit (at the Walgreen’s). Follow the hill to the top, and turn left on Skyline. Follow this winding, steep road’s main route as it becomes several different names. Don’t worry: The road ends and parking is to the right along the road.

TRAIL LENGTH: 2 miles

DIFFICULTY: Moderate, short, but steep.

USE: hiking, skiing, backpacking

INFORMATION: Chugach State Park, dnr.alaska.gov/parks

 

WINNER CREEK: This gorgeous, fern-filled and Sitka-spruce lined trail leads from the Alyeska Resort Hotel in Girdwood into the lowland backcountry surrounding the ski slopes. The Chugach National Forest Service-owned trail leads to the stunning Winner Creek Gorge, where a hand tram can take you across to the other side. In the winter, the Winner Creek Trail is a peaceful alternative to the frenetic downhill skiing, and in the summer, it is a leisurely, tree-canopied escape on a hot day. The Upper Winner Creek Trail, must less developed, continues for another nine miles for those who want a real challenge.

CAMPING: Backcountry camping permitted from Upper Winner Creek and beyond.

ACCESS: From Anchorage, drive south on the Seward Highway for approximately 35 miles. Then turn left on the Alyeska Highway toward Girdwood. At the end of that road, veer left and head to the Alyeska Resort. Parking is in the back lot, and access to the trailhead is below the tram building at the rear of the hotel.

TRAIL LENGTH: 3 miles from resort to Crow Creek Road trailhead.

DIFFICULTY: Easy, ideal for families.

USE: hiking, skiing, backpacking

INFORMATION: www.fs.usda.gov/detail/chugach/about-forest/?cid=stelprdb5052146

Mat-Su Area Hikes

 

PIONEER RIDGE/AUSTIN HELMERS TRAIL: With an elevation gain of more than 5,000 feet, this impressive goat scramble provides incredible views of the Matanuska Valley and Knik Glacier. It’s a June-September outing; during winter, very few venture here. Start early. The trip might not seem like an all-day outing, but it is.

CAMPING: Backcountry camping and backpacking permitted, although terrain not best suited.

Hiking trails can be found throughout the nearly 500,000-
acre Chugach State Park. The Anchorage Hillside is one
of the gateways to Chugach State Park hiking, biking,
horseback riding and more. ASHLEY HEIMBIGLER/ VISIT ANCHORAGE

ACCESS: Take the Old Glenn Highway toward Palmer, veer slightly right on Knik River Road when the Old Glenn veers left toward the bridge. Drive about five miles, and look for the parking area on your right.

TRAIL LENGTH: 9 miles round-trip

DIFFICULTY: Difficult

USE: Hiking

INFORMATION: Chugach State Park, dnr.alaska.gov/parks

 

THE WEST BUTTE TRAIL: Named simply after the area in which it rises – like a giant loaf of bread in a flat valley floor – the Butte is a windy, sometimes dusty, steep but short hike that offers sweeping views of the Matanuska Valley and the farming community below. Best tackled May through November – April if the snow is gone, which it often is in the Valley.

CAMPING: Hiking only.

ACCESS: From Palmer, drive east on the Old Glenn Highway, and turn right onto Bodenburg Loop Road. After a half mile, turn left on Mothershead Lane, and look for a parking lot to the right. Another access point, on the opposite side of the Butte, is less well-maintained.

TRAIL LENGTH: 3 miles round-trip

DIFFICULTY: Moderate

USE: Hiking

INFORMATION: Mat-Su Borough, www.matsugov.us/trails

 

MATANUSKA PEAK TRAIL: A Matanuska Peak adventure begins in Butte, near Palmer. Travelers can follow a steep hillside that passes Lazy Mountain or walk along a more gradual road and the McRoberts Creek Trail. Once you get above treeline, the hiking is more moderate with outstanding views of the farming community below. Like Pioneer Ridge, it’s considered a June-September hike.

CAMPING: Backcountry and backpacking permitted.

ACCESS: From Palmer, drive east on Old Glenn Highway, and turn left on Smith Road. Follow it to the end to access the trailhead.

TRAIL LENGTH: 8.2 miles round-trip

DIFFICULTY: Moderate to difficult

USE: Hiking, backpacking, horseback on McRoberts Creek

INFORMATION: Mat-Su Borough, www.matsugov.us/trails

 

 

Kenai Peninsula Hikes

LOST LAKE TRAIL: This view-studded multiday or one-day trek offers fishing at Lost Lake and incredible views of Resurrection Bay at its southern end. There is great backcountry camping by the lake, and in the alpine valleys, skiers can explore safe of avalanche zones. There also is a public-use cabin on the southern end for rental. Best times to hike: June through September

CAMPING: Backcountry camping and backpacking permitted

A hiker filters stream water near Caines Head, a popular hiking trail at the edge of Resurrection
Bay in Seward. MATT HAGE/ ALASKASTOCK

ACCESS: Lost Lake Trail access begins at Milepost 5, Seward Highway, at Lost Lake subdivision, up a gravel road follow signs to parking. There is no trailhead yet. Primrose Trail access is at Mile 17, Seward Highway. Turn northwest and drive 1.5 miles to Primrose Campground. The trailhead is toward the back of the campground.

TRAIL LENGTH: 15 miles end to end

DIFFICULTY: Moderate

USE: Hiking and backpacking, skiing, fishing

INFORMATION: dnr.alaska.gov/parks/aspunits/northern/lostlktlcamp.htm

 

CAINES HEAD TRAIL: This coastal hike heads from Lowell Point Beach, already a fantastic place to stop for a stroll, and follows the Tonsina Creek Trail and the shore during low tide to Caines Head, a point of land that can be seen expanding out into Resurrection Bay. You’ll pass through a northern rainforest of mossy spruce and cross streams with migrating fish. Be on the lookout for otters, eagles and plenty of migratory birds and shorebirds.

CAMPING: Backcountry camping and backpacking permitted

ACCESS: From downtown Seward, pass the Alaska SeaLife Center and follow Lowell Point Road to the end. A parking area is off to the right, offering access to the trail. Be sure to check road conditions and pay attention to the tides.

TRAIL LENGTH: 9 miles round-trip

DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate

USE: Hiking and backpacking

INFORMATION: Caines Head State Recreation Area, dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/caineshd.htm

 

TUTKA LAKE TRAIL: This Kachemak Bay State Park and Wilderness trail is a little-known treasure in this, our favorite coastal recreation locale in Southcentral. In fact, there are countless trails in and around Kachemak Bay that warrant investigation, including the China Poot Trail, Emerald Lake Trail and Sadie Knob Trail. Tutka Lake just happens to be one of the least traveled, leading from a point near the Sea Star Cove Public Use Cabin up and through a spruce forest, along Tutka Lake, dead-ending near the Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park boundary, showcasing the Tutka Creek waterfalls.

CAMPING: Tent platforms, public-use cabin or yurt rental (available through Nomads Yurts at alaskanyurtrentals.com)

ACCESS: From the Homer Spit, travel by boat to Tutka Bay, with access at Sea Star Cove.

TRAIL LENGTH: 2.9 miles end to end

DIFFICULTY: Moderate

USE: Hiking, backpacking, camping, boating, fishing

INFORMATION: Kachemak Bay State Park and State Wilderness Area, dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/kbay/kbayl.htm

 

RESURRECTION PASS TRAIL: This Chugach National Forest hike is one of the jewels of longer hikes in Alaska, and it draws users from not only across the state, but also the world. As such, it can be a populated place, yet there is room for everyone. Start in Hope or Cooper Landing for this end-to-end hike – we’ve done both, and still can’t decide which way is best. The hike takes you up and over the Kenai Mountains, meandering through forests, open meadows, mountain passes and high-altitude lakes. You get it all. In late summer, there are blueberries galore; in early summer, look for snow at the pass.

CAMPING: Tent platforms and public-use cabins

ACCESS: For north-end access: From Seward Highway, take the Hope Road, and at Mile 15, turn left on Resurrection Creek Road. For south-end access: Take Seward Highway to Sterling Highway, veering left and passing through Cooper Landing. Trailhead is at Mile 53.2 of the Sterling Highway, on the right.

TRAIL LENGTH: 38 miles end to end

DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate

USE: Hiking, backpacking, biking, horseback riding (closed to horses April 1-June 30), camping

INFORMATION: Chugach National Forest, www.fs.usda.gov/activity/chugach/recreation/hiking/?recid=4832&actid=51

 

Turnagain Arm Hikes

Numerous trails can be accessed along the Seward Highway and Turnagain Arm. This is one of the first places to lose snow and become dry enough for hiking. Some of our favorites include the Turnagain Arm Trail from Potter Marsh to Windy Corner; Indian Creek Pass Trail, which cuts deep into Chugach State Park; Bird Ridge, which is also the site of one of the state’s most popular mountain-running races; Bird Creek, in the valley below; McHugh Lake Trail to Rabbit Lake; and the Bird to Gird bike path, which is a scenic, strolling, 12-mile roadside path from Bird to the entrance to the ski town of Girdwood.

Kelly Bertrand hikes near the top of Bird Ridge, which is a steep hike but offers sweeping
views of Turnagain Arm. MICHAEL DEYOUNG/ALASKASTOCK

These hikes range from easy to strenuous, and all are excellent ways to explore the wilderness, yet still be home in time for dinner in town. Be on the lookout for plenty of wildlife, including moose, bear, Dall sheep and more.

TRAIL LENGTH: Turnagain Arm, 9.5 miles one way, with a 1,000-foot elevation gain; Indian Creek Pass, 6 miles one way, with an elevation gain of 2,100 feet; Bird Ridge, 2.5 miles one way, with a 3,400-foot elevation gain; McHugh Lake Trail, 6.4 miles one way, with an elevation gain of 2,900 feet; Bird to Gird, 12 miles one way on paved trails.

DIFFICULTY: Turnagain Arm Trail, moderate; Indian Creek Pass, moderate; Bird Ridge, moderate to difficult; McHugh Lake Trail, moderate; Bird to Gird, easy.

USE: Hiking, backpacking, biking (on Bird to Gird only), horseback riding (closed to horses April 1-June 30), camping

INFORMATION: Chugach State Park, dnr.alaska.gov/parks

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