Top 10 Hikes out of Anchorage area

by • April 6, 2015 • FeatureComments (0)265

Twenty years ago and just a week after moving to Alaska, I looked around the 400-square-foot cabin I was renting, still littered with all the boxes I had yet to unpack. I eyed my backpack in a corner, pulled it out and stuffed it with a weekend’s worth of camping gear. The unpacking could wait. I headed to the Resurrection Pass Trail – it would be my first introduction to Alaska backpacking and hiking – and I was quickly hooked.
Hiking still remains one of my favorite ways to see Alaska. There really is no better way to appreciate Alaska’s beauty than a simple hike. It can be a short after-work activity or an all-day adventure. Add a backpack and you’ve got a budget-friendly weekend getaway. Cycling and boating definitely have their place in summer fun, but walking the wilds of Alaska allows you to slow down and savor every minute.

Devil’s Pass on the Resurrection Trail. Matt Hage / AlaskaStock

Devil’s Pass on the Resurrection Trail. Matt Hage / AlaskaStock

This month, we share our Top 10 local trail destinations, in order of preference, in southcentral Alaska. If you haven’t tried them all, put them on a bucket list. Each provides a unique view of our region that makes it special: glaciers, rain forest, views and more.

10

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. It makes the list just because it’s a quick, fun day hike with gorgeous views. Best tackled May through November.
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.
INFORMATION: Mat-Su Borough, www.matsugov.us/communitydevelopment/recservices/trails/trail-guides

9

CAINES HEAD TRAIL
This coastal hike out of Seward 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.
INFORMATION: Caines Head State Recreation Area, dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/caineshd.htm

8

TWIN PEAKS TRAIL
From a paved parking area with outhouses, you can access the Twin Peaks trail from Eklutna Lake State Recreation Area. The trail will quickly take you away from the crowds on the Lakeside Trail, and the steep grade will weed out the weak of spirit.
CAMPING: Eklutna Lake Campground has 50 sites and 15 overflow sites. Camping is $10 per night. Backcountry sites are available off the Eklutna Lakeside Trail as well as the Alaska State Parks’ Yuditnu Cabin, available for rent at $45-55 per night, depending on the time of year. You can also backpack in if you like.
ACCESS: Take the Glenn Highway from Anchorage, north to the Eklutna/Thunderbird Falls exit, north of Eagle River. In less than a mile, turn right on Eklutna Lake Road and follow to its end. Day-parking signs are noted.
TRAIL LENGTH: 2.5 miles one way.
DIFFICULTY: Moderate to difficult.
INFORMATION: Chugach State Park, dnr.alaska.gov/parks

7

The views on the hike up flattop are great from start to finish. Jeff Schultz / AlaskaStock

The views on the hike up flattop are great from start to finish. Jeff Schultz / AlaskaStock

FLATTOP
Chugach State Park, at a half-million acres, is Southcentral’s back yard and one heck of a playground. Flattop is its crown jewel trail and gets the most visitors each year, which is why it makes the list – you just can’t visit, or live in, Alaska without seeing the city from up there at least once. It’s also what gives it the only drawback – it gets crowded.
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: 3 miles, round-trip.
DIFFICULTY: Short but difficult, only because of steepness at end.
INFORMATION: Chugach State Park, dnr.alaska.gov/parks

6

BALDY
Baldy is to Eagle River as Flattop is to Anchorage: short, steep and heavily used, but only by locals, which gives it a less frenetic feel. 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.
INFORMATION: Chugach State Park, dnr.alaska.gov/parks

Duke the husky hiking Lost Lake trail. meranda carter/ thewildbonesproject.com

Duke the husky hiking Lost Lake trail. meranda carter/ thewildbonesproject.com

5

LOST LAKE TRAIL
Located out of Seward, this 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
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.
INFORMATION: dnr.alaska.gov/parks/aktrails/ats/ken/lostlk.htm

4

PIONEER RIDGE TRAIL
If you want a real challenge, here’s a favorite: 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.
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
INFORMATION: Chugach State Park, dnr.alaska.gov/parks

3

TUTKA LAKE TRAIL
I have a soft spot for Kachemak Bay State Park and Wilderness outside of Homer, and this trail is a little-known treasure in its vastness. 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 (907)235-0132)
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.
INFORMATION: Kachemak Bay State Park and Wilderness Area, http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/kbay/kbaytrs.htm

A Hiker crosses the hand tram at Winner Creek Gorge, near Girdwood. Micael DeYoung

A Hiker crosses the hand tram at Winner Creek Gorge, near Girdwood. Micael DeYoung

2

WINNER CREEK
The Winner Creek Trail is a win-win destination: Hike by day and enjoy Girdwood by evening. This gorgeous, fern-filled and Sitka-spruce lined trail leads from the Alyeska Resort Hotel 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.
INFORMATION: www.fs.usda.gov
/detail/chugach/about-forest/?cid=stelprdb5052146

1

RESURRECTION PASS TRAIL
What can I say? Because this Chugach National Forest hike was my first, it remains my favorite. It 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.
INFORMATION: Chugach National Forest, www.fs.usda.gov/activity/chugach/recreation/hiking/?recid=4832&actid=51

 

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