Views of Alaska are endless when hiking above treeline
Perhaps it’s my upbringing that sends me scrambling toward alpine meadow flowers and hidden lakes. Raised in the midst of broody, old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest, my childhood was filled with swooping cedar trees and the unmistakable scent of lowland skunk cabbage. My father, a forester, took great pains to embed a love of trees into the souls of his children, but I always wanted to go higher, to view my enormous world from above rather than below, treelines be damned.
Now that I live in Alaska, that’s exactly what our family does. Given the option, we hike upward. Not always far, not always fast, but as soon as the snow melts, my family stuffs rain gear, granola bars and water bottles into backpacks for a few hours of alpine bliss.
I’ve delighted in our discovery of alpine trails. Panoramic views and lessons in geography lie just minutes away from many Alaska communities we visit, great places to introduce our son to the joy of putting one foot in front of the other. I’m also not ashamed to say I appreciate that most bears prefer to hang out along salmon-rich streams and rivers during the summer months, so hiking above the forest floor means more visibility and less opportunity to run into Alaska’s signature beast (bear-aware behavior is a must for any Alaska hike, though, low or high).
Alpine hiking with kids does require a fair amount of stamina, so pack extra food and water. Also add warm clothing and rain gear, since weather patterns up high can change rapidly. Bring trekking poles or walking sticks for added stability, pack babies and young toddlers in carriers, and consider employing our “20-10” rule for climbing steep trails with youngsters. We hike for 20 minutes, then rest for 10, snacking and talking and enjoying the fabulous view unfolding around us. There’s no hurry, after all.
Below are a few favorite hikes enjoyed by Alaska families. Check with local land- management agencies before leaving home for updates on trail closures, maintenance work, and fee requirements.
Hatcher Pass, Palmer
Easy to reach and full of history, Hatcher Pass is also home to Independence Mine State Historical Park. Pay the $5 day-use fee (or use your State Park pass), and head out for a day of scrambling among babbling brooks and whistling marmots. Best hikes for kids include the short walk up to the train tunnels and around the well-preserved town site. Rangers also offer guided tours on weekends during the summer. Older kids with some hiking experience will enjoy the many alpine trails leading from the mine sites, including access to the seven-mile long Gold Mint Trail. Beware slippery rocks (scree), and stair-step tread in some places. dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/indmine.htm
Arctic Valley, Anchorage
One of Anchorage’s favorite spots for late-summer berry picking, Arctic Valley sits just above Alaska’s largest city, with sweeping views of Cook Inlet, Mount Susitna, and on clear days, mounts Foraker and McKinley. Make your way up Rendezvous Peak, a scenic, four-mile round trip hike with lots of wildflowers, blueberry and crowberry bushes, and people. www.skiarctic.net/hiking/. Please pay the $5 parking fee.
Mount Roberts, Juneau
Mount Roberts is best reached via the Goldbelt Tours tramway, which whisks visitors 1,800 vertical feet to the summit. Clearly marked interpretive trails wind through subalpine and alpine terrain and offer a bit of Native Alaska history for all ages. Services are available on the mountain, so fill up water bottles here before taking off into the meadowlands. Watch for slippery tread, and caution kids to use their best trail etiquette, too: Trails here are crowded on cruise-ship days. Buy the Alaska Toursaver coupon book (www.toursaver.com) and get one tram ticket free. http://www.goldbelttours.com/mount-roberts-tramway/hiking-trails/.
Angel Rocks, Fairbanks
Part of the Chena River State Recreation Area, Angel Rocks is a popular destination for Interior families due to its proximity and interesting granite rock formations (tors). The 3.5-mile loop trail begins along the north fork of the Chena River, then crosses a small stream and extends sharply uphill to the rock formations around Mile 2. Kids can imagine secret castles among these rocks, and it’s many a youngster who has to be dragged away from their favorite climbing apparatus. Rocks can be slippery after a rain, and summer bugs are numerous, so be prepared for both. Pay attention to signage as well, since multiple options for the return trip exist. http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/chena/angelrocktrl.pdf.
Crow Pass, Girdwood/Eagle River
A National Historic Trail cutting through enormous Chugach State Park, Crow Pass leads hikers along the Historic Iditarod Trail supply route, past an old mine site, and through talus fields, meadows, and brush to Eagle River Nature Center. At a distance of 21 miles, and with a potentially dangerous crossing of rushing and frigid Eagle River, this hike is not for young children, or anyone without extensive knowledge of backcountry travel. That said, this can be an incredible opportunity for teens who want a truly epic Alaska adventure – best tackled as an overnighter. The south end of Crow Pass is the highest, so if you’d like to stay above treeline, hike north from Crow Creek Mine near Girdwood. http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/maps/crowpasstrailguide.pdf.
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