Walk on the Wild Side

by • June 8, 2018 • Feature, HighlightsComments (0)812

It’s summer: Alaska’s trails beckon

This is the time of year that Alaskans have been waiting for. The sun is up (maybe not out, but at least up!) nearly 24-7 and our melatonin is all out of whack. It’s not uncommon to wake up at 4 a.m. when the birds start chirping, or go to bed well after 2 a.m. when you finally just run out of things to do. Time is really just a place holder at this time of year.

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. It’s also the only season of the year in which to reach a lot of it. Steep mountain peaks buried by avalanche-prone snow are tantalizing in the colder months, but deadly. Lakes that glisten welcomingly in summer, are no places for a boat come winter. Summer here is a fleeting gift and if you don’t make the most of it, it will be gone before you know it.

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 hikes 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.

 

 

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. The trail passes through forest to alpine to talus field to pinnacle. Once you get above treeline, the hiking is more moderate with outstanding views of the farming community, Cook Inlet and the Knik and Matanuska rivers below. The trails is open once the snow melts and it dries enough, usually, June-September.

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

USE: Hiking, backpacking, horseback on McRoberts Creek

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

 

 

The West Butte Trail is another Matanuska Valley favorite that can be tackled in a short hour or so. Shaped like a giant loaf of bread in a flat valley floor, the 880-foot Butte is a windy, sometimes dusty, steep but short hike that offers sweeping views of Knik Glacier, the face of 6,398-foot Pioneer Peak and farms of the Valley floor. Turn to the northwest and take in the Talkeetna Mountains. Turn southwest and see the silhouette of Sleeping Lady or Mount Susitna. Best tackled May through November, although snowshoers tackle it in the winter.

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: miles / DIFFICULTY: Moderate

USE: Hiking

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

 

 

A hiker enjoys the view from above Eklutna Lake, a great hiking, paddling and cycling destination 30 minutes north of Anchorage. Lucas Payne/Alaskastock

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.

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

 

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 takes 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, much 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. Upper Winner Creek extends the hike to 9 miles./ DIFFICULTY: Easy, ideal for families.

USE: hiking, skiing, biking

INFORMATION: www.muni.org/Departments/parks/Documents/GWSummerTrlMap.pdf

 

Ride the rails to one of the most spectacular glaciers in Southcentral aboard the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop. Leave the Alaska Railroad Depot in Anchorage aboard the Glacier Discovery Train and travel along scenic Turnagain Arm. The destination is a wilderness area within Chugach National Forest Service where rangers offer complimentary nature walks along the 1.3-mile trail to the Spencer Glacier overlook where you’ll enjoy an unmatched view of the glacier’s massive wall of ice cascading into Spencer Lake. You can also paddle in a traditional bidarka or kayak on the lake.

CAMPING: Camping is permitted.

ACCESS: Along the way you’ll visit the communities of Girdwood, and Portage where guests can disembark to visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Beyond Portage, the railway tunnels beneath the mountains to the town of Whittier on the shores of Prince William Sound. From there the trains returns to Portage and then on to the wilds of the Chugach National Forest.

TRAIL LENGTH: 1.3 miles /DIFFICULTY: Easy and short.

USE: Camping, rafting, boating, hiking and ice climbing

INFORMATION: Alaska Railroad, www.alaskarailroad.com/ride-a-train/our-trains/glacier-discovery

 

 

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 and mostly easy until the rock scramble toward the top; Rabbit Lake, easy to moderate; Powerline Pass, moderate to difficult.

USE: Hiking, biking, skiing, horseback riding

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

 

The view from the Gold Cord Lake Trail goes on forever. The Gold Cord Lake Trail is just one of many that can be found in the Hatcher Pass State Recreation Area. Melissa DeVaughn

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

The Lost Lake Trail is a perennial favorite among Alaska hikers, backpackers and bikepackers. Michael Jones/ Alaskastock

Numerous trails can be accessed along the Seward Highway and Turnagain Arm. This is one of the first places to dry up for spring hiking. 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 12-mile roadside path from Bird to the entrance of the ski town of Girdwood.

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. Watch for wildlife, including moose, bear, Dall sheep and beluga whales.

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, ATV.

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

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