Accessible wilderness in Alaska’s largest city
The most popular access point into Chugach State Park is the Glenn Alps trailhead. It is a short walk on a wheelchair friendly paved path to a knoll overlook. Stairs lead to trails around and up Flattop, 3,510ft, said to be the most-climbed mountain in Alaska. There is a scramble over rocks to reach the top, which really is flat, but the easy walking is around the base.
Glenn Alps connects to Powerline Pass with a trail through a spectacular alpine valley, beloved by hikers and mountain bikers. There is a leisurely route downhill to the next trailhead, Prospect Heights, with views of Mount McKinley. Foot bridges cross Campbell Creek at several spots in the valley.
Getting back onto the road system, drive north from Anchorage on the Glenn Highway, to the Eagle River Nature Center. Located on the historic Iditarod Trail, it has a short looping stroll to salmon spawning waters. If you proceed upriver on a more extended trek, you will find camping sites every mile or two.
Keep driving north on the Glenn Highway to reach Eklutna Lake. A broad, flat 10-mile path follows its north shore. Public use cabins are available there and adventurers with a whole day or two -- or access to mountain bikes -- may reach Eklutna Glacier.
It can be dangerous for casual hikers to go onto the glacier or attempt many of the towering mountains in this part of the Chugach. The 7,522ft high Bold Peak, for example, is known for avalanches.
Tough but possible
Glenn Alps is the easiest way to get into the high tundra of the Chugach, where the trails end and the real adventure begins. Head east from Powerline Pass to enter country where you could be the only human for days at a time. Alternatively, climb west off 24-mile-long Crow Pass Trail, which connects Eagle River and Girdwood. There are more big mountains in the Chugach than any mountaineer will ever climb. Those with parking at or near the base include Bird Ridge, 3,400ft, near Bird Creek; Wolverine Peak, 4,550ft, from Prospect Heights; and Pioneer Peak, 6,398ft. Reaching the summit of any of these can be exhausting, but technical gear and training are not needed.
The trailhead for Pioneer Peak is reached on the Old Glenn Highway and starts near sea level by the Knik River. The glacial river marks the northern boundary of Anchorage and can sometimes be another place to watch for belugas.
Always bring a good map, available through the USGS Map Store, REI, the Chugach State Park information centre and elsewhere. And also have a compass. Anchorage’s wilderness makes it a terrible city to get lost in.