Nestled on the edge of the Chugach Mountains just north of Anchorage are the twin communities of Eagle River and Chugiak. Homesteaders first settled the area in the 1930s but today Eagle River and Chugiak are full-service communities and home to almost 30,000 residents.
About Eagle River/Chugiak
Many of the people who live in this area work in Anchorage, a mere 15-minute drive away, but love to play in the mountains. Eagle River is particularly well-suited for mountain access as one of the principle gateways to Chugach State Park, the third-largest state park in the country at 773 square miles.
Things to do
Running east from the community is Eagle River Road, a 13-mile ribbon of pavement into the heart of the Chugach Mountains that makes for a stunning side trip. The winding road skirts the Eagle River to the joy of rafters and whitewater enthusiasts before ending at the Eagle River Nature Center within Chugach State Park. From the log cabin visitor center you can go hiking, use telescopes to watch Dall sheep, join a naturalist program, or just relax outside and soak up the mountainous scenery. The Eagle River Nature Center manages several backcountry yurts and a rustic cabin that are available to reserve in advance.
Two of the more popular hiking trails departing from the nature center are Rodak Nature Trail and Albert Loop Trail. The Rodak Nature Trail is a loop of less than a mile that passes an impressive observation deck straddling a salmon stream while the Albert Loop Trail is a three-mile hike through a boreal forest and along Eagle River. The trail leading from the nature center is also the north end of the stunning Crow Pass Trail, a 23 mile trail that stretches from the nature center to Girdwood, covering diverse terrain including a mountain pass, the Eagle River Valley, a bone-chilling crossing of Eagle River, and fantastic views of mountains, glaciers, rivers, and alpine likes.
The Eagle River is well known for its whitewater that entices kayakers and rafters to float it throughout the summer. At Mile 7.4 of Eagle River Road is a put-in for rafts and kayaks to float the Class I and II section of the river. Class III and IV rapids are located upstream and are accessed from a put-in at Echo Bend at the Eagle River Nature Center. Outfitters offer guided rafting trips down the wildest stretches of the river.
One of the most interesting anthropological sites in Alaska is preserved at Eklutna Village Historical Park, where the Athabascan and Russian Orthodox cultures are enshrined within St. Nicholas Church, outdoor altars, and the 80 brightly-colored Spirit Houses located in a Dena'ina Athabascan cemetery. Guided tours are available.
Thunderbird Falls is a gorgeous little waterfall and the grand finale awaiting visitors who hike the easy 2-mile Thunder Falls Trail. The trailhead is well posted and reached from the Thunderbird Falls exit at Mile 25 of the Glenn Hwy.
Since 1985, Eagle River has hosted the Bear Paw Festival in mid-July. The five-day event has some familiar festival features, including a classic car show, the Miss Bear Paw Pageant, a grand parade, and a chili cook-off. It also has some not-so-common events, most notably the Slippery Salmon Olympics. The event consists of teams of two racing through Eagle River straddling hula-hoops with a soda on a serving tray in one hand and a salmon in the other, to the delight of hundreds of spectators lining the streets.
The winding roads that climb in to the mountains from Eagle River can be a great spot for northern lights viewing because they get you away from city lights. The northern lights can be seen from August through April, with your best chances in winter when the skies are darkest and the nights are longest.
Eagle River has a few lodging options, including a hotel, motel, bed & breakfasts, and vacation rentals. You will find additional options in nearby Anchorage, 15 miles to the south, and the Mat-Su Valley, 30 miles to the north.