Spotlight 49: Hiking in Alaska
Steps from your door
Up a mountain, down a meadow, on the ice or in a cave, even in rainforests, Alaska’s incredible trails allow any traveler — from outdoor enthusiast to leisurely walker — an experience through the beauty of the Last Frontier.
No matter where you land in Alaska, there is likely a hiking trail nearby. Most communities in Alaska are only minutes away from at least one or two trailheads and many originate inside city limits and are easily accessible year round.
From Anchorage, the Glenn Alps trailhead in the Chugach State Park is one of the most frequented hiking destinations in the state. It is the starting point for the popular Flat Top Mountain, a three-mile round trip climb up a well-maintained trail where views of Anchorage’s skyline, Cook Inlet, Mount Susitna (also known as Sleeping Lady) and several mountain ranges are clearly visible. Experienced hikers can choose to continue on to the second and third peaks, but even less-experienced trekkers will enjoy an afternoon or morning excursion walking up this mountain. Many additional trails of varying difficulty and lengths are also accessible from Glenn Alps and other areas within the Chugach State Park.
In Alaska’s Inside Passage, the Tongass National Forest is a prime hiking spot with numerous trails set amongst muskegs and rainforest surroundings. From Juneau, hike right up to Mendenhall Glacier or traverse an old wagon road leading to a mine on the Perseverance Trail. On Prince of Wales Island, spend the day spelunking in caves and learning about the island’s unique geology. In Haines, bird lovers can hike up the summit of the Chilkat Peninsula’s highest peak, Mount Riley, in the fall and witness thousands of bald eagles that congregate in the nearby Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. Skagway is a good starting point for several day hikes or to embark on the 33-mile-long Chilkoot Trail, the route taken by thousands of hopeful gold miners during the Klondike Gold Rush.
Alaska’s Interior offers easily accessible day hikes from the entrance of Denali National Park and Preserve, or by taking a shuttle to trailheads along the 90-mile Denali Park Road. Further north, get your calves pumping at the Chena Lake Recreation Area, located 20 miles east of Fairbanks, for a gentle walk through the Interior’s boreal forest.
Pack a bag
Day hikes are a great way to explore Alaska’s diverse terrain, but in Alaska’s backcountry, you can embark on multi-day hikes that are more about the journey than the destination. If you prefer a roof over your head, more than 200 public-use cabins, maintained by either the United States Forest Service or Alaska State Parks, are scattered across Alaska near lakes, rivers, mountains and ocean. For around $35 a night, public use cabins are a step up from sleeping in a tent but are rustic, with no electricity or plumbing, and heat is supplied by a wood or oil stove. Campers should plan to bring their own sleeping bag or mat, cook stove and cooking utensils, as well as all food and drinking water. Reservations can be made online and it’s recommended to stake out your cabin up to six months in advance, as they’re a popular option amongst both travelers and locals alike.
While most marked trails are on the road system, there is no shortage of backcountry treks where seclusion and pristine nature rule. Bush planes, the Alaska Railroad and boats will drop off adventure-seekers at places where the chances of spotting wildlife are greater than running into another human. Denali National Park, with its shuttle drop-off and pick-up service, offers about 6 million acres of land to explore. Fairbanks, in Alaska’s Interior, is where most travelers start their trip north on a charter plane across the Arctic Circle to some of the state’s most remote wilderness. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Gates of the Arctic National Park offer supreme hiking and wildlife viewing opportunities in the North Slope region. Lake Clark National Park and Preserve in Southwest Alaska offers roughly 4 million acres of Pacific coastline, glacier-covered volcanoes, wild rivers, granite peaks, mountains and some of Alaska’s best wilderness hikes. In Southcentral or Southeast, float planes will drop travelers at trailheads or public use cabins to hike and camp along the endless miles of scenic Alaska coastline.
The Alaska Railroad and Chugach National Forest are working on a backcountry trails development project in Southcentral Alaska, giving hikers an easy way to travel between the railroad’s new whistle stops in the nation’s second largest forest. With new trails and camping facilities in the works, there will soon be even more options for visitors to camp and hike the backcountry while taking advantage of rail transportation.
No matter the length or destination, preparation before a hike is crucial and caution is always advised. Many living creatures share Alaska’s lands and it is wise to be familiar with all possible challenges, including inclement weather or challenging terrain before heading out. Visit here for safety tips to exploring Alaska’s backcountry.
More information on hiking in Alaska can be found here and here.