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 in particular is well suited for that as one of the principle gateways to Chugach State Park, the third-largest state park in the country at 773 square miles. 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. At the log cabin visitor center you can go hiking, make reservations to overnight in a backcountry yurt, use telescopes to watch Dall sheep, join a naturalist program or just relax outside and soak up the mountainous scenery.
Things to do
Two of the more popular hiking trails departing from the nature center are Rodak Nature Trail and Albert Loop Trail. 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.
Since 1985, Eagle River-Chugiak has staged the Bear Paw Festival in mid-July. The five-day has some familiar festival features, including a classic car show, the Miss Bear Paw Pageant, a grand parade and a chili cook-off. But 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 lining the streets. The event takes place in mid-July. Check the events calendar for specifics.
Eagle River Nature Center
Located at the end of Eagle River road in Chugach State Park is the Eagle River Nature Center
, a log cabin facility that offers a wide range of activities. Inside are exhibits on the natural history of the park and a gift shop with guide books, naturalist materials and souvenirs. Outside trails lead to a salmon spawning viewing deck, telescopes to search for Dall sheep, three yurts and a cabin that can be reserved for a night in the backcountry and incredible alpine scenery.
Eklutna Village Historical Park
One of the most interesting anthropological sites in Alaska is preserved at Eklutna Village Historical Park. Here the where the Athabascan and Russian Orthodox cultures are enshrined within St Nicholas Church, outdoor altars and the 80 brightly colored spirit boxes located in a Denaina Athabascan cemetery. Native Alaskans provide tours of the park for an insight into their culture.
Rafting and kayaking
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.
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.