Encompassing 9 distinct ecosystems, this wildlife-rich park stretches 200 coastal miles from Anchorage to Canada
Beyond the foothills at the edge of Alaska's largest city is Chugach State Park, the fourth-largest state park in the United States. While Alaska has wilderness areas that are larger and more biologically pristine than Chugach, no other wildlife-rich habitat on Earth is so close to a major city. The park is known for optimal accessibility and activities for adventurers of all skill-levels. Within minutes of the park are the communities of Palmer, Eagle River, Chugiak, Indian, Bird, Girdwood, the village of Eklutna, and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
By the 17th century, the Dena’ina mountain people had spread across most of Cook Inlet. Captain James Cook was the first European known to write about contact with the Dena’ina community. Cook sailed up Cook Inlet in 1778 hoping to find the Northwest Passage, but had to “turn again,” leading him to name the water body “River Turnagain.”
With the discovery of gold on the Kenai Peninsula in the late 1890s, prospectors, miners and homesteaders headed to Turnagain Arm seeking their fortunes. By 1908, most of the gold-bearing streams were mined out. With the infrastructure of the Iditarod Trail and the Alaskan Railroad, the area continued to be developed, and by the 1960s, commercial logging became prevalent. In response to public pressure, in 1970 the legislature restricted the state-owned land and water described in Alaska Statutes to use as Chugach State Park.
Chugach State Park is carved from the western climax of the Chugach Range, which stretches 200 coastal miles from Anchorage to Canada. At 495,000 acres, Chugach has enough space to contain both New York City and Los Angeles within its borders.
The park features nine distinct environments including hemlock-spruce forests, muskeg, alpine tundra, the riparian habitat of rivers and lakes, coastal wetlands and even marine waters because its southern boundary extends halfway across Turnagain Arm.
More than 45 species of mammals live in Chugach State Park, including nearly all the terrestrial mammals found in Alaska. Brown bears and moose are so prevalent they occasionally wander into Anchorage neighborhoods. Biologists estimate the mammal population includes more than 1,000 moose, 40 brown bears and 80 black bears. There are also 2,000 Dall sheep, one wolf pack and smaller populations of lynx, beavers, river otters, fox and mountain goats.
The Chugach is also amazingly accessible with 16 trailheads and 110 trails that provide almost 280 miles of options for traversing the park. Activities are vast, including hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, camping, glacier-viewing, horseback riding, gold-panning, ATV riding, snowmobiling, berry picking… and the list goes on. The park is also popular with photography enthusiasts and professional alike, as they seek to capture the diverse wildlife and rugged topography of the area. With extensive ocean shoreline and abundant lakes, aquatic options such as boating and kayaking abound; only non-motorized vessels are allowed on park waters.