Alaska: On the Bucket List – Take a Hike

Hiking is an activity you can do pretty much anywhere, but there’s something special about the hikes in Alaska. Whether you’re taking a stroll down the Coastal Trail on your lunch break in Anchorage or a bush plane has dropped you off in the remote backcountry for a multi-day trek, you can find hikes for every level with top-notch scenery, stunning wildlife, and wilderness unmatched. It’s never too early to start planning your hike list, so we’ve put together a list of our favorite hikes. We hope you love them as much as we do!

Any time you’re hiking in Alaska, it’s always good to have a buddy. Carrying bear spray is a must (I don’t even go on a dog walk without it in the summer). Talking is another great way to make your presence known to any nearby creatures. It’s also good to be conscientious of what foods you bring with you for snacks. Smoked salmon is delicious and full of protein, but it’s smelly and the bears love it just as much as you do – consider foods that are less permeating. If you’re going into the backcountry or camping, be sure to use a bear box and store it away from your campsite. Always be bear aware! The weather is another variable that changes very quickly and without notice in Alaska. Always be prepared with layers, I’ve been on many hikes where I’ve encountered the four seasons in one day even in the middle of summer.

One Day

Portage PassWhittier  This hike is easily doable as a day trip from Anchorage or on your way to other places. It’s 4 miles round-trip, out-and-back, fairly easy (though it’s a little steep in some parts) and gives you awesome views of Prince William Sound on your way to more awesome views of the receding Portage Glacier and Lake. When I was a kid, you were able to watch the glacier calve (break off) into the lake, but in recent years it’s receded too far. Note: to get here, you need to go through the Whittier Tunnel (you get to drive through a mountain!), which allows cars in and out of the town once per hour and costs $13. Make sure to plan accordingly, and make sure not to miss your last tunnel out!

Lazy Mountain – Palmer  The name is a little misleading – this isn’t really a lazy hike. It’s 4 miles round trip and can be done as a loop or as an out-and-back hike. If you take the Mountain Trail, it’s literally straight up – no switchbacks, no breaks and a handful of false peaks. The Moose Trail is a bit more forgiving, but is full of switchbacks at the end. The views are totally worth the work, be sure to bring enough water! Summertime gets toasty.

Bird Ridge – Bird  This is a 4.6 mile out-and-back trail which again takes you straight up for some stunning views of the Turnagain Arm and the Chugach Mountain Range. In the summertime, the wildflowers are stunning. It is on the more difficult side, because of the steep trail and is pretty popular, but it will really pay off when you get to the top.

Rabbit Lake – Anchorage  A popular 5-mile out-and-back hike takes you through the alder forests until you pass the tree line and end at the beautiful Rabbit Lake. It’s moderate in difficulty and is a gradual uphill the entire way, but makes for a lovely hike with a plethora of beautiful picnic spots along the way. It’s a great hike for the whole family. Watch out for goats on the nearby mountains once you get out of the trees!

Little O’Malley – Anchorage  This hike is a great afternoon adventure just a 20-minute drive from downtown Anchorage. It’s a 4-mile out-and-back hike which is slightly difficult – the top part does get pretty steep and will have snow into late spring/early summer. The views at the top are worth it, though, of the Anchorage bowl and Turnagain Arm. Powerline Pass which is part of the beginning of the trail is another great option that is flatter and takes you to the back of the valley.

Winner Creek – Girdwood  After eating all of the yummy food in Girdwood, or if you come during blueberry season, this hike is a great time in the forest. The trail takes you to Winner Creek, where a hand tram (currently closed) used to allow you to cross the river. You can still hike to the gorge and look at the turquoise blue water rushing through. It’s a 6 mile out-and-back easy trail which the whole family will enjoy.

Kenai River Trail – Cooper Landing  This is a 10 mile out-and-back trail along the Kenai River, just as the name suggests. A great trek for the whole family, you get to spend plenty of time in the trees staring at the picturesque turquoise water. Starting in July, the river is full of salmon, so be sure to bring bear spray and be bear aware when you’re hiking. The fishermen aren’t the only ones who will be looking for food.

Caines Head – Seward  This is an easy to moderate trail at the end of Seward, starting at Lowell’s Point. You can have a short and sweet 4-mile round trip hike to Tonsina Point. You can also make this into an overnight trip with another day hike. You have to time the tides just right in order to make it to the camping spots as the next 2 miles are on the slippery rocks of the beach. For another day hike after you’ve set up camp is to Fort McGilvery, which has abandoned bunkers and a lookout from World War II. There is a great place to picnic and enjoy breathtaking views of Resurrection Bay.

Exit Glacier and Harding Icefield – Seward  This is a 10-mile out-and-back hike right outside of Seward. The hike starts with a mile-long easy hike to the glacier viewing point and then continues onto the Harding Icefield Trail, which is fairly steep and goes up along the edge of Exit Glacier to the Harding Icefield. The view is magnificent and breathtaking – every direction you turn, there’s nothing but miles and miles of ice it’s truly a sight to see. This is definitely a full day hike. 

Harding Ice Field

Mount Marathon – Seward  This iconic hike stunning but quite steep and difficult. But – it’s totally worth it. It’s a 4.1 mile loop that takes you straight up the mountain, and then on the way down, you get to slide/run through tiny cinders, which lets you fly down most of the way and is a blast. If it takes you 3 hours to get up, it’ll only take 30 min to get down. In the 1970’s, two guys got into a debate at a local bar about how quickly they could make it up and down the mountain, and now the race is an annual tradition every 4th of July. If you visit in July, bring buckets to pick salmon berries!

Lost Lake – Seward  There are lots of options for this hike. If you are looking for more of day hike start on the Seward side and make your way up to the lakes. You can also access this hike from Primrose (17 miles outside of Seward) and come from that direction as well. Both sides are around 8 miles one way.  The views of the lake at the end are well worth the effort you put in. You go through all kinds of different landscapes, each with views better than the last. This can also be done as a 2-day hike, as described below.

Reeds Lakes – Hatcher Pass  One of my personal favorites. It’s a longer day hike and one best done from middle July to early September. It’s an 8.7 miles out and back trail that switchbacks and navigates you through some of the most beautiful terrains. There is a boulder field that you have to scramble over which makes this trail more on the difficult side. The first lake has a rainbow of colors which you can see best as you make your way to the next lake tucked in a mountain bowl ahead. You can even continue to climb up the side of the mountain to check out the bomber plane that crashed into the mountain.

Multi-Day Hike

Lost Lake – Seward  This can also be done as a 1-day hike, as described above. If you choose to do this as a multi-day hike, it’s about 16 miles in total, you can start in Seward and hike to Primrose, or vice versa. Make sure to take two vehicles and drop a car at the end of the trail, ready for you when you finish – there’s no shuttle. This longer version of the single-day hike takes you through more mountains and along the entire massive, pristine, blue lake and through some pretty spectacular country. If you have time to camp, I recommend it. You can always add in extra time to explore all of the surrounding nooks and crannies that this very special valley has to offer! 

Johnson Pass – Moose Pass  This is 20.4 miles and is point-to-point. It’s a great option for a moderate hike where you won’t see too many people. There’s lots of berries along this trail, so if you’re hiking during berry season, be sure to be bear aware (And bring a bucket for picking!). It’s mountain bike and kid-friendly and offers beautiful views of the Chugach Range. 

Crow Pass – Girdwood to Eagle River  Another highly recommended hike, this point-to-point hike is about 26 miles long and takes you from Girdwood to Eagle River. You’ll need to arrange transport from the end point. About 3 miles from Girdwood when you hit the top of the pass, there’s a Forest Service cabin which you can rent, or you can camp in the surrounding area. From there, you walk past glaciers, through rivers, and among some of the prettiest views that Alaska has to offer. There’s a ton of berries and fireweed in the summer. Be sure to check the level of Eagle River before leaving, sometimes it’s pretty high and can be a little dicey to cross safely. 

K’esugi Ridge – Trapper’s Creek  This is a 30-mile point-to-point hike just outside of Denali National Park. Some have called this one of the most beautiful hikes in America. It is a little difficult but gives spectacular views of the Talkeetna Range and the Alaska Range featuring Denali. If you’re lucky enough to go on a clear day you can see the majestic, massive mountain. Even in the rain, though, this hike will be worth it. There are other trails that meet up with this hike so if you need to make your trip shorter there are definitely areas to accommodate.

Chilkoot Trail – Skagway  This trail is 33 miles and is point-to-point through the heart of the old gold rush country.  It usually takes people 3-5 days. You will need to apply for a permit through the Parks Service. Most people start in Skagway and then take the train back once they reach the end of the hike in Lake Bennett, British Colombia (Canada) which is not accessible by road. Permits go early, so make sure to plan ahead. 

Resurrection Pass – Hope  This is a 38-mile point-to-point hike through the Kenai Mountains. It’s well-marked and not too difficult, perfect for a family backpacking adventure. Walkthrough alpine forests, along the magical, turquoise Kenai Lake for a true Alaskan experience. The trail is bike-friendly and there are several campsites along the way.

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Have you hiked around Alaska? What was your favorite hike?

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