Shorter Hikes to Get You Started
Getting into hiking can be a little daunting. Maybe you’re worried about the bears, finding the trail, or just being in shape enough to make it through a hike. Maybe you’re towing some kids behind you and you don’t want to get stuck carrying them halfway through. I totally get it. I’ve been there. So I’m putting together a list of some of the simpler hikes to get you started. Reflection Lake Also known at Mud Lake, Reflection Lake is at mile point 30.8 off of the Glenn Highway, is part of the Palmer Hay Flats state game refuge, and is stocked with rainbow trout. The hike itself is a mile long, although there are alternate routes if you’re feeling mildly adventurous. This is a great flat hike with some awesome views of Pioneer Peak and Reflection Lake. Keep an eye out for the three story watch tower you can climb to get a better view of the hayflats as well. Follow the exit for the Knik River Access and you will park in the small lot or on the road before the access on the right of the road. There are two pit toilets right as you pull up and then a short walk to the lake and trail. The trail goes either to the left over a small metal walkway or to the right towards the gazebo.
Eklutna Lakeside Trail This hike has only 300 feet of elevation gain at all, but it is 13 miles. It is a popular route for hikers, bikers, and snowshoers in the winer time. The trail is parallel to Eklutna river, but don’t let it fool you as it is hard to see until you get the the bridge. The trail follows the lakeshore for the first 7 miles, and then its onto the glacier gravel bars. The last miles is through the glacial debris (IE rocks and boulders). Be very careful trying to get too close to the glacier. From the second bridge, you can see better views of the glacier. Located 22 miles from Anchorage, Eklutna Lake has quite a few recreational opportunites. Hiking, biking, canoes, etc. There are plenty of camping spots and a few cabins you can rent. Take the Eklutna Lake Road exit from the Glenn Highway and follow the road up to the lake. The road stops at the parking lot for the lake access where you can rent bikes, kayaks, and canoes, have a picnic, or start your hike. Access the trail through the Eklutna Lake Trailhead. There is a $5 parking fee, or you can purchase an annual pass for $40.
Thunderbird Falls Located 25 miles north of Anchorage off of the Glenn Highways, this 1.8 mile hike will get you to an awesome lookout area of the waterfall. Take the Thunderbird Falls exit just before the Eklutna Lake exit. There is a $5 parking fee, or you can purchase the $40 annual state parking pass. The beginning of this hike is a little steep for some people (you get a total of 462 feet of elevation gain), but it quickly evens out and you will be cruising down the trail in no time. The trail is well marked and ends at the lookout deck over the falls. There are smaller trails that lead down to the water if you’re feeling adventurous, but be advised that these trails are not kept up routinely and can be dangerous at times as they follow the Eklutna River. I have seen people push strollers and carry babies in backpacks on this trail. I took some pretty excited 5 year old boys on this trail and was worried one of them would go over the edge at any point since there are no barriers. Please keep that in mind if you have little ones who like to wander.
Gold Cord Lake Heading into Hatcher Pass? This hike is a good one to start building up your endurance. It is 1.5 miles out and back with 528 feet of elevation. From Glenn Highway, take the Trunk Road exit to the right and follow it past the Palmer Wasilla highway until you get to Palmer Fishhook Road. From here, take a left and follow the road right into Hatcher Pass. You’ll pass over the Little Su River and the road follows the river up to Independence Mine. I like to park at Independence Mine, which has a $5 fee, and then walk down to the trail start. There are a few small brown signs pointing you down the road from the mine and out into the grassy boulder field. The trail is very easy to follow and is kept in pretty good condition. Please remember to keep your dogs on leash in this area, but they are welcome to hike with you. You’ll start to gain some elevation when you get to the switch backs. There are old miner’s cabins along the way that are fun to stop and peek into. When you get to the top, there is a crystal clear and very cold lake with lots of places to stop, relax, and take photos. Keep an eye out for birds and marmots.
April Bowl/ Hatch Peak Another hike I love to do in Hatcher Pass when I have a few hours to kill is April Bowl. It is 1.2 miles up and down with an 800 foot elevation gain, most of which is done on switchbacks up. When you get to the top, enjoy the view looking out over a large portion of the pass as well as 2 beautiful blue lakes. Head into Hatcher Pass for 15 miles, take a left on the gated road on the left just before you get to the little red cabins at the Hatcher Pass Lodge. The trailhead is 1.5 miles up the road at Summit Lake. There is no parking fee, but parking is limited at Summit Lake and the road to Summit Lake does not open until late June. After parking, turn around to see the small waterfall across the road. The trailhead starts here and switchbacks up to the top.
Bodenburg Butte There are two sides to get up the Butte, but I tend to enjoy the West side more as it has stairs and I am not good at scrambling. It is 1.5 miles up and back and located just outside of Palmer off of Bodenburg Loop. Dogs are welcome, but must be kept on leash. The trail has an elevation gain of about 900 feet and can be fairly steep in spots. Luckily they have put in stairs and ropes to hold onto if you are having trouble. From the top, you’ll enjoy 360 degree views of the glaciers, Palmer, and the Hay Flats. From Palmer, take E. Arctic Ave East out of town to take a right on S. Bodenburg Loop. From here, take a left on Mothershead Lane and the parking area is on the right. Be aware, the $5 parking fee applies here as well. After parking, walk a little farther down Mothershead Lane and the trailhead is marked on the right.
Trail of Blue Ice The Trail of Blue Ice in Portage, AK is still fairly new and is 5 miles one way with the only real elevation gain being at the lake end when you have to go up 30 feet of stairs. There are also a few different areas you can jump onto the trail from the Moose Flats Day Use Area, Explorer Glacier Pullout, Five Fingers Hike-In Camping Area, Williwaw Fish Viewing Platform, or the lakefront parking lot at the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center. The trail is very wide and has gravel so you won’t get lost. It has been popular for hikers, runners, bikers, and families. There are also a few boardwalks and bridges so you can enjoy the glacier water from multiple areas of the hike. To get to the trail, leave Anchorage going 10 miles south past Girdwood. Take a left at the Portage Valley exit, then about a mile in, you’ll turn left into the Moose Flats Recreations area. If you want to start farther in, I personally like the Williwaw Fish Viewing Platform parking area as it is shaded and there are good areas to picnic and hang out before heading back home. Be aware of wildlife. While I have seen lots of birds and smaller animals, we have also had encounters with moose and bear on the trail.
Byron Glacier While I’m writing about Portage, AK, I should tell you about Byron Glacier. It is a super easy hike and one of my favorite quick day hikes to do with friends and family that come to visit because it is family friendly and gets you up close to the glacier. The hike is 1.2 miles each way with very minor if any real elevation change. Head into Portage. You will come up to the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center, but take the road to the right and look for the Byron Glacier Trailhead parking area on the right. Parking is free, but there are also no bathrooms, so plan accordingly. After parking, grab your bear spray/ gun, load up on the bug dope, and follow the maintained trail in towards the glacier. It opens up at the end of the trail to a boulder field with lots of fun areas to climb and explore. Please use extreme caution if you decide you want to get close to the glacier itself as it is eroding and has come down in a few spots over the last few years. It is incredibly dangerous to climb on if you are not trained to do so. Otherwise, enjoy the view and fresh mountain air.