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In Alaska, where hiking is the unofficial state sport, it's not uncommon for locals to get off work, drive 20 minutes, climb a peak and get home in time for dinner with hours of sunlight to spare. From one end of "The Great Land" to the other, hiking possibilities are unlimited, and trails are accessible and available for all ages and skill levels.
What follows is a snapshot of favorite hikes across the state. Some are in remote parts of the state accessible by chartered plane others are a quick drive.
IN AND AROUND ANCHORAGE: Just outside of Anchorage, Flattop is the most climbed peak in Alaska. A clear afternoon or evening outing rewards you with perfect views of both Denali and Mount Redoubt volcano. The mountain - easy to pick out from Anchorage because its top appears to have been completely shorn - is a rite of passage for Alaskan hikers.
Around June 21, the longest day of the year with over 20 hours of light, Flattop is one of the most popular spots in Southcentral for basking in the intense midnight sun. The trail is paved for part of the walk, and handrails help. But parts of the climb are steep. Loose rock and sections without a defined trail are common. The hike begins at the Glen Alps entrance to Chugach State Park and is just a few miles south of Anchorage. From there, three round-trip miles bring hikers to an elevation of 3,550 feet.
Do eagles, glaciers and cloud-piercing peaks sound inviting? The hikes along Turnagain Arm in Southcentral Alaska offer views unrivaled by any visitor's brochure. And one of the best examples is Bird Ridge, located 25 miles south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway, where the trail begins its ascent into the magnificent and accessible Chugach State Park and rewards hikers with splendid views.
Bird Ridge offers classic views of Turnagain Arm and the Chugach Mountains. It’s one of those hikes that is completely rewarding in a very short period of time.
The round-trip hike offers up to 12 miles of trail with two distinct vantage points. The first is at 3,505 feet and is good for a short hike. Or hike four miles further to the peak at 4,650 feet for even more incredible views of the Alaska Range, tidal bores and incoming waves, and alpine glaciers. This hike offers a good chance of spotting Dall sheep, ptarmigan and bald eagles.
DENALI: A premier destination for hikers and backcountry enthusiasts, the terrain in Denali National Park allows hikers to use buses and their own feet to explore the area surrounding Denali, the tallest mountain in North America. A true wilderness experience, Denali National Park can be enjoyed by novice hikers with only a few hours to spare or the serious backpacker with days to trek in the wilderness. Possible wildlife sights include a blonde grizzly bear loping across the tundra, a moose and her calf or wolves pawing the ground in search of food.
Essential to the Denali National Park experience is the bus system. Riders can take it all the way to the end of the 92-mile road to Kantishna, but make sure to stop at Mile 85 at Wonder Lake for a coveted view of the reflection of North America's highest peak in the water, or get off at various trailheads along the way.
To buy tickets for the bus or get a backcountry permit for more extended hikes, head to the Denali Visitor Center where park rangers provide instruction on wildlife viewing and safety, as well as offering programs and guided hikes.
CLOSER TO FAIRBANKS: If glimpses of the Alaska Range just begin to whet your appetite, head north past Denali National Park on the Parks Highway. On the more civilized end, you can get your calves pumping at the nature trail at the Chena Lake Recreation Area, a leisurely trailhead 20 miles east of Fairbanks. This gentle 1.5-to-2.5 mile walk carries you through the Interior's boreal forest. Hikers on this trail find themselves looking skyward to see the tops of the wild rose bushes that have the advantage of growing under the midnight sun.
HIKING NORTH: For the true adventurer, no trip to Alaska is complete without a foray into the far north, an area where roads don't exist and animals make the trails. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is 19.6 million acres of undeveloped wilderness in the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, extending across the Brooks Range, from the forested south slope to the Arctic Ocean. It is the only protected area in the United States that spans the entire range of subarctic and arctic ecosystems.
Hiking here takes expertise and preparation. No established trails exist, and access is by charter plane or helicopter (the latter requires a permit from the refuge manager). Guides and charter planes can be found in Fairbanks or Fort Yukon.
Frigid Crags and Boreal Mountain are the two peaks that form a "gate" across the North Fork of the Koyukuk River. Wild valleys and mountains make some of the world's best hiking. The upper watersheds of many rivers offer an incredible variety of arctic and alpine tundra and offer good drop-off and pick-up points for chartered aircraft. The Porcupine caribou herd migrates through the mountains and along the coast on both sides of the international border, calving on the coastal plain from May to mid-June.
There are glaciers only at the highest elevations so most high passes are glacier-free and the park's streams run clean except during winter. Park headquarters are in Fairbanks and there are ranger stations at Bettles, Anaktuvuk Pass and Coldfoot. Call or stop by one of the offices before your trip to check on conditions.
SOUTHWEST: Barometer Mountain is Kodiak Island's most popular trail. This 2,500-foot, two-hour climb is steep and straight, but the trail leading up to the northeast ridge is well worn. The entire way up, enjoy fantastic views of Kodiak, the surrounding lush green islands and the ocean. The trailhead takes off from an old military road, Burma Road.
Just west of Anchorage and Cook Inlet lies Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, with roughly four million acres of wilderness that includes Alaska's largest lake, Lake Iliamna, and the 45-mile long tributary Lake Clark. The park encompasses Pacific coastline, glacier-covered volcanoes, wild rivers, granite peaks, incredible mountain scenery, and some of Alaska's best wilderness hikes.
From Anchorage or Kenai it is a short flight to Port Alsworth, the tiny community that is a good starting point for many outings. For the beginner, Tanalian Falls is a 45-minute, one-way trail that winds through boreal forest to the 44-foot-high Tanalian Falls, surrounded by mountains of the Aleutian Range.
The experienced hiker should consider flying from Port Alsworth to Twin Lakes. The Telaquana Trail, a trail only in name, is a 25-mile historic series of game trails that in the 1930s were used by Alaskan Natives to travel between villages on Lake Clark. The trail ends at Telaquana Lake, the home of an abandoned village of the Dena’ina people.
HIKING SOUTHEAST: The lush, forested coastline of Alaska's Southeast provides even more opportunities for the on-foot explorer. A walk through the forests around Juneau, Alaska's state capital is a walk back in time. Juneau was founded during the gold rush era, and the most authentic way to see it is from the perspective of the first prospectors in the late 1800s. On foot, the Perseverance Trail is accessible from downtown. The old wagon road leading to the mine is considered easy by most, with a peak elevation of 800 feet.
Trails up the high mountain valleys of Gold and Granite Creeks are popular for their historic appeal and scenic views. Gold Creek Valley is the site of the 1880 gold discoveries that lead to the founding of Juneau and is three miles one way. Granite Creek goes on further, covering 6.3 miles and offers great scenery, mining remains, alpine basins and acres of wildflowers.
If you reach the end of the Perseverance Trail and you're still ready to march on, take advantage of the adjacent Mount Juneau Trail. Short and steep, this three-mile ascent travels 3,576 feet to the summit.
The panoramic view also includes Admiralty Island and the Inside Passage, and the never-ending Chilkat and Fairweather Mountain ranges.
For an easier way to get a view, take the Mount Roberts Tram, just a short walk from downtown Juneau.
In Haines, another popular Southeast destination, bird lovers might want to create half- or full-day hikes up to the summit of the Chilkat Peninsula's highest peak, Mount Riley, at 1,760 feet. Thousands of bald eagles congregate in the nearby Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve during the fall and winter, and even in summer months you can expect to see lots of bald eagles.
Also look for birds like scoters and harlequin ducks, as well as marine mammals. In the early summer, surrounding coastal meadows bloom with indigenous lupine, irises, chocolate lilies, shooting star and other indigenous wildflowers. There are three ways to get to the trailhead of Mount Riley is via Mud Bay, via Lily Lake or from Portage Cove along Beach Road.
For more information, call National Forest Service (907) 586-8806, Alaska Public Lands Information Center (907) 271-2737 or the Campbell Creek Science Center (907) 267-1247.
For Alaska Visitor Information contact: 800 862-5275 or visit our website http://www.travelalaska.com
State of Alaska Tourism
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