Alaska has many hiking trails, of various difficulties, lengths and perhaps not all of them are as enjoyable. So, which are the best hikes in Alaska to explore, for an unforgettable hiking experience?
In the age of advanced technology it is unfathomable to go on a hike unprepared, and if you don’t live in Alaska you probably don’t know anything about the hiking trails to be found there. This article will present you not only the trails, but also some of the items that you’ll need to conquer them in a stress-free manner.
This guide was written in hopes it will help you plan your next trip or give you some good ideas of nice hiking places to go check out in the future. While this presentation is for those who are not familiar with hiking in Alaska, we think every hiker can discover something new.
How to prepare for a great Alaskan hike
Alaska is no joke when it comes to tackling it as a location for your next hike. This is why we have provided you below with some essential tips on how to get yourself prepared for maximum safety and enjoyment
Check the weather conditions
No matter where you plan on going hiking, you definitely shouldn’t go without checking the weather before you leave. It is highly possible for some trails to still be closed in May, in Alaska, simply because of this state’s climate. Avalanches are still a risk on some mountains, even if according to the calendar it is summer.
Learning about the weather conditions more, will also allow you to better prepare your clothes, shoes, and any other items you might need to bring.
Bring warm clothes
The weather on the mountain can change in the blink of an eye, and you don’t want to be caught unprepared. If the hike will last more than a day, as it is the case with the longer trails, you can expect some really low temperatures at night. As an extra tip, a few thinner tops will take less space and will be lighter than a big and thick jacket.
On the same note, make sure your outer layers and boots are waterproof: there’s nothing more unpleasant than wearing damp clothes and footwear. Similarly, your clothes should dry really fast if they do happen to get wet: you want your bag to be as light as possible.
Bring enough food
Water is something you cannot miss from your bags, but you will also need to eat something. This is especially true if the trip will last more than a day. Bringing more food than what you need is a better idea than to discover you are forced to spend an extra day on the trail and be left with no food.
Don’t forget your papers
You’ll see that some trails will require you to have a hiking permit, while others might take you across the border into Canada. Coming prepared with a valid passport and permits will ensure you will face fewer difficulties during your trip.
Since not all hikers are American citizens, some of you planning to take on an Alaskan adventure might also need a visa to enter Canada, depending on whether you go on a cross-border trail or not.
Don’t ignore your workout
If you were to ask some experienced hiker or backpacker about their secret to survive a more difficult hike, they’ll tell you they prepare in advance, by working out. Perhaps this is a recent fashion however it is helpful if you want to avoid sore muscles as well as enjoying the adventure more. You’ll also get less tired throughout the hike.
Some, if not most hiking trails in Alaska are quite difficult to explore, even for those that are in a good physical condition and exercise regularly. Just know that there are some specific routines for those who like hiking, and short daily hikes are also recommended.
Research the trail intensively
While we do our best to present you the trails as they are, it is in no way enough – just like one book is not enough to write a scientific paper. You must keep in mind that not everyone will have the same experience, and reading accounts from various sources, with expeditions in different conditions, will give you a better understanding of what to expect.
Hopefully these few instructions will help beginner hikers a bit, while they could refresh the memory of those who stayed away from hiking for some time. Next we’ll present you a few hikes in Alaska that could sparkle your curiosity.
The Best Hiking Locations in Alaska
After learning a couple of things on how to prepare for a new adventure, it is time we actually discuss some of the best trails that are waiting for you.
Indian River Trail – Sitka
Length: 4.5 miles (one way)
Elevation: 1,000 feet
Noteworthy Features: Close to downtown Sitka
Many people like easily accessible hiking trails, and one that is very close to the center of a city or town must also be a popular one. Just like with most hiking trails, this one will also offer you the possibility of seeing breathtaking scenery, the higher you go.
One of the best features of this trail is the 70 foot tall waterfall surrounded by green trees. They say the best time to see the waterfalls is in winter, as this hiking trail is accessible year-round. If you’re courageous enough, you could even swim in the river, as there are a few swimming spots along the way.
A short part of the trail is multi purpose, but for the most of it only hiking is allowed. Don’t bring your bike as you won’t be able to ride it. The last portion of the trail runs over boulders and the creek. Speaking of the creek, it is very rich in fish and this attracts bears though you’re not very likely to encounter them during the day.
The hike will take you through water as well, so make sure you wear appropriate clothing and footwear. Luckily, this hike will only last a day, so you probably won’t need to carry more clothes in your bag.
Twin Peaks Trail – Eklutna Lake
Length: 5.5 miles (one way)
Elevation: 5,000 feet
Noteworthy Features: Goes uphill
There is one attraction that will definitely set this trail apart from many others: the Native Russian Church and Cemetery. You can visit this place on your way back to Anchorage. If you want to reach the peaks, you must come between June and September, otherwise the lower trails are accessible throughout the year.
The trail connects Eklutna Lake and Pepper Peak, and for the best views of the lake you must go uphill. Some hikers say this adventure is worth the effort if you plan on spending the night by the lake and plan on continuing the expedition on the primitive trail. This trail starts at the lake and will take you to Pepper Peak.
Depending on how far you want to explore this trail your chances of seeing wildlife will also change: the farther you go, the more wild animals you’re likely to spot. If you like berries, hiking in late summer is a good idea because the mountain side will be covered in them.
Mount Marathon – Seward
Length: 3 miles
Elevation: 3,022 feet
Noteworthy Features: Round trip
Mt. Marathon used to be known as Lowell Mountain and it features a 3 miles long trail, on a round trip, so when you return you’ll have a different scenery than when you left. It seems that real hike on this mountain is actually a day’s worth trip and reaching the peak at 3,022 feet high will reward you with postcard-worthy views of the surrounding area, especially of Resurrection Bay and the city.
Those who went on a hike here warn that it is quite a difficult expedition even for those who frequently go to the gym, let alone those with bad knees or not so much into hiking. There is also an easy path to take, but even that one is rather challenging.
One shock element of this trail is that it can still be covered in snow and ice, even at times when it shouldn’t. Those reaching the peak could get a little farther than initially planned simply because of the rather thick fog. You can bring your dog along as well, but make sure to keep it on a leash. Having your camera ready will be rewarding if you want to snap pictures of wildlife as well as a moose or two might cross your path.
One of the most unique experiences to have here is to run the 4th of July marathon. Be warned that the spots are limited, and mostly made available through an auction. There is a safety meeting before the marathon, where the auction for a spot takes place.
Chilkoot Trail – Skagway
Length: 33 miles
Elevation: 3,525 miles
Noteworthy Features: Crosses the border into Canada
This trail is a national landmark for both USA and Canada because it has been used as an important trade route since before the 19th century. The trail connects Dyea, Alaska, in the United States, to Bennett, British Columbia, in Canada.
It is advised to have a valid passport if you want to explore this trail in its entirety, or you could go back once you reach the border. In this regard, some tourists might need a Canadian visa to cross the border, so come well prepared for this aspect as well, if you’re not American.
You should also know that no more than 50 backpackers can access the trail on any given day – a measure meant to prevent overuse. As a result, the trail is well maintained and overseen by both countries, on their respective side, when hiking takes place. Generally, the hiking season is between May and September, with a high demand between June and August.
If you have a hard time getting a permit on your own, you can always join a backpacking expedition group. The best hike apparently will last 5 days and 4 nights, and the rest stops will take place at the various campsites along the trail.
Length: 5.4 miles
Elevation: 1,692 miles
Noteworthy Features: Kid and dog friendly
Like most trails, the Portage Pass can be explored either on foot walking or running, or on a bike. It offers many opportunities to take amazing pictures or to simply enjoy nature. Spotting birds, beavers, and wild flowers along with some stunning views, is a given.
Bringing kids or dogs along is also possible, however your furry friends must stay on a leash at all times, for everyone’s safety, including their own. The best time to come hiking is between March and October, depending on the type of nature you want to see. To give you ideas on the best companion dogs for backpacking, do check out our article.
This back trail located near Whittier, in Alaska may have some snow covering it here and there, but seasoned hikers won’t be scared of this. For most part of the hike, you’ll be going only uphill, so prepare your legs well. Being able to reach a glacier and a beach by the lake on the same day should be reason enough to explore it. For some basic ankle strengthening exercises, check out our article for more details.
The hike is quite short, especially for experienced hikers, however this can be a good thing if you either don’t have much time to spend exploring, or you want to take in as many things as possible.
Ready for your next Alaskan hike?
This is where our guide comes to an end. Hopefully you discovered at least one hiking trail that sounds about right and will give it a go in the near future. You should know that if you’re a beginner hiker, you might find just any trail difficult to conquer, and expeditions lasting for a few days might have to wait for now.
Don’t forget that there are many ways you can prepare for a hike, and a really important aspect is to learn about the trail before hand. Before you embark on your next trip, do read our basic winter backpacking tips to help you.
Now, it’s up to you to share some stories related to these trails or any other in Alaska that we might have missed. Did any of these sound interesting enough or did we forget to mention anything at all about them? Hit the comment section for your thoughts.