Having spent somewhat long rehabilitations after two arthroscopic surgeries on my left knee, I fully subscribe to the adage “you must learn to walk before you can run.”
That sentiment certainly applies to hiking in Alaska, where we don’t always have well–‐established (Class A) trails like those available in the lower 48. So in the early days of this fledgling newspaper and website, I’d like to describe some relatively easy hikes on good trails that are close by and great for the entire family.
Beach Lake Trail System
Accessed off South Birchwood Loop just past Chugiak High School, the trail system extends an overall 15 kilometers. Known primarily as a cross–‐country ski area in winter, it is also good for hiking and mountain biking as it winds through deciduous forest. It is quite hilly, but the hills are not very high. The trail is lit during the dark winter months and groomed for cross–‐country skiing.
Lower Eagle River from Briggs Bridge
There is a small campground and parking lot near the river, where you can pick up the trail that goes east for about two miles through birch, aspen and spruce forest over relatively flat terrain. When you reach the South Fork stream there is no bridge, and if you hike down to its outlet into Eagle River, be wary of bears during summer months because salmon are present. If you park in the campground inside the gate, be sure to leave the area before 10 p.m. because the gate is closed and locked. There is a small parking lot outside of the gate, however, if you think you will be later than 10 pm.
This is a very rewarding and easy one–‐mile (one way) hike to a 200–‐foot waterfall, visible from an expansive wooden viewing deck. From the trailhead near the Eklutna River bridge, the trail angles gradually uphill and skirts the deep canyon of Thunderbird Creek. Do not approach the edge of the canyon, as several people have slipped and fallen to their death from the rim.
Eagle River Nature Center
As mentioned in last week’s column, there are several short and easy trails at the Eagle River Nature Center at Mile 12 of Eagle River Road that are great for families. With Eagle and Polar Bear peaks and surrounding mountains towering above, the scenery in this area is jaw–‐dropping, and there is always a chance of spotting bears, moose and other wildlife. Get a trail map at the Center and go from there.
Eklutna Lakeside Trail
This is a relatively flat, eight–‐mile long trail that skirts the eastern shore of Eklutna Lake and is good for hiking, skiing, bicycling and on certain days, motorized recreation. But you don’t have to travel the entire distance to have a wonderful outing. Just about anywhere along the lake you can diverge from the trail, head to the lakeshore, and find your own private picnic spot. Sometimes lake levels are high, taking away much of the beach. But usually you can find a nice spot to enjoy the beautiful setting.
Frank E. Baker is a member of The ECHO News team and freelance writer who lives in Eagle River. Contact Frank Baker directly via his email:
Learn more about the Eagle River Nature Center trail system
Learn more about the Eklutna Lake trail system