A good spring warm-up hike is at the Bodenburg Butte, a 900–foot-high mound that rises abruptly from the relatively flat Matanuska Valley.
The Butte is located about 27 miles northeast of Eagle River (about 30-minute drive) and five miles southeast of Palmer.
The Bodenburg Butte gets its name from John Bodenburg, who in 1917 established the area’s first farm. Bodenburg moved to the farm with his herd of 19 cows, fording the river just below the present-day George Palmer Bridge, according to a website: www.buttealaska.org/html/our_history.html. When the old wooden bridge spanning the Matanuska River that connected Palmer with Butte was torn out, he lost interest in farming. There no longer was a practical access to the Palmer railroad. After he died in 1934, the 160-acre farm was purchased by Victor Falk, Sr.
Geologists call this natural feature an igneous intrusion. Comprised of very hard rock, the Butte did not yield to the powerful erosive forces of glaciers that scoured the entire valley for thousands of years, with ice reaching depths of thousands of feet on multiple glacial advances and retreats, or epochs.
There are a few other features similar to the Butte in the area, located on Eklutna, Inc. land. They are underlain by very hard, granitic rock.
From Eagle River, travel north on the Glenn Highway. Take the Old Glenn Highway exit before reaching the Knik River. Follow the route until reaching the bridge, cross it and continue for about four miles. Turn left onto Bodenburg Loop Road after passing the Butte, not before. Follow the road as it loops around a hill and proceed about a half-mile to Mothershead Lane, a dirt road that leads to a small parking lot with restroom facilities. The trailhead is another couple hundred yards down the road.
The main trail (West Butte) begins in thick forest. The first half of the 1.5-mile (3 miles round trip) hike is uphill but not very steep as it follows a wide, smooth gravel path. At the midpoint, there’s a bench overlooking the Talkeetna Mountains where hikers can pause for a break and to take in the view.
From the bench, the trail heads up a long wooden staircase that leads to the steeper half of the hike. The trail to the top features a number of switchbacks and stairs built into the trail, as well as handholds at the steeper sections.
If the trail is wet, it can be slippery, but there are no significant obstacles aside from the steepness. May through November are the recommended best months to hike the Butte. Even though it receives 360-degree sunlight in April, there can still be snow and wet sections on the trail.
Eagle River’s Pete Panarese and his wife Sue climbed the Butte on April 16 of this year and reported there were some slippery, muddy sections and some snow; but nothing to make them want to turn around.
Near the top, hikers emerge into a rolling meadow that in summer is covered in blooming fireweed. From there, it’s an easy scramble up to the top, a broad, rocky perch with plenty of room for roaming and exploring.
The view from the Butte is a spectacular 360-degree sweep that includes 6,119-foot Matanuska Peak, Lazy Mountain, Knik Glacier, 6,398-foot Pioneer Peak, Twin Peaks, POW-MIA peak and the entire Matanuska Valley.
The Williams’ Reindeer Farm is located at the foot of the hill. The herd can usually be seen grazing below.
The entire hike can be easily completed in a couple of hours, but I have learned over the years that short hikes can be just as rewarding as longer ones. Sometimes it is enough to reach a beautiful spot, take in the view and reflect thankfully that we have destinations such as this so very close and accessible to us.
Spring is here and it is time to loosen up the limbs and muscles!
Editor’s Note: Frank E. Baker is a member of the ECHO News team, an avid outdoorsman and a freelance writing living in Eagle River with his wife, Rebekah, who is a retired Anchorage School District teacher. Reach Frank at: [email protected]