Hiking in Alaska’s back-country is one of the most popular activities for those who live in Alaska and visitors as well. There are endless possibilities for those with hiking experience to venture out on their own in the back-country of Alaska. Alaska offers many guided hike opportunities and some easy hikes you can do on your own in some of Alaska’s most popular destinations that are suitable for the less experienced hiker that just want to get off the beaten trail and experience the serenity and beauty of Alaska.
Anchorage is blessed with over 250 miles of trails within the city and has over 230 parks, some of them very large. Anchorage also sits in the shadow of the mountains of Chugach State Park which is easily accessible and a short 15 to 20 minute drive from downtown. The half-day Chugach State Park Anchorage Day Hike departs from most of the hotels in downtown Anchorage mid-morning and returns after about four hours. You will travel by van to the scenic Glen Alps Trail-head and a naturalist guide will tailor a hike to match your fitness level. Hike in the alpine Chugach Mountains and valleys that surround Anchorage while your guide teaches you about the flora, fauna, geology and history of the area. It does not take long before you leave the city sights and immerse yourself in Alaska’s wilderness. Keep an eye out for moose and marmot. Trail snacks and water will be provided. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes, layered clothing and a backpack. This hike is great for families!
If you have a free afternoon or evening in Anchorage, be sure to stroll along the Coastal Trail system that can be accessed from several locations in downtown. The easiest access point to find is probably at Elderberry Park just below Simon & Seafort’s Restaurant. This is a paved trail that travels 13 miles along the scenic coast of Anchorage, watch out for moose particularly once you near the Earthquake Park area. This is a popular trail used by hikers and bikers. If you have a car, another great option for self-exploration is Kincaid Park, a 1400-acre municipal park with over 60 kilometers of trails overlooking Cook Inlet and Fire Island. Kincaid Park is located off of Raspberry Road and is about a 10 minute drive south of downtown Anchorage.
The Talkeetna Lakes Hike departs in the evening but don’t worry about it getting dark as this is the land of the midnight sun! This hike covers about three miles on an established trail through the forest around the lake and starts just two miles from the Talkeetna Alaska Lodge. You will be escorted on the hike by an experienced naturalist guide who will add a bit of local history, stories about life in Talkeetna and help you understand the flora and fauna of the area. If the weather is clear you will have views of Mt. Denali. Keep your eyes open for loons on the lake and moose in the wooded areas. This is considered a moderate hike and takes two to three hours.
The Byer’s Lake area of Denali State Park is a very scenic area and offers hiker’s several different trails to explore depending on their abilities and is a very scenic area. Denali State Park is about an hour north of Talkeetna and is accessed from the Parks Highway. The Denali Wilderness Hike based out of Byer’s Lake is a more intense hiking experience that includes transportation from the McKinley Princess Lodge, located about 15 minutes away from Byer’s Lake. This hiking tour begins at 2:00pm and lasts about six hours. The hike covers five to seven miles on established trails and takes you into the heart of Denali State Park. While the trail is not difficult it does feature a long steady climb that takes you above tree-line for excellent views. Watch for moose, fox, and bears. This hike allows you to fully experience the wonder and serenity of the Alaska wilderness with an experienced guide.
Denali National Park
There are many independent, self-guided hiking opportunities inside Denali National Park however there are few guided hikes available inside the park due to NPS regulations managing commercial operations. Most visitors travel through Denali National Park on a bus tour as this allows you to see the true expanse of the park and to view the wildlife that inhabits the park. The National Park Service does provide hiking guides for several hikes you can do on your own inside the park entrance. The ranger led National Park Service hike’s schedules vary depending on the day of the week so inquire directly at the Visitor Center just inside the Park entrance to find out what is available while you are visiting.
For those that are seeking a professionally guided hike, we recommend a hike with Denali Backcountry Guides that explores a trail that borders the national park and is accessible from the park entrance. Denali Backcountry Guides have two hiking options, depending on the level of activity that you are looking for. You can also choose from a morning or afternoon departure around your trip into the park. The tour operator will pick you up at your hotel and take you to the nearby area where the hike begins. You will hike through forested areas and the open wilderness on the mountains bordering Denali National Park with an enthusiastic and knowledge guide. The trails are primitive and the hikes are generally considered moderate to strenuous but can be scaled to your comfort level.
Independent hikers who are looking to explore on their own have a lot of options. One of the most popular hiking areas inside Denali National Park is the Savage River Trailhead located at Mile 15 of the Park road. At Savage River you have several easy hiking options along the Savage River as well as more moderate to expert hiking options along the ridge lines above. Savage River is also a great location to see wildlife, including Denali’s famous Dall Sheep.
Seward is located just over the coastal mountains from Kenai Fjords National Park and would be a natural departure point for hiking excursions if it wasn’t for the ruggedness of those mountains. Fortunately, the Exit Glacier Visitor Center inside Kenai Fjords National park is just a 13 mile drive away from Seward and is reached by turning off the Seward Highway onto the Herman Leirer Road. The drive follows the Resurrection River past the Seward Windsong Lodge before arriving at the visitor’s center. For those interested in a guided hike, the Exit Glacier Tour that the Seward Windsong Lodge offers provides an option with transportation from the Small Boat Harbor, the Alaska Sealife Center, as well as their own lodge. Keep in mind that the Exit Glacier Tour is more of a walk than a hike but has exceptional views. This trip follows a one mile loop trail that takes you very close to the glacier. A naturalist guide will explain the geology of the glacier valley and the vegetation of the glacial environment. This tour lasts about two hours and features multiple departure times. For those that have their own transportation in Seward, there are hiking trails that take off from the Exit Glacier loop trail. You can pick up a hiking map from inside the Exit Glacier Visitor Center.
Exit Glacier is the launching point for a more difficult hike up the Harding Icefield Trail. The 8.2 mile round trip hike gains over a 1000 feet per mile as you follow Exit Glacier up to the Icefield. Its one of Alaska’s most beautiful hikes but should be only attempted by those who are in excellent condition and who have the proper gear.
The most famous “hike” in Seward is on Mt. Marathon, a 3022 foot peak that towers over the town of Seward. It is the site of the popular mountain race that takes place on July 4th. This hike is fairly strenuous and features some slippery shale slopes. It is only recommended for very experienced hikers and there are many hazards to be considered before you attempt this hike. If you’ve been traveling long distance and need to “stretch your legs”, there is a nice bike path that follows the Seward waterfront all the way from the small boat harbor to the Alaska Sealife Center.
Girdwood is home to the Alyeska Resort, Alaska’s largest ski resort. The resort, as well as the local community, has developed many hiking trails in the Girdwood Valley and on Mt. Alyeska. If you are interested in exploring the Girdwood Valley on your own, there are several great options including the Winner Creek Trail or the more difficult North Face Trail which climbs 2.2 miles up Mt. Alyeska to the tram station. For those seeking a guided hike, the Alpine Hike on Mt. Alyeska features a unique alpine and glacier experience and receives fabulous reviews from past clients. This tour does not offer a pickup in Anchorage so would only be available for visitors who have rented a car or are staying at The Hotel Alyeska. You will meet your guide at the Yurt at the base of the Mt. Alyeska Tramway. Travel by tram to the 2300 foot level of Mt. Alyeska and then continue on foot. Your hike up to Alyeska Glacier takes about 45 minutes and travels up a scenic ridge line. You will have panoramic views encompassing the Turnagain Arm and the seven glaciers of Girdwood Valley. Once you arrive at the glacier your guide will help you put on the climbing equipment required for glacier travel before you will spend one to two hours on the glacier. The guides pride themselves in their knowledge of glacier travel, glacial geology and the history of Girdwood. In total, you will hike for 3-4 hours and take home the memories of a great Alaskan hiking experience.
Gaining popularity as access becomes easier due to a new whistle stop service on board the Glacier Discovery Train, Spencer Glacier on the Kenai Peninsula is a launching point for several guided Spencer Glacier hikes operated by Ascending Path. Choose between the adventurous Kayak and hike on the Spencer Glacier combination or keep it simple by taking a guided hike up to the foot of the Glacier. Due to Spencer Glacier’s location, we recommend that you don’t visit on your own as its best suited to pre-booking a trip with an experienced guide who not only is familiar with the area but also understands how the rail transportation works. You wouldn’t want to be left overnight on your own having missed the train’s departure at this remote, but very scenic destination!
Homer & Kachemak Bay
Literally at “the end of the road” on the Kenai Peninsula, Homer and its famous spit is located on Kachemak Bay and offers excellent opportunities for both guided and self-led hikes and walks. Many of the hikes require you to take a water taxi across the bay to access trail heads in popular locations such as Halibut Cove, Grewingk Glacier, and China Poot Bay. Another popular option is to spend the afternoon or evening walking along the 4.5 mile Homer Spit beach – be sure to take time to sample the fresh seafood along the waterfront while you are there! If you would rather take a guided hike, the Grewingk Glacier Hike operated by Homer Ocean Charters receives high praise and includes a guide as well as transportation to and from the trail head across the bay.
There are so many ways to explore Alaska – by rail, bus, boat, and by air. Take time to explore some of the Alaskan wilderness on foot as well. Hiking offers an up close and personal experience with the Alaskan landscape. Be sure to bring good running shoes or hiking boots, layered clothing, a backpack, water and snacks along on your hikes. If you are hiking without a guide, be sure to let someone know where you are going and how long you will be gone. Don’t forget your camera as there are plenty of photo opportunities regardless of which hike you choose to take!