Photo Credit: Frank Kovalchek

Favorite and Secret Gems Trails in the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area

May 31, 2016

From the shores of Prince William Sound to glacially carved Kenai mountain peaks, trails have long connected remarkably diverse ecosystems and peoples of this mountainous region. Today, recreational trails in the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area (KMTA) offer an impressive variety of terrain, length, and difficulty. Bike a beloved backcountry trail, or explore a secret gem of alpine access. This list is an introductory sampling of outstanding trails in the KMTA area, listed south to north.

Iditarod Trail, Seward

Distance: 1 mile

Terrain: Paved bicycle path

Trail use: Walking and biking

Trailhead: Starts at the Milepost 0 Tripod marker near the Alaska SeaLife Center in downtown Seward. The trail runs north along the shoreline of Resurrection Bay.

 

Any list of KMTA trails would not be complete without including the economic and social lifeline of Alaska’s gold rushes, the Iditarod Trail. The National Historic Iditarod Trail is a 2,300-mile network of trails used for subsistence and trade. The historic trail starts in Seward, where travelers today can use a 1-mile paved bike path and visit the newly installed memorial for Iditarod trailblazer Jujiro Wada.

Primrose & Lost Lake

Distance: 15 miles

Terrain: Gradual climb of 1,600 feet through spruce forest to open meadows, hemlock, and alpine ridges

Trail use: Hiking, difficult biking; horses allowed after June 30

Trailhead: Primrose: Mile 17 of Seward Highway, travel west 1 mile to Primrose Campground. Lost Lake: Mile 5 of Seward Highway, follow signs up gravel road of Lost Lake subdivision.

 

This popular trail with loads of alpine lakes is one of the author’s favorites, whether for backpacking or a big day trip. Consider bringing a fishing rod! Linking Primrose and Lost Lake trail is an elegant point-to-point with a short shuttle ride along the Seward Highway. There are five designated campsites on the trail, but bring your stove. No fires allowed above tree line. Snow often lingers in the alpine until mid-July.

Russian Lakes Trail, Upper & Lower

Distance: 21 miles

Terrain: Accessible broad path, gentle climbs over the first 3.5 miles of Lower Trail; narrower multiuse trail overlooking wooded rivers and slopes beyond Barber Cabin

Trail use: Hiking, biking; horses allowed after June 30

Trailhead: Lower (north): Mile 52.6 of Sterling Hwy, turn south into Russian River Campground and continue 1 mile. Upper (east): Mile 48 of Sterling Hwy, travel south on Snug Harbor Road for 9 miles, continue on Cooper Lake Road an additional 3 miles.

 

Listen to the Russian River and look for adventures big and small. From the Lower Trailhead, Russian River Falls is a destination 2.4 miles in with benches and rocks to scramble. Three Forest Service cabins may be reserved at recreation.gov. Barber Cabin, first one from the Lower Russian Lake Trailhead, is 3.5 miles in and wheelchair accessible.

Crescent Creek Trail

Distance: 6.3 miles to Crescent Lake, optional bushwhack extension of 8 miles along Crescent Lake Trail connecting with 3.4-mile Carter Lake Trail

Terrain: Rolling and gradual climbs through birch-aspen forest and mountain meadows

Trail use: Hiking, biking; horses allowed after June 30

Trailhead: Mile 45 of Sterling Highway, south onto Quartz Creek Road past the campgrounds to Mile 3.3.

 

Climb to a long lovely lake and linger. Campsites are located along the wooded shoreline, or reserve the Forest Service cabin. A longer through-hike is possible for those willing and able to tussle with Chugach brush and stream crossings along the southern shore of Crescent Lake to the Carter Lake Trail. This offers a steeper descent to the Seward Highway.

Resurrection Pass

Distance: 39 miles

Terrain: Rolling forest floor, gentle switchbacks to assist in the climb from 500 to 2,600 feet

Trail use: Hiking, biking; horses allowed after June 30

Trailhead: South: Mile 53.2 of the Sterling Highway. North: Mile 15 of Hope Highway, turn south onto Resurrection Creek Road for 4 miles on gravel road to the trailhead.

 

A classic hiking, horse-riding, or biking trail in the summer and ski route in the winter. Eight Forest Service cabins along the route can be reserved and several designated campsites are located amongst spruce forests, lakes, and tundra with seasonal wildflowers and berries. The nearby town of Hope was the first established during the Turnagain Arm gold rush.

Byron Glacier

Distance: 1.4 miles

Terrain: Flat, gravel then rocky with some standing water

Trail use: Hiking

Trailhead: Follow Portage Glacier Road to the Begich Boggs Visitor Center and turn right/south on the Portage Lake Loop. Stay right on Bryon Glacier Road, and watch for signs to the trailhead.

 

Bring your friends and family to meet a glacier close-up in a way that allows for exploration of ferns, creeks, and snowfields along the way. The boulders deposited by the glacier at its terminus can be a challenge if you choose to negotiate them. Climbing on the glacier is extremely dangerous and should only be undertaken with appropriate training and equipment.

Williwaw Nature Trail

Distance: 1.25 mile loop

Terrain: Well-maintained walking trail with boardwalk over bog

Trail use: Walking, biking

Trailhead: Mile 4 of the Portage Glacier Road at the Williwaw Fish Viewing Platform.

 

The Williwaw Nature Trail hosts a delightful diversity of habitat, history, and human use. From the fish-viewing platform, pass under the highway bridge and travel along Williwaw Creek. The trail crosses Portage Road before connecting to the Trail of Blue Ice; be careful at the crossing. To complete the loop, follow the signs through the Williwaw Campground from the Trail of Blue Ice. Coming soon to this trail- a Discovery Agents Mission Site! This fun, interactive app (discoveryagents.net) gets kids of all ages moving and learning at the same time.

Palmer Creek

Distance: 1.5 miles to lakes, optional ridge and peak access beyond

Terrain: Gradual climb to lakes, possible stream crossings

Trail use: Hiking

Trailhead: Mile 15 of Hope Highway, turn south onto Palmer Creek Road, continue 12 miles to end of gravel road, last 5 miles are narrow and rocky.

 

Worth the drive or the bike in, this secret gem of alpine access gives glimpses of Hope’s past and present. There are both both gold mining remnants and a handful of current claims. Glaciers carved two hanging lakes, from which you may plot a further ridge ramble.

Crow Pass

Distance: 24 miles to Eagle River trailhead

Terrain: Starts uphill with steep sections and switchbacks, some scree, alpine meadows, riparian, and one major river ford at approximately mile 12

Trail use: Hiking

Trailhead: Mile 2 of Alyeska Highway, turn left on Crow Creek Road, continue 5 miles on this gravel road to bridge and turn right uphill. The last mile of road to the trailhead is narrow.

 

Transition from temperate rainforest to alpine wildflower slopes in 3 lung-pumping miles that earn you 2,080 vertical feet. Variety is the spice of this historic and picturesque trail, one of the National Historic Iditarod Trail routes over the Chugach Mountains. Mining remnants are found 1.7 miles; at mile 3 is a Forest Service cabin along Crystal Lake; a bit farther along the trail is the summit of Crow Pass with tremendous views including Raven Glacier. This challenging trail is worthwhile as a day-hike to the pass or as a multi-day trip if you continue on to the Eagle River trailhead in Chugach State Park.

Beaver Pond

Distance: 2.5 miles

Terrain: Wooded, rolling trail with short, steep climb from northern access

Trail use: Hiking

Trailhead: North: Mile 2 of Alyeska Highway, turn left on Crow Creek Road (gravel) and travel 1/2 mile, just before California Creek bridge; South: 1/2 mile west of Girdwood on the Bird-to-Gird Pathway, look for sign.

 

Find some quiet woods or a surprise view of Turnagain Arm just a stone’s throw from downtown Girdwood. This locally cherished connector trail is getting extra love this summer from Alyeska Ski Club’s volunteer trail crew in partnership with the Girdwood Trails Committee.

 

As you explore old favorites and discover new ones, please keep in mind that other users you meet might be there for the first time. Demonstrate trail etiquette: treat others with courtesy; let slower users know when you are approaching; yield to horses and pedestrians. Be a sustainable friend to the trails as well; ride elsewhere if they are so muddy that you would leave ruts.

 

More trail descriptions can be found on KMTA’s bike trail map (kmtacorridor.org/management-plan/biking-in-the-kmta-corridor), the Chugach National Forest website (www.fs.usda.gov/recmain/chugach/recreation), Kenai Fjords National Park (nps.gov/kefj/planyourvisit/hiking.htm), and Chugach State Park (dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/chugach/chooseactivites.htm).

LostLakeHikers

Hikers carry goods on Lost Lake Trail, July 2015