Eklutna Lake is ideal for kayaking, paddle boarding, canoeing, and, if you can brave the chilly water, for swimming. It’s an easy drive in, and a short walk to the water; the length of the shoreline is long enough to take a good trek around its perimeter. The thrill here is the long length of hardened mud at the lake’s edge. Come with your old ratty bathing suit and you’ll find the best slathering mud around. Better than Calistoga, this mud is filled with rich minerals from the scree that falls from the steep slopes nearby.
There’s a stunning view, too; the glacial peaks that frame the far edge of its waters give the impression that the peaks jut right out of the lake’s edge. If you come towards the end of the day (any time between 4pm and 10pm), you’ll watch the delicate changes in the sky’s color descend upon the landscape. It’s a fine place to bring a picnic, and don’t miss the tiny ice-cream stand on the road out, which has the best wild Alaskan blueberry ice cream you’ve ever had.
Just outside the small town of Eagle River, a few minutes from Anchorage, is a picturesque and easy flat-walking hike surrounding Beach Lake. It’s easy enough to park very close to the trailhead, and then head out through the green brush along the lake’s path. Keep walking all the way around to the small sandy beach and take in the view from the other side – a panorama of lush green and rocky terrain. Then bushwhack a bit through the small isthmus of sand and dirt to the sound – a slice of ocean that’s just a stone’s throw from the lake’s edge – and view the sweeping expanse of ocean water flowing in rivulets between sandbars.
Thunderbird Falls is located in Chugach State Park, and is well-traveled by locals and visitors alike. Also near Eagle River, the hike is an easy incline up with built-in viewpoints that overlook a rushing waterfall. It’s about a 30-minute walk to the view of the falls, and there’s a lovely park deck that allows the spray of the waterfall below to mist your face. Head down the slightly steep path to the rushing river, and to the back corner of the path at the apex of the waterfall. Watch the stones – they’re slippery – but don’t let that stop you from getting in the water or balancing across the flat rocks just under the waterfall’s dramatic drop.
Just south of Anchorage off the highway that leads to the little town of Seward, veer off the main road to Byron and Portage Glaciers. It’s a simple, flat, easy, 15-minute walk to the first observation point, and the view is spectacular. At the beginning of summer, ice caves will still be present at the base of the glacier.
Byron Glacier is a must-see, and worth the easy trek to see it. And, if you’re game, you’ll want to climb over the boulder field (simple hand-to-feet climbing), and stand at the very base of its majesty. It will be a moment you’ll never forget.
Arctic Lake is a four-hour hike (up and down), and just a short drive from Anchorage, with a trailhead that begins at the base of a ski mountain. The foliage here is short scrub, which makes for easy climbing, but the incline is good and sharp, which makes for a terrific and sometimes windy climb. Behold sweeping views of Mount McKinley, and the lavender and turquoise hues of the sky across the peaks.
Stand on the top of the mountain and look down a sharp, 200-mile-long gorge, all the way across the valley to a view of Denali. It’s a rare thing to have a straight-shot view of the mountain – it’s usually somewhat cloudy or hazy – so pick your day well and you’ll be rewarded with an unprecedented, sweeping panorama and a view of the mountain.
Hatcher Pass is a 15-mile, eight-hour hike that is both physically challenging and worth the effort. Hike from 1,500 feet to 4,000 feet, along trails filled first with wildflowers and glacier runoff, and then, over scree-filled mountain paths, boulder fields and open meadow. Water follows you the whole way, starting with the small streams, and then on each plateau and each level of the hike, deepening into pools and ice lakes with the telltale fluorescent green water of glacier runoff.
The payoff – after six hours of hiking up – is Reed Lake, a phosphorescent, electric-green body of water at the base of a black mountain, filled with small flotillas of ice. Just above the lake is a broad lookout point, with a rushing waterfall the width of the entire rock formation. The falls are a good 100-feet wide, and it is possible to climb the path, wade across the top of the falls, and from here, take in a sweeping view of the entire valley.
If you dare, take a dip into one of the glacier pools. ‘Cold,’ does not begin to describe this water: it bites, freezes and chills with a crispness not known in other terrains. Drink from the streams, and enjoy some of the coldest, purest water in the world.
Alaska lives up to every bit of its lore. It’s an adventurer’s paradise and a trekker’s dream. If it’s calling you, don’t wait. This land of glacial majesty is everything you’ve ever imagined and more.