Chugach Exploration

“I ♥ The Chugach.” You’ll see the sentiment on bumper stickers around Anchorage. Locals love the nearby Chugach Mountains, so find out what makes them so special.

Although the range is vast – stretching over thousands of square miles between Anchorage and Valdez – the best access points are mere minutes away. That accessibility makes the Chugach Anchorage’s go-to spot for hiking trails, rivers, and glaciers. All the outdoor fun makes it easy to fall in love with the mountains.

Day 1 – A Classic Intro

National parks may be top-of-mind, but in Anchorage, incredible outdoors are even closer. Just the drive into Chugach State Park and the first trailhead means high-elevation views of the city below and the inlet beyond. Alaska’s most-climbed mountain, Flattop, gets plenty of attention, but it’s just the best known of the many trails that begin at Glen Alps. Follow the Powerline route and cross the footbridge over the south fork of Campbell Creek. From there, choose O’Malley Peak or Williwaw Lakes. Linger for alpine views, secluded lakes, and serene creeks.

Incredible access to wild and wonderful Alaska at the doorstep - this is what Anchorage is all about. Get away from it all, but come back to it quickly as well. Many Anchorage breweries are just a stone’s throw from rocky Flattop. King Street, Midnight Sun, and Turnagain Brewing all make their home (and their beers) in nearby south Anchorage spots.

Day 2 – Carved by Glacier, Cut by River

Water has shaped the Chugach for millennia. Some immense forces are at play. The range’s landscapes have taken shape under the massive grind of glaciers and a constant flow of water.

The state park stretches from the city’s edge to the 20 miles east. Beyond that, the mountains continue and Chugach National Forest begins. This is the northernmost section of the Pacific’s northern coastal rainforest.

Go back as far as rivers do and explore it afloat. Rafting trips down the Placer River start at Spencer Glacier and then cruise through the Chugach landscapes. The Alaska Railroad is the ticket to and from Spencer. Glaciers fill the area, feeding mountain streams that run to Turnagain Arm; Portage Creek and Twentymile River are popular nearby rafting tour options.

Switch from floating on stream to floating in the clouds. Before heading back to Anchorage, head to the summit of Mount Alyeska in Girdwood for a bite to eat at the upper tram station. Hike the strenuous North Face Trail, or take the tram to the top. Eat and enjoy a commanding view at the same time.

Day 3 – Engines of Exploration

Give legs and arms a rest for the final day while keeping the trip moving. The Eklutna Lakeside Trail is one of only a handful open a few days a week to motorized travel. ATV tours along the 11-mile lake shore are a quick way to cover a lot of ground, and tap into the backcountry. Off-road vehicles come in many shapes and configurations. Grab the handlebars and rev off, or opt for a two-seater with a steering wheel.

For your final forest foray, elevate your understanding with an afternoon helicopter flight over the Chugach. With days already devoted to exploring, but this ride imparts an eagle’s-eye view of just how vast and varied the Chugach landscape is. Many flights aim for Knik Glacier, a huge frozen feature flowing across the Chugach. Touch down atop the glacier itself, or at rocky outcrops nearby for the ultimate landscape photo of your adventures.

Evening light creates dynamic views of the mountains from vantage points all over the city. Seek out one more scenic overlook or survey the scene from one of Anchorage’s favorite decks.