Three unforgettable Southcentral Alaska hikes with varied difficulty levels
As amazing as Alaska is to experience from the air, water and road, there’s something very special about exploring the state on foot. And there are hundreds of hiking options of all distances, difficulty levels, and landscapes. You can hit a trail for an hour, a day, or a week, and see parts of Alaska rarely explored or view popular places with fresh perspectives. If you are traveling in Southcentral Alaska plan some time for exploring amid fresh air on one of these three popular hikes.
An hour south of Anchorage is Portage Lake, which is fed by the once grand and still spectacular Portage Glacier. The glacier is no longer visible from the area’s visitors center, but there are opportunities to see it in all its grandeur. The fascinating drive south of Anchorage leads to the quirky port town of Whittier, accessible through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel in the Maynard Mountain, the longest highway tunnel in North America at 2.5 miles. After the tunnel, veer right before reaching Whittier for the Portage Pass hike. Within a mile of mild climbing through trees and rocks, you’ll be able to see the glacier shimmering in the distance. If you hike another mostly downhill mile, you’ll reach Portage Lake and a peaceful, million-dollar view of the glacier. This is a perfect place for a lunch and a power nap.
Looming above Anchorage with a level peak that provides its name, Flattop Mountain is Alaska’s most popular hike, and for many good reasons. It’s beautiful – resting on the edge of the amazing Chugach Mountains and offering spectacular views of Anchorage, Cook Inlet, Sleeping Lady, mountains galore and occasional wildlife. On a clear day, even Denali is visible from here. It’s easy to access – a 20-minute drive from downtown Anchorage should get you there. It’s a relatively short and moderate hike – the drive to the trailhead climbs a lot of elevation and you’ll see hikers of all ages and fitness levels on the 3-mile roundtrip trail. And if you don’t feel like hiking the entire thing, there are plenty of places to stop, breath in the cool mountain air, have a snack and enjoy the amazing Alaska sights. In the fall, blueberries sprinkle the area for a sweet bonus.
With apologies to The Great One, Denali, Alaska’s most famous and infamous hike is Mount Marathon – and if you reach the top, it’s also among the most gratifying. Every Fourth of July, hundreds of hardcore athletes race from bustling downtown Seward to the peak of Mt. Marathon, 3,022 feet above sea level. The race dates back to the early 1900s and is a bucket-list experience for many. But anyone fit and brave enough can climb the mountain for fun at their own pace. Fun, of course, is relative – this is a really tough hike! The mountain is steep; the brush is dense and the trail is humid near the bottom; the rocks are loose and sharp near the top. If you follow the race route, the wet snowmelt at the bottom section of the mountain can make the steady string of chutes pretty slick. But from potential pain comes a big payoff at the peak: the eagle eye’s view of suddenly tiny Seward below and the big and beautiful Resurrection Bay is one you’ll never forget. Stepping back on flat ground after the hike, you’ll feel like you conquered the world.