Why Take This Hike
If you have some outdoor experience and an adventurous spirit, consider this 11-mile traverse up the Colorado Creek valley and down the Summit Creek. Beginning 2 hours south of Anchorage, this traverse doesn’t involve any rock scrambling, river crossings, or arduous bushwhacking. But if you feel comfortable hiking in wide and trackless country, you may reap the reward of having an entire valley to yourself.
A small opening in the woods across from Summit Lake Lodge (and on the far side of the power lines’ right-of-way) marks the beginning of the trail. Mossy rocks and grass shoots indicate how few people make their way here. Farther along, beyond the spruce and birch forest, the trail crosses open meadows. Here, at the height of summer, you may have to keep looking for the trail at your feet as you push through the chest-high grass. At other times you may have to skirt small mud holes or high-step across a narrow rivulet or bog.
About 2 miles up the valley, the trail swings in and out of a deep steep creek gully onto the more open tundra of the high country. Now you need only push through some low spruce and patches of waist-high brush as the trail continues to climb.
As it winds its way up valley, the trail becomes fainter until, after crossing one last shelf of low brush, it peters out. But it’s done its job, leading you above tree line and into the open country of the upper valley. As Colorado Creek murmurs far below to your right, follow the tundra-cushioned shelf’s wide turn to the left.
Now you’ve entered the Alaska you may have envisioned when you first contemplated your trip. Here you may hear a marmot’s whistle cut through the quiet afternoon in the high and wide deserted valley or see a fox scampering for cover on the far side of the creek. One thing you’re guaranteed to see: high walls of 4,000-plus-foot ridges, which guide your steps as the valley swings back to the right.
Cross the creek rushing down from the hanging valley to the left, then you’ll see a low pass you must cross to enter Summit Creek Valley. But before you climb over that pass, take a small detour to a lake hidden just below the pass. Enjoy the water. Relish in the solitude. Look for a tern protecting its nest. Then continue on. For a few hundred feet below the far side of the pass, you’ll step onto Summit Creek Trail and follow that over Summit Lake Pass and the 3 miles back down to the Seward Highway.
You end the hike on a trail created by others, which may seem a letdown after blazing your own trail. Such a feeing is only natural for those who harbor a true desire for adventure and independence. Just think back to the mountains, valleys, and glacial-formed cirques of Summit Creek Trail…and smile.
Author: Shawn Lyons
Distance: 11 miles