Why Take This Hike
This 8-mile trail, which begins 90 minutes north of Anchorage on Fishhook-Willow Road, climbs some 2,900 feet as it follows Little Susitna River back up to its headwaters at Mint Glacier. It passes beneath walls of granite-spired peaks and ridges on its way up to Mint Cabin, a first-come, first-serve cabin where you can spend the night.
Follow Fishhook-Willow Road past the former Motherlode Lodge and you’ll come to a sharp hairpin turn up and to the left away from Little Susitna River. Here on the right you’ll find the entrance to Gold Mint Trail’s parking area. Even from here you’ll find quite a view. It stretches far up the valley, though not far enough to see its uppermost end. To marvel at that view, you have to do some hiking.
You’ll start by climbing slowly and steadily for 2 miles up an old mining road, which then narrows to an actual trail. The gradual climb continues for another 1.5 miles, during which the trail slowly turns rougher underfoot. About 3.5 miles from the parking area, and just after the trail makes a wide turn to the left, look up the river’s remaining length to the high mountains and glaciers that circle the upper valley.
Granite pinnacles rise on all sides as you slowly continue. The trail starts climbing with more determination near the upper end of the valley. Here, it also turns away from Little Susitna River to follow a series of cairns toward the knoll above the left side of the valley. Then the trail reaches a fork. One path leads you across the front of the knoll, while the other takes you around the back. Both soon deliver you to the door of the public-use Mint Cabin, where the trail ends.
You need not stop here, though. If you still feel energetic, follow the trail beyond the cabin across the tundra and piles of moraine to the edge of Mint Glacier. Very energetic hikers might even opt to scramble the 1,200 feet up to Backdoor Gap, the small notch in the ridge behind the cabin. From the top of that narrow pass you can look down the length of Penny Royal Glacier.
But after 8 miles of hiking, maybe you just want to sit and rest. Look out upon the high peaks surrounding the cabin and listen to the water spilling down into the valley below.
You can even spend the night at the cabin if you can find room. If not, many spots nearby make for very comfortable tent sites. Then you can fall asleep amid a great circle of mountains after watching the last golden sunlight pass from their summits.
(For more, see Walk-About Guide to Alaska, Volume Four by Shawn R. Lyons)
Distance: 16 round trip miles
Elevation Gain: 2900 feet