Why Take This Hike
This is a popular, 4.5-mile-long trail located 2 hours north of Anchorage in the Hatcher Pass area. It’s also gorgeous. At one point it climbs directly alongside a sheet of waterfalls falling from a wide granite ledge. As the trail winds its way to these falls, it passes the lake into which the falls drain. And after the falls, the trail ends at the tarn from which the falls drain. In other words, hike this trail and you’ll see a lake, some falls, and a tarn—all while passing through the shadows of several 6,000-foot peaks.
Beginning 2 miles up Archangel Road off Hatcher Pass Road, Reed Lakes Trail starts out easily enough; it follows an old mining road for 1.5 miles alongside Reed Creek to the remnants of Snowbird Village. After passing over three bridges in rapid succession, you start climbing switchbacks that wind up the face of near-sheer buttress walling.
When you turn around the left end of the buttress and find the trail leveling out somewhat, you might think the worst climbing is behind you. Not yet. Now you need now climb through a jumble of boulders clogging the creek bed. These chaotic remnants of tumbling rockfalls, some well over 8 feet in height and width, fill the upper section of the Reed Creek basin. And they make the next 0.5 miles of hiking very slow, requiring great care. Though children may delight in this maze of rocks, dogs and less agile hikers may find it hard going.
Once beyond the narrowest point in the notch, though, the boulders peter out. Now it only takes a short climb up the valley to reach the turquoise waters of lower Reed Lake (3,750 feet) and the falls that spill over the ledges in the valley behind it. Any spot along the lake’s shore makes for a fine place to rest and gaze up at the panorama of falling water and the towering spires framing it.
You’ll also find another place for a break at the top of the falls. Just follow the trail as it climbs up alongside the waterfalls to where it levels out on a low knob at the top. From here you can look down the falls. Then continue the short way up to the trail’s end, at the couloir containing the waters of upper Reed Lake (4,250 feet).
At the top of the falls, keep a wary eye on the marmots. If you put down your pack for even a few minutes, these brazen little thieves have been known to courageously (even recklessly) converge on it without hesitation and try to find their way inside. If this happens to you, you might very well curse at them. At the same time, it’s hard not to appreciate the intelligence of these creatures. Their audacious thievery has even prompted laughs from victimized pack owners.
You might even use your pack as bait, if you want to snap a picture of these quick-pawed little pirates pillaging your pack. But if you want that pirate out of your pack, don’t use your hands. Marmots have sharp teeth and will use them without hesitation. Better just to turn the pack upside down and shake it until the culprit drops out. Then, before it grabs anything on the go, shoo it away with your foot.
(For more, see Walk-About Guide to Alaska, Volume Four by Shawn R. Lyons)
Distance: 9 round trip miles
Elevation Gain: 2200 feet