Summit Lake, located some 60 miles north of Anchorage at the crest of Hatcher Pass, offers a short, memorable lakeside ramble. Here you can explore the surrounding gullies and slopes or just sit and watch hang gliders drift out over the long Willow Creek Valley, which extends for miles from the west side of the pass.
Even the drive to Summit Lake serves up some gorgeous scenery—especially when the Fishhook-Willow Road leaves the plains and begins to follow Little Susitna River up into the mountains. For some 10 miles, the road continues to head upward, winding around Marmot Mountain, dropping into Independence Mine Valley, and then turning to face the 1.5-mile gravel-road climb to Hatcher Pass (3,886 feet) and Summit Lake.
When clouds hang overhead, you may feel a stiff, chill wind blowing up through the pass. But under a blue sky, you’ll find warm, dry air to go along with the sparkling lake waters. You may also catch a glimpse of a ptarmigan darting past or a marmot lumbering across the tundra.
You could then climb the small knoll on the far right (west) side of the lake, where you might chance upon some hang gliders, many of whom use this hill as launch point to sail down the Willow Creek Valley. You could also explore the surrounding hills and knolls, or even climb April Bowl, which ends at a small alpine hollow where the snow often lingers well into June.
The entire Summit Lake Recreation Site extends from just before milepost 19 (on the climb to the pass) to just after milepost 21 (by Upper Willow Creek on the far side of the pass), so you’ll find much to explore. If it’s not enough, you can tackle the ridges that rise into mountains on either side of the pass.
But maybe you only want to enjoy a picnic by the lake or gaze at a few wildflowers. After all, just relishing the views of this gorgeous area makes for a pretty action-packed day.
Author: Shawn Lyons
Distance: 2.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 800 feet