Three Regions of Chugach National Forest: Sample Itineraries

Turnagain Arm and Kenai Peninsula

What’s it Like?

The most accessible Chugach region begins at Girdwood along Turnagain Arm, just south of Anchorage, and covers the northeastern quadrant of the Kenai Peninsula with highway connections to Prince William Sound and Resurrection Bay. The terrain goes off-the-scale in its ruggedness and beauty—a dramatic geography dominated by mountains and hanging glaciers, fiords and U-shaped valleys, dense forests and salmon streams. As you might expect, the region is popular among Alaskans, serving as a favorite weekend recreation destination for residents of Anchorage and other Southcentral communities. Despite the relatively high visitation and proximity to modern Alaska services, you can discover wild solitude and fun things to do.

Hike to Byron Glacier in the evening to search for ice worms

Hike to Byron Glacier in the evening to search for ice worms.


This region is a snap to visit from Anchorage, totally rental car friendly, with many transportation and lodging options. The Seward and Sterling highways provide direct access to dozens of Chugach campgrounds, trailheads, viewpoints, lakes and streams. The Alaska Railroad offers several itineraries through the forest, including a Glacier Discovery trip through mountains without road access.

A Great Three-Night Trip:

More Camping & Lodging Options

Chugach operates 14 official campgrounds and a dozen public use cabins across the region. (You should book reservations months in advance for weekend campground sites and PUCs during the summer season between Memorial and Labor days.) Backcountry camping can be found on more than 20 different official trails. You’ll also find many excellent private campgrounds, lodges and cabins, and bed-and-breakfasts along the way.

It’s More Than the Chugach

This portion of the Chugach National Forest is part of a larger 8-million-acre expanse of public land, often with no distinct boundaries between units. Sharing the country are the Chugach State Park in the north, and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in the south. Near Seward, the forest meshes with the Kenai Fjords National Park and several state parks such as Caines Head State Recreation Area. Taken as a whole, it’s one big outdoor adventure playground larger than the state of Maryland.

Prince William Sound

What’s It Like?

The Chugach meets the ocean in Prince William Sound, an ocean archipelago with more than 3,500 miles of intricate coastline tracing hundreds of islands, inlets and fiords. The forest upland essentially borders an inland sea, much of it protected water that offers an open invitation to boaters and kayakers. The geography ranges from stark glacial-bound inlets still recovering from the ice age to lush rain forest enclaves. Venture out by kayak or get dropped off at a campsite or cabin, and you might spend whole days without seeing another human.

Hiking at Portage Pass with Prince William Sound in the distance

Hiking at Portage Pass with Prince William Sound in the distance.

And yet, this marine wilderness attracts regular boat activity, with Alaskans at work and play. It supports a thriving commercial fishing industry and four fish hatcheries. Every summer, thousands of people do recreational boating and deep-sea fishing, take trips aboard the Sound’s many tour boats as well as enjoy some of the best sea kayaking and camping of coastal Alaska. There are two traditional Native communities and three port towns with full amenities. So it’s wild, yes, but also human. Evidence of its long settlement history can be found in the shoreline jungle, from old gold mines to collapsed canneries to the moldering ruins of fox farm outposts.


Visiting the Sound requires making arrangements to travel over the water via a boat or a seaplane, except for some limited hiking near Whittier along Passage Canal. Whittier, Valdez and Cordova offer a wide range of glacier and wildlife tour options (along with ferry service by Alaska Marine Highway System.) The three communities also support a mosquito fleet of guides and marine taxis offering sightseeing, deep-sea fishing, camping drop-offs and sea kayaking support.

A Great Three-Night Trip

More Camping & Lodging Options

The Forest operates 15 public use cabins across the Sound (here’s a list, but check here for reservations.) Well-equipped people regularly camp on scores of beaches, ranging from expansive berms with horizon-spanning views to pocket beaches suitable for a single tent. The number of high-and-dry sites will narrow or expand with the rise and fall of the tide cycle. In general, guides and water taxi operators can help identify beaches that will work during a trip. The state also operates marine parks, often with tent platforms, pit toilets and beach landing sites. Rent sea kayaks and get dropped off by water taxi for a couple of nights at Surprise Cove State Marine Park with protected bays, tent platforms, access to water and a pit toilet. Harriman Fjord and Blackstone Bay are doable as a two-night base camping trip.

Explore Prince William Sound by Kayak.

Explore Prince William Sound by Kayak.

Cordova and the Copper River Delta

What’s it Like?

The eastern third of the Chugach begins along eastern Prince William Sound and stretches more than 100 miles across the delta of the Copper River into remote and little visited territory beyond the river—a district covering more than 2 million acres of marine shoreline, vast wetlands, lowland forest, mountains and glaciers.

The Copper River Delta covers 700,000 acres—the largest contiguous wetland on the Pacific coast of North America and the largest unit in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. Every spring, the Delta’s tide flats and marshlands concentrate more than 5 million migratory birds, anchoring Cordova’s annual Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival.


The Cordova area is not connected to Southcentral Alaska’s road system, so visiting this region requires taking the Alaska ferry or an airline flight—an additional travel leg not unlike visiting an island. (If you don’t travel by ferry with a vehicle, you will likely need to rent a car in Cordova or take a tour.)

The 56-mile Copper River Highway follows the abandoned bed of the historic Copper River & Northwestern Railway, leading from Cordova to the salmon-rich Copper River. Unfortunately, a bridge at Mile 36 is currently (2019) impassable, with repairs not expected for years. Even with the bridge out, much of the Cordova-area forest remains easily accessible by road or water taxi, featuring kayaking and rafting, campgrounds, hiking trails, salmon fishing and some of the most extraordinary birding on the planet.

A Great Three-Night Trip

Try salmon fishing at Copper River

Try salmon fishing at Copper River

Day 1: Fly from Anchorage to Cordova. (Or take a ferry from Whittier or Valdez when available, via the Alaska Marine Highway System.) Spend the afternoon exploring this a friendly commercial fishing town with the ambience of Southeast Alaska. Learn about Native heritage and local lore at the lIanka Cultural Center and at the Cordova Historical Museum. (Also - Cordova is known for several very popular festivals, jamming with a full slate of activities. Check out the Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival in May, the Copper River Salmon Jam in July, and the Cordova Fungus Festival in September.)

Day 2: Rent a car or book a tour of the Copper River Delta. Take the historic Copper River Highway to the Childs Glacier Recreation Area and view the Miles Glacier Bridge—known as the Million Dollar Bridge (You’ll need to book a tour to get beyond a washed-out bridge.) Want to hike instead? The Forest maintains 15 trails.

Day 3: Take a marine tour or look for birds and wildlife out on the Copper River Delta. Or, fish! The Copper River Delta region offers excellent fishing, with the Alaganik Slough at Mile 17 of the Copper River Highway a good place to land coho salmon in August. The site features a boardwalk and a trail, offering a great way to experience the sights and smells of the Delta.

Day 4: Fly back to Anchorage

Other Camping & Lodging Options

The Copper River Delta region exudes a rural, laid-back atmosphere with vast open space and rugged country. Visitors will many places to camp both near the village and further out along the gravel Copper River Highway. The Forest also operates five public use cabins. Check out the area’s hotels and private lodges for non-camping options.


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