Things to Do in the Chugach National Forest
1. Hike & Bike
Hundreds of miles of trails beckon from dozens of trailheads. The Trail of Blue Ice offers a flat, family-friendly outing through scenic Portage Valley. Devil’s Pass Trail is a popular portal for mountain bikers into the heart of the Kenai Mountains and Resurrection Pass. Johnson Pass Trail follows a portion of the pioneer wagon trail between Seward and Hope. See all Chugach National Forest parks & trails.
Williwaw Campground nestles close to Portage Valley recreation. Porcupine Campground allows you to explore the gold rush hamlet of Hope. The Russian River Campground is legendary for red salmon fishing with a classic Forest Service layout. In total, there are more than 20 official campgrounds, plus unlimited dispersed or backcountry camping.
3. Rent a Cabin
Alaskans love to rent Chugach National Forest cabins. More than 40 public use cabins span the forest in all sorts of habitats, from remote beaches on islands to overlooks perched above glaciers to outposts in mountain passes. Reserve them well in advance, especially if you’re looking for weekend dates.
4. Do the Whistle Stop
Venders (here and here) offer guided hikes, mountaineering and kayaking amid icebergs, with camping and hiking options. The very popular Spencer Bench public use cabin offers a bird’s eye view of the scene.
5. View Wildlife
With its unique highway access—often traversing valleys with sweeping views of surrounding mountains—the Chugach National Forest offers extraordinary potential to see wild animals during road trips. Try Tern Lake where the Seward and Sterling highways meet, with potential views of Dall sheep, mountain goats, black bears, moose, terns, swans and bald eagles. For a primal encounter with salmon determined to spawn, visit the Williwaw Fish Viewing Platform in Portage Valley or hike to the Russian River Falls. Marine wildlife thrives in Prince William Sound and Resurrection Bay, accessible aboard cruises out of Whittier, Valdez and Seward.
6. Visit Glaciers
Living, flowing ice dominates much of the national forest, with a glaciers perched in just about every alpine nook or remote valley. The famous Portage Glacier spills icebergs into its own lake, with an easy hike to Byron Glacier (where there be ice worms!) close by. The Begich, Boggs Visitor Center on the lakeshore features interactive displays and information about the glacier, plus general natural history, heritage and geography about the region. Or ride a marine charter to tidewater glaciers in Prince William Sound or Resurrection Bay from Whittier, Valdez and Seward.
Things to Do
Chugach National Forest Parks & Trails View All
This 4.1‑mile trail starts through forest and muskeg meadows. You’ll cross a beautiful bridge over a creek that in mid-July and August is full of spawning chum salmon Then once you’re at the top take in views of Cordova, Nelson Bay, and Prince William Sound.
Well-maintained and suitable for summer hiking and biking, the 10-mile Devil’s Pass Trail features a steep route up a spectacular V‑shaped valley that intersects with the Resurrection Pass Trail and a rental cabin in the alpine realm. The country is rugged, with great access to cross-country tundra exploration and berry picking.
The wildflowers are abundant and verdant undergrowth can be check high sometimes. Most of the trail lies below treeline, so there are established camp clearings along the way that are nestled into the trees. One of the best campsites is 10 miles in from the northern trailhead, set among trees on a spruce-covered knoll looking over the trail and Bench Lake.
This trail is a good day hike for the whole family. It alternates between open meadows and forests and offers the option of tent camping or staying in Crescent Lake Cabin. There are options for longer hikes and there is a lot of wildlife to be seen such as moose, goats and bears.
This wildlife sweet spot is worth a visit. The Russian Lakes Trail begins off the access road to the Russian River Campground in Cooper Landing, at milepost 52 of the Sterling Highway. Get off-the-beaten path, hike two miles to the falls and enjoy the immediate reward of spectacular salmon viewing.
This leisurely, 0.75-mile trail begins just south of Whittier, a little seaside town located some 2 hours south of Anchorage. The trail doesn’t climb much, but it will take you high enough to get an unobstructed view of numerous waterfalls, including the long-dropping waters of Horsetail Falls as it sheets over the sheer rock face of Blackstone Ridge.
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.
Winner Creek Trail in Girdwood (45 minutes south of Anchorage) is one of our favorite trails to take visiting friends and family. It’s an easy 3‑mile hike or bike ride on a wide, well-developed trail with a gentle elevation gain that winds through America’s northernmost rainforest, crosses a wooden bridge over a thundering blue-water gorge. 2022: Hand tram currently closed, may replace with bridge. Local weighing in.)
If you want a great workout — to stunning mountain views high above the valley floor below — but want to save your knees on the way down, this trail is for you. It leaves from the Alyeska Resort tram building and climbs steep switchbacks 2.2 miles and 2000 feet to the mid-mountain restaurant where you can catch a free aerial tram ride back down to the hotel.
No other mining trail on the Kenai Peninsula climbs as high or takes in more extensive views as the 6‑mile-long Crown Mine Trail. Beginning some 2 hours south of Anchorage on the appropriately named Mine Road just south of Trail Lake, this trail climbs to 3,900 feet above sea level to a unique spot — a glacial cirque littered with mining paraphernalia.
This meandering, single-track path leads to some of the Kenai Mountain’s most remote and fragile high country. On a route once trekked by gold rush prospectors, this trail ascends from spruce forest through the jungled zone of alders into a realm of sweeping tundra, with incredible views and productive berry picking. Plus, the top of the nine-mile journey ends in Resurrection Pass, about midway through the 39-mile Resurrection Pass Trail.
The 23-mile Johnson Pass Trail offers hikers, backpackers and bikers a well-marked route through a lush pass in the Kenai Mountains — featuring gradual climbs, two lakes with fish, spectacular peaks and some way cool gorges.
Considered to be one of the best hikes in all of the Chugach Mountains, Crow Pass follows a portion of the original Iditarod Trail, including its highest point. End to end, it’s a 21-mile trail, which most people do in 2 days, but just the first 4 miles will lead you past some breathtaking scenery. Along the way you’ll find glaciers, waterfalls, wildflowers, wildlife, mine ruins, and berries (in late August and September). Hiking is not ...more
This 38 mile long USFS trail starts in Hope and climbs Resurrection Pass (elev. 2,600) towards the south before descending to the opposite trailhead near Cooper Landing. There are 8 public use cabins along the trail, making this an advanced but comfortable day cabin-to-cabin hike. There are also 19 campsites available for tent camping.
More a gated road than a trail, this hike largely remains a local secret among the residents of Cooper Landing, the fishing mecca located some 105 miles south of Anchorage on Sterling Highway. Many in this town consider it their personal getaway, which makes it quite a popular secret. A foreman for Chugach Electric (the company that manages the dam on Cooper Lake) said he often experienced congestion while driving to the dam, due to the heavy ...more
Popular with hikers and backpackers, this easy-to-follow trail connects the state’s most intense sockeye salmon sports fishery with stunning mountain backcountry. It offers many of the Kenai Peninsula’s highlights in one trip. The 21-mile route accesses Russian River Falls, Lower and Upper Russian Lakes, Cooper Lake, 3 federally managed recreational cabins, and numerous campsites
Primarily built to provide pack-rafters and kayakers access to the headwaters of Twentymile River, this 9‑mile-long trail has also proved a draw for hikers — and with good reason. Just 45 minutes south of Anchorage, it makes for a very scenic hike into some high, wild, glacier-girted country.
This 2‑mile-long, family-friendly trail, which begins 90 minutes south of Anchorage at the far end of the Whittier Tunnel, remains the only easy way to see Portage Glacier on foot. And it’s has a spectacular conclusion: After cresting Portage Pass, the trail drops through glacial scrub before popping out on the wide gravel shores of Portage Lake, directly across from the snout of gorgeous Portage Glacier.
This 38 mile long USFS trail climbs Resurrection Pass (elev. 2,600) and descends to the north to another trailheadtrailhead near Hope on Turnagain Arm. There are 8 public use cabins along the trail, making this an advanced but comfortable day cabin-to-cabin hike. There are also 19 campsites available along the trail.
Beginning 103 miles south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway, the 3.5‑mile-long Ptarmigan Lake Trail makes for a fine family outing. The lake itself is a long and narrow body of water squeezed between ridges and mountains that tower as high as 6,000 feet. It even offers a small beach upon which to relax and enjoy the view while cooling your feet.
If you have the ability to transport bicycles, this trail makes for a great afternoon trip. The dirt path winds through the Portage Valley, passing glacial lakes and ending at Portage Lake (this part of the trip is 5 miles each way). Make sure to bring your camera: you’ll see hanging glaciers and, very likely, some wildlife.
This very active glacier forms a wall along the fabled Copper River near a historic railroad route that once serviced the world’s largest copper mine. NOTE: A bridge at Mile 36 of the Copper River Highway is currently (2020) impassable, with repairs not expected for several years. Child’s Glacier is not currently accessible by road. Contact Cordova Ranger District for current venders providing transportation options to the far side. ...more
If you want a taste of dim spruce forest along a wild river bottom, try the first few miles of this mostly level route into the Resurrection River Valley. From the trailhead Mile 7 of Exit Glacier Road, the trail runs 4.5 miles to Martin Creek and is suitable for mountain biking or skiing after snowfall. It features two primitive campsites and occasional access or views of to the river.
Take a stroll down the boardwalk as it winds along the river. There are several interpretive signs with information about fishing, dall sheep, rafting and boat safety. You’ll also find access to Pioneer Village where you can pan for gold at Prospector John’s Authentic Gold Panning.
This is an easy 2.4‑mile hike with excellent fishing for sockeye, Dolly Varden and cutthroat. You’ll find access to McKinley Trail and McKinley Lake public use cabins. It is a well-maintained trail that has several bridges for easy stream crossings and interpretive signs to explain the trail’s history.
These popular trails lead to two beautiful, pristine lakes. Even better, they’re both easy hikes, which makes them perfect for people of all ages. Bring a fishing pole and angle for stocked trout in Meridian Lake or grayling in Grayling Lake.
The 3.3‑mile long trail is mostly boardwalk over muskeg. This is an excellent spot to bird-watch, look for waterfowl feeding on Eyak Lake. Trumpeter swans frequent this lake. Most fly south for the winter however, up to 100 swans will winter here in this ice-free lake.
Trails were established by prospectors traveling through the Turnagain Pass area. The Ingram Creek trail followed the creek from Turnagain Arm up to Turnagain Pass. After the pass, the trail followed Granite Creek to Sixmile Creek, which then led prospectors to Sunrise and Hope.
This is a steep climb that ends where Crater Lake sits. The first half climbs over rocky sections with numerous switchbacks, with muddy areas and wood bridges. The second half continues to climb, but at a much nicer grade. At mile 1.2 there is an intertie to Ski Hill trail and at the lake there is the option to hike the Alice Smith Intertie. The entire loop from Crater Lake to Power Creek Trailhead is 12 miles. Along this trail there is good… ...more
This is part of the Chickaloon-Knik-Nelchina Trail System. The trail is rough and indistinct and interconnects with many other trails in the system. There are many moose, caribou, brown bear and Dall sheep in the area. Sheep cannot be hunted on Sheep mountain.
Palmer Creek and the road that follows it were named after George Palmer, who in 1894 first discovered gold on its banks. The creek was the site of early placer mining and later lode mining. Evidence of the historic Lucky Strike and Hirshey mines, as well as the Swetmann camp, can be found along trails that lead to Palmer Lakes. Several hiking trails are accessible from the Palmer Creek Road.
This ridge route has amazing views of Prince William Sound, Eyak Lake, and the Copper River Delta. About halfway down the trail, there is small shelter available for day use or overnight camping. It is available on a first-come first-serve basis.
The Johnson Pass Trail originated in the 1890s as a route for Iditarod miners who raced north from Seward to Nome. It later was developed into a wagon road by merchants and miners who settled the area. The Alaska Road Commission then used it as a thoroughfare through the 1930s. Today this popular hiking trail travels portions of the historic Iditarod Trail between Moose Pass and Granite Creek with bridged streams, mostly easy grades, and… ...more
A Chugach classic with big glacier views, this trail is widely considered one of the best in Alaska! It begins outside of Girdwood and ends at the Eagle River Nature Center, with an option to packraft roughly 9 miles of Eagle River. Suitable for a novice backpacker and beginner packrafter (if you choose the packrafting route option).
Located at Mile 1.0 of the Portage Highway, this site has a short boardwalk trail along several ponds. It is a good site for observing waterfowl that nest and rear their young in the ponds and river channels.
Located at Mile 17 of the Copper River Highway. An accessible boardwalk leads visitors to stunning views of both the expansive wetlands of the Copper River Delta and the surrounding mountains. A wide variety of wetland animals including trumpeter swans, moose, brown bear, and shorebirds can be seen in the area, especially during the spring and fall. The first half of this trail is paved with geoblock, so that it does not have a negative… ...more
The first mile and a half of this trail leads up over rocky slopes that offer a great view of Eyak Lake and the Orca Inlet. At this point the trail splits in two and the hiker has a choice of going around the south end of Mt. Eyak or climbing straight up to the top.
The trail takes hikers past mine activity on the lower part of the trail. The first mile is steep, but after that it levels out. Mountain goats and brown bears are seen on the mountainside occasionally. There is excellent berry-picking here in the fall. This trail should only be traveled in the summer due to avalanche danger.
This well-maintained trail has a level path with gradual grades. It follows an old wagon road and parallels Turnagain Arm. There are many berries, which makes this a fun activity for the whole family. It is suggested that you bring binoculars to see wildlife up-close on the mountains above.
This ski trail weaves through muskeg and forest and gradually gains elevation until it ends. The trail leads to a high muskeg that overlooks the Copper River Delta, Heney Range and the Gulf of Alaska. This trail is very wet during all seasons excluding winter and is not a hiking trail.
Hiking up Mt. Alyeska is a challenge, but the reward is great views of Turnagain Arm, the seven “hanging” glaciers of Girdwood Valley, and peaks stretching deep into the Chugach Mountain range. Below you’ll find our recommended routes to the top; all leave from the Alyeska Hotel (where you’ll find trail maps). While any summer day is good for this hike, try to time your visit around one of the area’s events — you’ll have something extra to… ...more
This trail is part of the Hillside Trails System. It is not one of the trails that is groomed for skiing in winter. This trail meanders up and down hills and alongside beautiful Long Lake. Wildlife can be seen from the lake, mostly birds with the occasional moose.
This trail follows an old mining road to the-still active- Primrose Mine. After mile 4 the trail becomes steep and eroded. There is a viewpoint that offers nice vistas here. The trail continues to a bridge that will take you to Lost Creek and Lost Lake eventually. This is a good 2 – 3 day hike for fishing and camping.Keep an eye out for black bear and mountain goats.
This trail was once used as access to gold mining territory. In 1925 a diptheria epidemic threatened Nome and the route was covered in 127 hours to deliver serum to those who were ill. It is now raced every year on dog sled to commemorate that and is the longest sled dog race in the world. The trail is easy in pieces and difficult in its entirety.
There is a good guide for this trail available at the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center at Portage Glacier. Numbered trail posts correspond to things in the guide. This is a great place to view spawning salmon in the fall. It is a well-maintained path with a thirty-foot bridge. This hike is wheelchair accessible and there are lots of berries and various wildlife species.
This trail crosses Indian Creek several times on its gradual climb through the old growth forest. Brush and Alder give way to a panoramic a‑line near Indian Creek Pass. Parts of the trail can be difficult to follow, especially when traveling through the grass of the sub-alpine. This is part of the “Arctic to Indian” winter ski traverse.
The trail begins at mile 12.1 of the Seward Highway. Watch closely for the sign and pull into the off-highway parking area. The trail begins as the Iditarod Trail, and many improvements have been made to this section. The Troop Lake Trail branches off of this famous trail approximately 1 mile from the start, reaching the lake about a half mile later.
Chugach National Forest Scenic Day Drives View All
Portage Valley southeast of Anchorage at the head of Turnagain Arm offers so many potential adventures that you might have to tow a trailer loaded with gear to sample them all. What will you find here? Biking, hiking, picnicking, fishing, paddling, wildlife viewing, potential iceberg sightings — plus a natural history visitor center packed with interactive displays about the ecosystem of the valley and Prince William Sound. It’s like an outdoor ...more
Chugach National Forest Public Use Cabins View All
12 by 14 rustic cabin on Resurrection Creek in spruce-birch forest with mountain views. Sleeping bunks for six with space for eight. Equipped with counter space, table, benches, wood stove, splitting maul and hand saw. Outhouse and bear locker.
This 15 x 17 trapper’s style cabin perched on a ridge 1,800 feet above Spencer Glacier offers one of the most spectacular views in the world. The panorama sweeps across a wild mountain-scape of sheer faces and avalanche chutes. Close to the cabin, visitors will find alpine meadows with wildflowers and interesting geology, and chances to see various wildlife.
Mile 11.9 Russian Lakes Trail.Handsome 12×14 trapper’s style log cabin that overlooks the lake and a stunning view. With bunk space for six and sleeping for eight. (The Forest Service recommends space for 4, so expect close quarters.) Check Availability ...more
This 16′ X 16′ cabin is constructed of beetle-killed, milled spruce logs and has two full size bunk beds with a capacity to sleep eight people. Located in Decision Point State Park, this cabin can be reached by private boat, kayak, floatplane, or commercial water taxi.
Mile 2.3 Russian Lakes Trail. This rustic cabin in a flat area along the eastern shore of Lower Russian Lake features a rowboat with oars. It sleeps eight, with bunks for six, and includes cooking counter, table, benches, wood stove, spitting maul and saw, and an outhouse. Check Availability ...more
The cabin offers seclusion and good fishing. A rowboat and oars provided at the cabin gives anglers excellent opportunities to catch grayling on the small, adjacent lake. The cabin is accessible only by floatplane (15 minutes from Moose Pass or 15 minutes from Seward).
Mile 8.6 Russian Lakes Trail. Rustic cabin with bunks for six and sleeping space for eight. Fishing for Dolly Varden and rainbow trout in the nearby Russian River. Features counter space, table, benches, a wood stove, splitting maul and handsaw, and outhouse. Check Availability ...more
Mile 29.2 Resurrection Pass Trail. This cabin sits at the south end of Juneau Lake. A rustic cabin with counter space, a table, benches and a wood stove for heat. Sleeps eight with bunks for six. Other features include a splitting maul and saw, an outhouse — and a canoe with paddles for exploring the lake. Check Availability ...more
16-x-16 log cabin in an alpine valley nestled amid steep mountain slopes. Sleeps 6, with table, oil stove, and outhouse. Note: You must bring #1 stove oil if you want heat. One gallon lasts about one hour. Devil’s Creek Trail intersects here, a 10-mile descent to the Seward Highway trailhead. Devi’s Pass Lake is about one mile down the trail. Check Availability ...more
Operated by the non-profit Alaska Mountain and Wilderness Huts Association, Manitoba Cabin is intended to promote wilderness experience and camaraderie in the spirit of European-style trekking huts. While very popular among backcountry skiers during winter weekends, the facility often has openings during weekdays. During the summer, you might have the entire place to yourself.
Chugach National Forest View All
Bertha Creek Campground is a great choice for a low-key campout in a recreational gold-panning area on a quiet loop where the kids won’t get lost. Located just south of Turnagain Pass in the Kenai Mountains about 65 miles south of Anchorage, the campground is tucked into an open forest beside the confluence of Bertha and Granite creeks at the base of steep mountains.
Biking, fish viewing, a natural history center and a flat hike to a glacier are within easy reach of this quiet, intimate campground in Portage Valley at the head of Turnagain Arm in the Chugach National Forest. The 12 sites in the graveled, wooded Black Bear are yards from the Trail of Blue Ice — a non-motorized multi-use trail that traverses the valley floor.
Set in a handsome birch forest overlooking Turnagain Arm, this campground in Chugach National Forest close to the historic village of Hope is a family classic. The 34 sites offer all the usual amenities (picnic table, campfire ring, outhouses, water pump) and are laid out with an eye toward privacy. Just 81 miles from Anchorage.
If you want to camp beside subalpine Upper Summit Lake close to trumpeter swans and fishing for rainbows, take the family to this campground deep in the Kenai Mountains off Mile 46 of the Seward Highway. The 35 sites are spread along a loop in the alder, willow and spruce woods on the hillside above the lake, with clear-running Tenderfoot Creek passing through
Quartz Creek campground is situated on the banks of sparkling Kenai Lake. This is a great spot to cool off on a hot day. Kenai Lake has a good sandy swimming beach and a trail that follows along nearby Quartz Creek. Cast your line for some awesome fly-fishing at the creek or look for the nearby horse stable for a scenic ride.
Cascade Bay, at the Northwest end of Eaglek Bay, holds the treasure of the largest waterfall in Prince William Sound. There is no lack of freshwater in the Bay, with another reasonable water source coming in just to the East of the Falls. Be prepared for the noise of the falls, and tons of jellyfish!