How Long to Spend
Want to explore a wild river bottom with bears, moose, wolves, salmon and eagles? Launch an alpine hike only minutes from shopping? Enjoy a small-town festival in the shadow of big mountains? Eagle River is an independent-minded bedroom community about 12 miles up the freeway from Anchorage in the mouth of Eagle River Valley. It’s connected to rural Chugiak, Birchwood, Peters Creek, Thunderbird Heights and Eklutna—all sharing a strong sense that their place is separate and more down-to-earth than the big city to the south. Its geography is definitely stunning—slopes looming over a broad valley that reaches deep into the Chugach Mountains. And yet you’ll find gobs of human-scale activities.
At first, Eagle River might seem like a suburb for commuters, with subdivisions and a downtown district dominated by strip malls. But don’t let a drive-by first impression put you off. This community of 28,000 has that only-in-Alaska dynamic, where L48-style residential neighborhoods have mega-fauna for company, where everyone knows six different 15-minute drives leading to wilderness. The area features full services, groceries, shops, restaurants and lodging—plus an extensive trail system along the river, a state parks campground, and direct access to the high country.
In fact, you could as easily base your entire Alaska vacation in Eagle River as in Anchorage, with almost identical access to all the fishing, adventures, wildlife viewing, flightseeing, day cruises and other classic attractions of the Last Frontier. Eagle River is 15 to 20 minutes closer to Denali National Park and the salmon streams along the Parks Highway, and less than an hour to the Mat-Su Valley destinations. (A half hour to Palmer / Wasilla and the Alaska State Fair!) Looking south, the ski resort town of Girdwood is an hour’s drive and day cruises to see tidewater glaciers in Whittier is about two hours.
And there’s a hidden gem: Eagle River Road reaches 12.6 miles into the mountains, ending at the Eagle River Nature Center where you’ll find naturalists, programs and recreation advice. It is a remarkable gateway into the heart of Chugach State Park.
- Visit the Eagle River Nature Center. This well-appointed non-profit nature center centers on a log building (once an end-of-the-road tavern and steakhouse!) at the beginning of a historic 21-mile Crow Pass Trail to Girdwood, a segment in the Iditarod Trail system. It offers nature programs and talks, guided walks, easy-strolling loops through riverine habitat with boardwalks and decks, plus rentals of three overnight yurts and one public use cabin
- Camp or picnic in Eagle River Campground. With 57 sites along wooded lanes, this state parks campground snuggles next to the river just off the highway, overlooking the locally famous Campground Rapids. With trails extending up the valley. A great family campground.
- Paddle the river and explore Eagle River Greenbelt. A network of trails wind through the river bottom. For a start, visit the Eagle River Loop Bridge Access (Briggs Bridge) to connect to the Lower Eagle River Trail for hiking and mountain biking, with connections downstream to the campground and upstream to the South Fork and Barbara Falls. Paddling options range from the placid, Class 1 route along the North Fork, to more challenging white water downstream.
- Go hiking. Eagle River is surrounded by trails, including several of the most popular destinations in Chugach State Park. The 5.5 mile South Fork Trail launches from Hiland Road into subalpine terrain and two scenic lakes, famous for berry picking and stunning scenery. For a mountain-top experience with fabulous views, try the very popular Mount Baldy Trail. A short and easy stroll leads to Barbara Falls, one of the park’s biggest waterfalls.
- Enjoy a county-style fair with the locals. The annual four-day Bear Paw Festival brings fun events (including a parade,) live music and dancing, races, car show, carnival rides, food and drink, and all kinds of vendors every mid-July to downtown Eagle River. Sponsored by the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce.
Eagle River is inside the Municipality of Anchorage about 12 miles north of downtown, on the Glenn Highway just beyond a swath of mostly undeveloped military land. Take one of three freeway exits—Eagle River Loop at Mile 11.6 (best access to Eagle River and Hiland roads,) Old Glenn Highway & Eagle River Road at Mile 13.5 (direct access to the business district,) and North Eagle River at Mile 15.5.