Why Take This Hike
Want to feel dwarfed by the Alaskan mountain-scape? If so, then take a 2-hour drive north on Parks Highway and Hatcher Pass Road. Then climb a 2-mile wide but sometimes steep ATV trail to the crest Box Lake Ridge. From the big, rounded top of this ridge, you will feel the overwhelming bigness of not just the surrounding Talkeetna Mountains, but also the rest of Alaska stretching away in all directions.
The drive to the beginning of the unmarked Box Lake Ridge Trail first follows Glenn Highway north to Parks Highway. After turning onto Parks Highway you next pass through Wasilla. But this does not last long.
Once past Wasilla you pass through more open country with even an occasional glimpse of the great Susitna River valley on the left. The drive turns even more scenic once you turn east onto Hatcher Pass Road in Willow. The number of houses thins as the road climbs through the thickening forest. Then, after passing the last house on this sparsely-populated road, you reach the gate at the end of the maintained road. Once past gate you begin to truly feel the wildness of Alaska as the road winds up the north side of Willow Creek between two low ridges. Some 3 miles past the gate, you should reach a partially flooded dirt road on the left. This water-filled road marks the beginning of Box Ridge Trail.
This flooded section at the start of the trail does not last long. It will only take you some 200 feet of careful walking along the dry flanks of the road to reach the far end of the flooded lowlands. Once beyond this flooded section the serious climbing begins. After a rain you will find this trail slippery. On any given weekend you may also have to share it with noisy ATVs. But when you have it to yourself, you will hear little apart from the humming of the wind, the cry of a hawk, or even the whistle of a marmot. On a cloudy day you might even hear nothing—nothing but the sound of own breathing and your own steps.
After 1 mile of steady climbing the trail begins to roll over onto the ridge’s crest. Once on the crest of the ridge, you can continue along the same trail as it starts down the backside into the Purches Creek valley and the open country beyond it. But you should find it even more rewarding to turn right (east) up the center of ridge and follow the fainter ATV trail that continues climbing gradually up the ridge’s spine.
As it continues climbing steadily, this trail carries you along the southern rim of the deep hollow containing Box Lake and toward the rugged and rocky mountains rising above the far end of the ridge. But you need not climb any of these more rugged peaks for a satisfying finish of the hike. Instead, some 5 miles from first reaching the crest of Box Lake Ridge, the ATV trail circles around one last wide hollow and climbs leisurely to the broad and open summit of Box Peak, a name this guide uses for this broad and prominent but seemingly un-titled peak upon which the ATV trail comes to an end.
Here you can enjoy a well-deserved rest and snack while looking out in all directions across the long and broad, peak-studded landscape of the western Talkeetna Mountains. From such a vantage point you should most certainly feel the meaning of the term ‘big sky’. Though used to describe other places in other states, it attains its true meaning only from such a place as the summit of Box Peak. Such vantage points make you feel strangely privileged to feel so small.
(For more, see Walk-About Guide to Alaska, Volume Three by Shawn R. Lyons)