Sometimes you just want to be amazed. The overlook at the Glen Alps trailhead of Chugach State Park on the Anchorage Hillside offers a grand front-row seat on the forces of geology as well as one of the best postcard views anywhere.
Like — how about a three-volcano view? Or the profile of Denali, Foraker and Hunter in a single glance? Plate tectonics at your feet? The skyline of the biggest city within 1,000 miles?
One of the most popular trailheads in the 495,000-acre park, Glen Alps is also the jumping off point for a network of hiking, biking, climbing, berry picking and skiing trails across the Hillside and into the wilderness. At about 2,200 feet, the trailhead is right at tree line, giving quick access to the alpine zone.
First, the viewpoint. It’s about 250 yards north from the parking lot on a paved trail suitable for people with disabilities. A viewing deck offers a unique and spectacular panorama with insights into regional geography.
The Anchorage Bowl yawns to the northwest, with downtown appearing like a toy city. On clear days you can see the tallest mountain in North America, the 20,320-foot Denali, and its companions Foraker and Hunter, gleaming like gigantic vanilla ice cream blobs in the distance more than 100 miles away.
Due west lays Fire Island and the confluence of Knik and Turngain arms. About 80 miles beyond, out over Cook Inlet, rises Mount Spurr volcano, the left-hand peak of the snowy Todrillo Range. Clear weather exposes two more volcanoes far to the southwest, Redoubt and then Iliamna, 110 miles and 135 miles out.
Here’s the geology lesson: The line formed by these three volcanoes roughly corresponds to where the Pacific Tectonic plate has been subducted beneath the North American tectonic plate to a depth of about 60 miles — deep enough for pressure and heat to begin producing magma producing magma for eruptions. This subduction, in turn, has uplifted Denali and the Alaska Range on the northern horizon.
Notice also how the front of the Chugach Mountains aligns with the front of the Kenai Mountains about 12 miles south across Turnagain Arm. It’s no coincidence. Both ranges are the consequence of same tectonic forces. At least one geologist has likened these mountains to the debris that piles up in front of a bulldozer blade.
Turn your back on the view, and there looms 3,510-foot Flat Top Mountain, the most climbed peak in Alaska. On summer days, you will see people on the summit, like stick figures.
It’s almost impossible to run out of things to do from the Glen Alps Trailhead.
- Go hiking, biking or skiing. Trails lead from the parking to Flat Top Mountain and to the Powerline Pass corridor, with connections all over the Hillside and into the backcountry.
- Explore the hemlock. Dense stands of mountain hemlock form virtual rooms and Hobbit-like crawlways. Kids find them irresistible.
- Climb to the saddle below Flat Top. This extremely popular trail starts on the stairway off the park lot, climbs through the mountain hemlock to the tundra and then traverses Blueberry Hill on a well-maintained trail. It’s just over a mile to the saddle at the base of Flat Top, a climb of about 800 feet. Reaching Flat Top summit requires another 500 feet of climbing up a trail that grows steeper and can require rock scrambling or snow mountaineering skills
- Pick berries. They don’t call it Blueberry Hill for nothing. During the late-summer season, alpine blueberries and black crowberries are just about everywhere on the tundra.
- View wildlife. Moose are common in the Campbell Creek drainage below the Powerline Pass corridor, and sometimes congregate in large numbers during fall. Bears are also spotted regularly. Watch for Alaska’s state bird, the willow ptarmigan, as well as ravens soaring on thermals.
A cautionary note: There are several known snow avalanche paths on or near the Flat Top Mountain trails. There have been fatalities over the years. If you take your family here during snow season, first learn how to recognize and avoid avalanche hazards. In all seasons, be ready for changing mountain weather.