Why Take This Hike
Beginning a 1-hour drive north of Anchorage in Government Peak Recreation Area, Government Peak Race Trail offers a fine opportunity for a hard workout; it climbs some 3,700 vertical feet in just 3 miles. Plus, this climb doesn’t include any extraordinary dangers. (A friend refers to one short ledge on this trail as “death rock,” but she tends to exaggerate.) Some sections require special care to negotiate, but you won’t have to traverse any high cliffs or climb any sheer faces during your workout.
Every year in early June, a small horde of runners races this trail to the summit of Government Peak, which looms some 3,700 feet above. Keep this in mind as you start jogging the short way up Pioneer Loop and Matanuska Loop ski trails to the sign marking the beginning of Government Peak Race Trail. As you zigzag up the first 0.75 miles of the trail, you can easily imagine people running this route.
But this impression does not last long. After passing the first of three picnic tables, the trail suddenly angles upward with purpose. As you start grabbing at roots and rocks to help you upward, you might wonder how one could ever run up such a trail. Well, they don’t really run as much as they clamber a little faster than most people.
In another 0.5 miles or so, the trail reaches the second picnic table, where there’s a fine view. Take an earned breather of at least a few seconds. In another 0.2 miles you’ll find an even better reason for a breather. There, a short trail leads out to the third picnic table by a scenic waterfall. A quick break here might do you well: In the next 0.7 miles the trail ascends nearly 900 feet, making for quite a steep climb. But then it swings up onto a very open ridge top, where it climbs far less dramatically.
Once on this high ridge, you still have some 1,700 feet to climb. This last long climb winds up a series of wide buttresses that rolls upward and upward. Finally, after a wide turn around the last buttress, the small weather station at the upper end of the trail juts into sight. From here, it’s only 0.2 miles to the summit of Government Peak (4,781 feet). Enjoy a well-earned break while looking out over the Palmer-Wasilla Valley far below.
You may not want to return the way you’ve come. (After all, some climbs prove less intimidating going up than going down.) If so, continue down the long, gentle ridge that drops east off the summit and follow it to Blueberry Hollow Trail, which leads you down to the parking area.
(For more, see Walk-About Guide to Alaska, Volume Three by Shawn R. Lyons)
Distance: 7 round trip miles
Elevation Gain: 3700 feet