Why Take This Hike
This leisurely, 2-mile roundtrip trail begins just south of Whittier, a little seaside town located some 2 hours south of Anchorage. The trail doesn’t climb much (about 700 ft), 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.
To reach the beginning of this trail, you must first drive through Whittier Tunnel and then follow Whittier Drive through downtown Whittier to the famous Anchor Inn at the far end.
As you drive through town, take note of the plain cement towers above the left side of town. If they look faintly military, they are. Whittier and the tunnel you drove through owe their existence to the U.S. military’s efforts to defend against the threat of Japanese invasion in World War II.
Follow Blackstone Road to the sign at the bottom of Reservoir Road that points the way to Horsetail Falls Trail. After passing around the gate at the beginning of the trail, the road leads you another 0.25 miles to where it narrows to an actual trail.
On the far side of a short bridge, you begin climbing through a spruce forest. Take note of how much work has gone into creating this fine trail. Steps, boardwalks, and switchbacks all make it a joy to hike.
As the trail continues to climb, the spruce gives way to alders. Higher up, where the trail swings up onto a slope above Cove Creek, the alders break into patches. As you climb through sporadic bits of meadow, the view opens up enough to see Horsetail Falls tumbling over the ridge at the head of the valley. Soon after, the trail ends at a wooden platform among a small stand of trees.
Though this platform looks out through the trees over Passage Canal and Whittier, it doesn’t offer the best views of the falls. For that, backtrack to the meadows and pick a spot with a view up and across the valley. There you’ll see the wide, sheer face of Blackstone Ridge and the cascading waters of Horsetail Falls dropping through curls of mist down its center.
If you chance upon one of the grassroots trails that people have forged through the brush toward Blackstone Ridge, consider following it for closer views of the falls. But unless you have experience clambering over rock slabs, you probably shouldn’t venture too far up onto the rocky ridge. It may look easy going up, but getting back down can be more difficult.
But if you feel comfortable scrambling over big rocks, you’ll find the ridge above worth exploring. Climb high enough and you can reach a point where you look down—not up—to the falls, making for a very dramatic perspective.
(For more, see Walk-About Guide to Alaska, Volume One by Shawn R. Lyons)