Who can say no to a cool waterfall only a half-hour’s drive from town?
One of the most popular “first hikes” for families with small children, the one-mile trail to Thunderbird Falls traverses a handsome birch forest along the Eklutna River canyon to reach a deck with views of a 200-foot waterfall.
Located inside Chugach State Park north of Eagle River and just south of Eklutna, the trail climbs steeply at first, gaining about 100 feet in elevation. Then the route levels out and becomes an easy walk.
Feel the spray
A viewing deck, refurbished in the past few years, offers an elevated straight-on view. But the more adventuresome will want to take a side trail down into the canyon. With some care for footing, you can work upstream to the base of the falls and feel the chilly spray of Thunderbird Creek on your face.
During winter, the falls can freeze, forming fabulous columns of blue ice. Take care that you have ice grippers on shoes after temperatures plunge. In all seasons, parents will want to be wary of the canyon lip and keep children well away.
The Thunderbird Falls hike is a great outing that can be coupled with other trips:
Visit Mirror-Edmonds Lakes Park. Picnicking, paddling, swimming, hiking and biking. Ski trails and ice fishing in the winter. Exit the Glenn Highway at the Mirror Lake exit about Mile 24 and drive south on the Old Glenn Highway to the Mirror Lake Wayside Park. It’s on the mountain side of the freeway.
Visit the Coyote Trails behind Mirror Lake Middle School. A popular strolling, biking and skiing destination when school is not in session. Take the North Peters Creek exit from the Glenn Highway at Mile 23. Exit to the west (head away from the mountains) and take the Old Glenn Highway north to the school.
Visit Eklutna Lake. Eklutna Lake Road begins is less than one mile north from Thunderbird Falls off the Old Glenn Highway. Take the road 10 miles into the mountains to a state park campground and trailhead with extensive biking, hiking, paddling and wilderness exploration.