A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.
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Whether they're mild or wild, the trails of Anchorage and Southcentral Alaska have plenty to keep hikers or bicycle riders busy for an hour, a day or longer.
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BOB HALLINEN / Daily News archive
Cyclists ride along the Indian-to-Girdwood trail that runs alongside Turnagain Arm. The scenic path is one of the newest trails in Southcentral Alaska.
Anchorage has more than 120 miles of paved trails and 300 miles of unpaved and wilderness trails crisscrossing the city. Bicycling magazine and the American Hiking Society have regularly given the city's trail system high rankings.
Anchorage's trails are perfect for walkers, hikers, joggers, in-line skaters or cyclists. Because the best trails are also in wilderness or greenbelt areas, local wildlife also stakes out its claim to the space, so it's a great place to go looking for moose or other critters. Remember, animals have the right of way.
Some of the trails, especially the paved ones, are good for both cyclists and walkers.
When locals talk about trails, the conversation usually begins with the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. It's not the only trail around, but it's the most popular for walkers, in-line skaters, joggers and, especially, bicyclists. The Coastal Trail winds its way for 11 miles from downtown Anchorage to Kincaid Park, traveling alongside Knik Arm and Cook Inlet.
The trail is mostly flat until a lengthy climb to the chalet at Kincaid Park. It's a perfect outing for even novice cyclists.
Starting downtown at Second Avenue, the trail passes several interesting sights on its way to Kincaid. If you've got the time, you can even walk to the first four or so. Here are some of the highlights:
Elderberry Park / Oscar Anderson House Museum: The little park includes swings, and the museum is in one of Anchorage's oldest homes, built in 1915.
Westchester Lagoon: At the lagoon veer right to stay on the Coastal Trail. To the left is the Chester Creek Trail. Spend a little time at the lagoon soaking up the sun and watching some of the resident waterfowl, including Canada geese and red-necked grebes.
Fish Creek Bridge: A wooden bridge passes over a small creek. Toward the Inlet is a deep channel cut into the tidal mud flats. The mud flats are formed from glacial silt.
Earthquake Park: In addition to excellent views of downtown Anchorage and the Alaska Range in the distance, the park includes interpretive displays about the 1964 Good Friday earthquake.
Point Woronzof: On clear days, the view directly north includes Mount McKinley and Mount Foraker (to the left of McKinley). Occasionally, beluga whales are visible in Cook Inlet. Lie back on the grass and watch jets pass overhead during takeoff or landing at Stevens International Airport.
Point Campbell: Again, if you get a clear day, the view southwest includes Redoubt and Iliamna volcanoes. Fire Island is a couple miles offshore.
Kincaid Chalet: The chalet includes restrooms and drinking fountains. The park itself has miles of mountain-biking trails.
The Coastal Trail rightly gets most of the attention, but don't limit your riding options. Here are three other excellent routes in or just outside of town:
Lanie Fleischer Chester Creek Trail: It connects with the Coastal Trail at Westchester Lagoon, just south of Anchorage's downtown. From there, the trail heads east toward the Chugach Mountains.
The six-mile-long trail runs along Chester Creek, following a greenbelt and crossing the creek several times. The trail ends at Goose Lake Park, but it is easy to connect with the Campbell Creek Trail.
Campbell Creek Trail: As its name suggests, it follows Campbell Creek for about eight miles. The trail is mostly within a greenbelt. To take the entire route, cyclists must walk their bikes under the Seward Highway. It isn't difficult, but it is a bit awkward.
From the southwest end of the trail, some sidewalk and bike-path riding along residential streets can lead cyclists to Jewel Lake Road and Raspberry Road and, eventually, Kincaid Park. From there it's an easy ride along the Coastal Trail back to town.
Indian-to-Girdwood Trail: The bike path is perhaps one of the most scenic in the country. Cyclists can ride from Alyeska Resort in Girdwood to Indian, nearly halfway to Anchorage. The trail parallels the Seward Highway, which was designated a National Scenic Byway in 1998. Spend a few hours and you can see both high and low tide.
Flattop Mountain is the most popular hike in Alaska. Locals and visitors alike make the trek up the mountain for outstanding views of downtown Anchorage, Cook Inlet and the Alaska Range and Mount McKinley.
The climb rises about 1,300 feet from the Glen Alps parking lot and covers about 1 1/2 miles. It's not too strenuous, but it can get a little dicey at the top for inexperienced hikers.
Flattop is in Chugach State Park, the 500,000-acre park that most outdoor-lovers in Anchorage consider to be their own backyard. The park is home to lots of wildlife including moose, bears, Dall sheep and wolves.
But Flattop isn't the only hike in the area. And, if you ask locals, it's not even the best.
A sunny weekend afternoon can find lots of residents and visitors rubbing shoulders on the trail up Flattop, along the Coastal Trail and the trails around McHugh Creek. If you're looking for a little bit of solitude, consider some of these options:
Wolverine Peak: The 11-mile, round-trip hike is worth the effort. The Chugach State Park trail doesn't always offer solitude, but because of its moderate difficulty many won't make the journey all the way to the top. For them, that's too bad.
On a clear day, the view from the peak is breathtaking. How one can be so close to downtown Anchorage, with some of the tallest buildings clearly visible, and yet in the middle of so much wilderness is befuddling. Wolverine Peak is a 5,054-foot-tall doorway to the wilderness just outside Anchorage. Start at Prospect Heights trail head off O'Malley Road.
Penguin Peak: Not as well known as its neighbor Bird Ridge, Penguin Peak rises 4,333 feet above Turnagain Arm. It's a great destination for a six-mile hike. Because of its location, it offers sweeping views of Turnagain Arm. It's easy to spend an entire afternoon surveying the 360-degree view.
The trail head is easy to find. Leave Anchorage headed south on the Seward Highway. After passing Bird Creek and the Bird Creek Recreation Site, turn on Konikson Road. State park signs mark the trail head. About 100 yards past the trail head, a dirt road splits. Take the right fork for another half-mile, then take a trail that heads sharply to the right. You're on your way.
Gull Rock: The gentle trail along the south shore of Turnagain Arm offers a different perspective from the more popular Turnagain Arm Trail, which is just south of Anchorage and runs parallel to the Seward Highway (and also a great nine-mile, one-way hike). The 10.2-mile round-trip hike is never overly strenuous and has a number of opportunities to get a good look at the tidal mud flats, bald eagles and possibly beluga whales.
The trail is used by hikers and mountain bikers, but it isn't too crowded, partly because it's an 1 1/2-hour drive from Anchorage. It's easy to reach the trail head. Take the 18-mile Hope Highway from the Seward Highway. Drive through Hope and on to Porcupine Campground.
Hillside and Far North Bicentennial parks: Don't let the in-town location fool you; the parks have plenty of hiking (and biking) options. At about 4,000 acres, the parks offer a great glimpse of Alaska's natural wonders right in town.
Spencer Loop is popular with hikers and mountain bikers. There are plenty of other trails in the area that aren't as crowded. Black bears, brown bears and moose can be seen in the parks.