Alaska Excursions

Alaska Excursions

A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.

Iditarod 41

Photos and stories from the last great race.

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Eagle River

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Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America, is seen just before sunset on a late March flightseeing trip. The south peak, right, is the summit at 20,320 feet; the north peak stands 19,470 feet high. Climbing season on the big mountain is May through July.

Alaska can be divided into five broad regions.

Northern Alaska

The Arrigetch Peaks are found in Gates of the Arctic National Park, which is in the Brooks Range.

In this area above the Arctic Circle people depend on the land and its many resources.

Southeast Alaska

The waterfront at Ketchikan.

See America's northernmost rain forest or a humpback whale.

Western Alaska

A recreational boat follows the channel markers leading into Iliuliuk Harbor near Unalaska's Church of the Holy Ascension. Unalaska and its companion settlement, Dutch Harbor, are in the Aleutian Islands.

This area is home to the country's busiest fishing port.

The Interior

The Alaska Range is the Interior's defining feature. In Denali National Park, Wonder Lake reflects Mount McKinley reflects at sunset.

This vast area is alive with gold mining and plenty of outdoor activities.

South east

Southcentral Alaska has the state's largest city, Anchorage, but it also has scenic wonders such as Passage Canal at Whittier.

Also known as Alaska's Panhandle, the area is filled with forests, glaciers and hiking trails.

The edge of the wilderness

From atop Mount Baldy, my son and I gazed down at our town. It had taken us only about 20 minutes to reach the top of this small peak, which flanks the thriving community of Eagle River on the outskirts of Anchorage. But from here, we felt like we were miles away, with Eagle River just a tiny hamlet squeezed onto a relatively small stretch of flat land edging the waters of Knik Arm.

Local tip: Eagle River
"Eagle River is a beautiful valley close to Anchorage and the Nature Center is a great place to acquaint visitors and locals with the wildlife, great hiking trails and accessible wilderness." – Laura Kruger,

operations manager, Eagle River Nature Center

While Anchorage may be the hub for travelers coming into and out of the state, the slower pace of the bedroom community of Eagle River and Chugiak can offer a glimpse of the day-to-day lives of the state’s year-round residents. Located just 15 minutes north of Anchorage, Eagle River-Chugiak is home to some 30,000 residents, many of them military members based at nearby Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. It’s a community known for its family-friendly vibe and easy access to the outdoors. It’s a friendly town through which to wander, stop for an ice cream or visit the many small local businesses along the main streets.

Those who want a taste of adventure have come to the right place, too. Chugach State Park, the state’s largest park at nearly half a million acres, cocoons Chugiak-Eagle River, surrounding it with snow-capped mountains just waiting to be explored. Mount Baldy, the most well-known of these local peaks, is an easy but steep climb that leaves a paved parking area just minutes from downtown. In the summer, hikers flock here, climbing all or part of the mountain, and sometimes venturing deeper into the wilderness by continuing their climb to Blacktail Rocks and beyond. It’s not uncommon to see para-gliders as well, as Baldy is one of the area’s best launching points for those who enjoy the sport.

Other popular outdoors destinations include Bear Mountain, just north of Eagle River in the Peters Creek community; South Fork, up Hiland Road; and the Crow Pass Trail, at the end of Eagle River Road. Beach Lake, off South Birchwood Loop in Chugiak, is an ideal destination for those who want to paddle, nonmotorized, for pleasure. Or try Mirror Lake for summer swimming. On the rare hot summer day, the lake, just off the Mirror Lake exit, teems with sunbathers enjoying the sand beach, picnickers at the pavilion and swimmers cooling off in the clear water.

Families will particularly enjoy Chugiak-Eagle River, as it offers easy access to child-friendly activities. In mid-July, the community hosts the annual Bear Paw Festival, a four-day event that features amusement rides, games, crafts and vendors, a 5K run and parade. During Bear Paw, children can be found with faces painted, hair sprayed into various shades of the rainbow and enjoying cotton candy and ice cream.

Eagle River’s downtown offers a great play area, too, at the Town Square, off Business Boulevard. There is playground equipment, a huge field for running or tossing Frisbees, a picnic pavilion and paved track surrounding it all so little tykes can ride their trikes safely. There even is a small skateboard park set up across the road for teens who want to try their tricks.


EAGLE RIVER ATTRACTIONS

Eagle River Nature Center: The center offers interpretive nature trails, education programs and a wildlife-viewing deck and also is the launching point for the 26-mile Crow Pass Trail. A cabin and three yurts are available for overnight camping, renting at $65.
Where: 32750 Eagle River Road, at the very end of the road. (Take the Hiland Road exit off the Glenn Highway and turn right on Eagle River Road, at Wal-Mart.)
When: Trails are open 24 hours a day, year-round (unless noted by seasonal trail closures when bear activity is high). The center is open 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday from May-September. From October-April, the center is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Sunday.
Cost: $5 parking; most programs are free, although some, such as art programs, have small fees for supplies
Phone: 907-694-2108
Web: www.ernc.org

Native Village of Eklutna: Eklutna is the oldest inhabited area in Anchorage and home to the Dena’ina Athabascans. The Eklutna Village Historical Park hosts tours of the cemetery, which features the colorful and traditional spirit houses as well as the old Russian Orthodox St. Nicholas Church, built as early as 1830 and thought to be Anchorage’s oldest building.
Where: Eklutna Village Road, off Glenn Highway
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, May-September
Cost: $5 adults; $2.50 for ages 12-18
Phone: 688-6026
Web: www.eklutnahistoricalpark.org

Thunderbird Falls: This easy hike is just a mile long on a maintained path and rewards hikers with a spectacular view of Thunderbird Falls.
Where: Chugach State Park; take the Glenn Highway to Thunderbird Falls exit, follow signs to the trailhead. Note: Construction delays in 2013 at the Eklutna bridge will require an easy detour to return to the Glenn Highway.
When: Year-round
Cost: $5 parking fee
Phone: 907-345-5014

Eklutna Lake: Just beyond the trailhead to Thunderbird Falls is the access road to Eklutna Lake, which is part of Chugach State Park. The glacier-fed lake is popular for boating and lakeside mountain biking and all-terrain vehicle use and is surrounded by a campground and several hiking trails.
Where: Take the Glenn Highway north from Anchorage to the Thunderbird Falls exit, and turn right on the Eklutna Lake access road. Follow Eklutna Lake Road to the end. Note: Construction delays in 2013 at the Eklutna bridge will require an easy detour to return to the Glenn Highway.
When: Year-round use available, but campground opens seasonally.
Cost: $5 parking fee; $10 per site for camping
Phone: 907-345-5014
Web: dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/chugach/eklutna.htm

Eagle River Campground: The campground is just off the highway, and campsites are on the banks of the Eagle River. There are latrines and flush toilets as well as drinking water and waste stations for the 57 campsites.
When: May 1-Sept. 19
Where: From the Glenn Highway take the Hiland Road exit (Mile 12). Follow park signs on to frontage road to river and campground.
Cost: Campsite, $20 per night; day-use parking $5 per vehicle. One private site, with large walk-in tent, is also available at $45 per night.
Phone: 907-746-4644 or 800-952-8624
Web: lifetimeadventures.net/eagleRiver.html

EAGLE RIVER EVENTS CALENDAR

Scottish Highland Games: Celebrate Scottish heritage at this annual event held the last Saturday in June. The traditional Scottish Games are the big draw, as well as the bagpipes, traditional food and other Scottish piping and drumming. Last year’s event drew some 6,000 visitors.
When: June 29
Where: Eagle River Lions Park at Eagle River Loop and Eagle River Road
Cost: Advance tickets are $12.50 for adults, $4 for children 5 and older Tickets at the gate are $15 for adults, $5 for children 5 and older
Web: www.alaskascottish.org

Independence Day Celebrations: The two-day celebration includes July 3fireworks in Eagle River and a parade in Chugiak.
When: July 3-4, fireworks begin at midnight
Where: Fireworks at Eagle River Lions Park. The parade follows the Old Glenn Highway from 17124 Old Glenn Highway to 19932 Old Glenn Highway, at Chugiak Elementary School
Cost: Free
Phone: 907-694-4702
Web: www.cer.org

Bear Paw Festival: The 28th annual Bear Paw Festival is the summertime highlight for local Eagle River-Chugiak residents, as well as those who drive in from the Valley and Anchorage to enjoy festivities, food and fun. The community celebration includes a parade (July 13), carnival, food and arts and crafts vendors. The annual salmon cook-off, slippery salmon Olympics and Odor-Eaters rotten sneaker contest are some of the highlights. Another popular event is the annual Bear Paw
5K race, set for July 13, and the Classic Car Show, scheduled for July 12.
When: July 10-14
Where: Downtown Eagle River
Cost: Free admission; tickets required for rides
Web: www.bearpawfestival.org

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