The hiking is phenomenal throughout Alaska, but the deeper you go into the wilderness, the higher the level of skill and preparation you’ll need. Here are the best hikes in Alaska that combine scenery, interesting terrain, and reasonable access all in one.
Petersburg has some lovely remote hiking trails that can be accessed by water taxi. One of the toughest—but also one of the most beautiful—is the Cascade Creek Trail, which runs 4.1 miles between the seaside public-use Cascade Creek Cabin and Falls Lake, poised high above the shoreline in the temperate rainforest.
Most of the hiking in Tongass National Forest, which essentially covers Southeast Alaska, offers a similar feel: The trails are beautiful but remote, and you need either a car or a water taxi to get to most of them. Some of the most beautiful exceptions include the trails near Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau (the crowds dissipate once you walk a mile or two) and the lovely 3.5-mile (one-way) Perseverance Trail, which includes a turnoff to a viewing point over Ebner Falls.
Some of Ketchikan’s best hikes include the Deer Mountain Trail, an out-and-back hike into the alpine that skilled and well-prepared hikers can turn into a 14-mile traverse, and the milder 4.8-mile Lunch Creek Trail.
Finally, Sitka has a ridiculous number of hiking trails in comparison to its population, although you’ll need to hire a water taxi to get to some of them. Local favorites include the Indian River Trail (4.5 miles one-way), whose trailhead you can reach on the community bus line; the pretty walk to Mosquito Cove (just 1.5 miles, but you can link it up with other trails); and the stiff climb up Mount Verstovia (2.5 miles one-way).
The Lost Lake Trail near Seward is a 15-mile thru-hike with some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll ever see. Lost Lake itself (at about the midway point) is the highlight, and you can easily spend one or two nights simply exploring the rolling tundra and other lakes nearby.
The Mineral Creek Trail in Valdez offers a 12.2-mile round-trip stroll to an old stamp mill, but it’s the spectacular scenery—lush, Jurassic Park-worthy greenery dotted with frothy waterfalls—that really makes it stand out. You can shorten the hike by a few miles if you’re comfortable driving on the rough, unmaintained road, which also doubles as a trail, or if you hitch a ride on a passing ATV.
Perhaps the best short hike in the state, the 5-mile Portage Pass Trail out of Whittier offers stunning views almost from the word “go,” with the glacier on one side and shimmering Passage Canal on the other. Although there are a few challenging spots with uneven footing, most reasonably active individuals can make it up to the top without too much trouble.
If you want to feel like you’re on a grand adventure without going too far from civilization, take a water taxi across Kachemak Bay from Homer and hike the 3.2-mile (one-way)
Hatcher Pass, north of Wasilla and Palmer, offers some of the best “drive-up tundra” hiking you’ll find anywhere in the state. Because you can get up above treeline—or very close to it—before you even leave your car, you’re treated to sweeping vistas that extend for miles. April Bowl (2.5 miles round-trip) and the 11-mile round-trip hike to the beautiful blue-green Reed Lakes are two of the best hikes here.
For visitors willing to brave the rough, unpaved 60-mile road in to McCarthy (Southcentral Alaska), the 4-mile round-trip hike out to the Root Glacier is absolutely splendid. Although you can go by yourself, it’s great fun to hire one of the local guide services, which can take you hiking on the glacier itself or even ice climbing.
For most visitors, unguided hiking around Kodiak—the largest city in Southwest Alaska—isn’t a great idea because of the profusion of bears. You’re better off taking a guided van tour for bear viewing, or walking the trails in Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park, which is full of World War II relics.
Unalaska, on the other hand, is a real haven for hikers who might be concerned about bears—because there aren’t any! Consider making the 2.2-mile (one-way) hike up Mount Ballyhoo in the Aleutian World War II National Historic Area, or the 3-mile round-trip trek on the Peace of Mind Trail to Beaver Inlet, on the far side of the island. Remember that you’ll need to purchase a land-use permit from the Ounalashka Corporation, which owns this land, before you set out.
At first glance, Fairbanks seems to be lost in rolling hills covered with trees. But you’ll find a few very picturesque hikes here, including the 15-mile loop around Granite Tors, a series of unusual granite towers that are slowly being revealed as the earth is etched away around them, and the 3.7-mile loop to Angel Rocks.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Alaska.