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Backpacking Alaska

Hiking the Resurrection Pass Trail  

Alaska Weekend Getaway (an excerpt)

By Tom Reale 

 

 

For a state that's more than twice the size of Texas and known the world over for its wilderness, Alaska has surprisingly few marked and maintained hiking trails. The vast majority of the state's famed wildlands are far from its rudimentary road system and accessible only by boat or plane. And while the opportunities for escaping the crowds by chartering a plane or boat are many, it's an expensive way to travel. Also, being completely removed from the comforts and comparative safety of civilization isn't everyone's cup of tea. Flying into a truly remote region and standing on untamed ground, watching your last link to society take off and disappear over the horizon, is not an adventure for the unprepared. 

However, if you want to sample Alaskan wilderness without the trouble and expense of a fly-in trip, the Resurrection Pass Trail is for you. The trail slices through the Kenai Mountains near Anchorage, offering a 38-mile-long, all-season route through some truly stunning scenery. Access to tundra areas above treeline is relatively easy, there's plenty of wildlife to see if you take the time and effort to look, and if you want to soften your back country experience just a little, there's a string of U.S. Forest Service cabins available for use. These humble retreats offer respite from foul weather in the summer and a warm, heated spot for skiers in the winter. 

The northern trailhead is 20 miles from the Seward Highway and four miles south of the village of Hope on Resurrection Creek Road. The southern trailhead lies on the Sterling Highway, near the town of Cooper Landing—just 53 miles east of Soldotna and 106 miles south of Anchorage. The trail is well marked and maintained, but you won't find elaborate map displays at trail junctions with explicit directions and clearly marked "You Are Here" notations. After all, it is Alaska, and a certain level of competence and self-reliance is assumed. 

The area is neither a wilderness area nor a national park. Snowmobile's (or snow machines, in the local parlance) are permitted on the trail for most of the winter, horses are allowed after spring breakup, and the area is open to hunting. If the sight of a disassembled moose or caribou offends you, avoid the big game season from August 10 through the end of September. 

The trail is open year-round, but some seasonal caveats are in order. The high country is likely to hold snow well into June in some years, so spring travelers are advised to carry snowshoes or else count on untold hours of exhausting post holing. Once the snow is gone, expect muddy trails, especially on the Devil's Pass spur. 

If you try a cross-country ski trip, be advised that the area is open to snow machines from November until mid-February. Avoiding the snow-machine season has two advantages. For one, you'll have a quieter experience, and after the snow-machine season is over, the Forest Service provides wood to the cabins. This is a major advantage, since finding and cutting firewood is time- and labor-intensive.

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Denali National ParklandPreserve 

"The" mountain. To those who have hiked or dream of hiking in Alaska's 6-million-acre Denali National Park, 20,320-foot Mt. McKinley is "the" mountain. Though the park boasts many wonders-wolves, grizzlies, 430 species of flowering plants, glaciers, tundra-the mountain will most capture your imagination. The hiking opportunities are endless but the back country permit system can be complicated. Do your homework, apply early, and be open to options. 

Contact: Denali National Park and Preserve, (907) 683-2294; www.nps.gov/dena

Chilkoot Trail 

Once known as "the meanest 33 miles in history," the Chilkoot Trail remains a tough hike and a walk back in time. Look for Gold Rush relics along the trail and gold nuggets in the creeks. Or find your own treasure among the craggy mountain peaks and endless waterfalls. 

Contact: Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, (907) 983-2921; www.nps.gov/klgo

Chugach NationalForest 

Often overshadowed by its larger and more controversial cousin, Tongass National Forest, the 5.6-million-acre Chugach is 98 percent roadless and just as wild. Migrate there during spring with millions of shorebird's by walking the 70-mile Resurrection Trail system, or set up a base camp at one of more than 40 public-use cabins. 

Contact: Chugach National Forest, (907) 271-2500; www.fs.fed.us/r10/chugach