Monday, August 5, 2019

Barbara Falls - Two Ways to Get There

Falls as viewed from overlook
This is a beautiful and easily assessible water falls in Eagle River. There are two ways to get to the spectacular 60 foot Barbara Falls (also called South Fork Falls.) The easiest and shortest way is to drive to the gate at the bottom of Ken Logan Circle. The falls are about a half-mile walk on old roads from the end of Ken Logan Circle in a neighborhood off Hiland Road.  No matter which route you take, be sure to bring some type of bear deterrent as this area is frequented by both black and grizzly bears in the warmer months. The noise from the falls is loud, so it's easy to surprise a bear. (See video below.)

Short Route: Take the Glenn Highway about 10 miles north to Eagle River Loop and exit toward the mountains. Turn right at the first light onto Hiland Road. Continue uphill about 3.3 miles and turn left onto River View Drive into a neighborhood. Veer left as it becomes Waterfall Drive, then follow until it dead-ends into River Park Drive. Continue right to Ken Logan Circle. Most of the circle is signed off-limits to parking so be careful where you park and obey signs, as vehicles may be towed if parked illegally.

Barbara Falls Trail starts just behind the metal gate at the end of Ken Logan Circle with signs that read “Do Not Block Gate” and “Private Property.” At the time of this post, the owner is allowing people to pass through to visit the waterfall. Please be respectful of the private property.

To get to the lower viewpoint close to the falls, take the path/trail (unmarked) on the right/south just before the bridge (as you are walking from Ken Logan Circle). This trail descends to the creek and continues upstream several hundred yards to the base of the falls. You’ll use a hand rope to cross a small section before walking through some trees. This trail has recently been improved and makes the base of the falls more assessible. (Video below taken from the base of the falls.)

Improved trail to base of falls.
To access the upper viewpoint, or the "falls overlook" cross the bridge and continue straight on the trail another 250 yards to an intersection. Go right (uphill) and keep veering right toward the creek until you see a sign that says Barbara Falls. Follow this trail (to the right ) which will take you to the "falls overlook" (upper viewpoint.) You may notice a trail to the left of the falls overlook that leads downhill. This trail is very steep and not recommended to access the base of the falls. Better to use the trail described above to access the base of the falls. Total one-way walk to overlook is about half a mile.

Long Route
You can also hike to Barbara Falls via the Lower Eagle River Trail. This is a lovely hike about six miles roundtrip. The trail can be seasonably wet and muddy and several boardwalks near the Swan Pond/wetland area were underwater when I last hiked there in July so waterproof boots are advised. Also be aware that you will need to either ford or find a log for crossing the South Fork to reach the trail on the other side to continue your trek to Barbara Falls. And don't forget the bear deterrent as the entire area (not just the falls) is frequented by both black and grizzly bears.

The Lower Eagle River trailhead (to Barbara Falls) can be accessed from the south side of the Briggs Bridge off the Eagle River Loop Road where there is pubic parking and a boat launch. From the Briggs Bridge access, the lower Eagle River trail goes east through birch and spruce forest over relatively flat terrain. This trail is part of the Eagle River Greenbelt System. Any of the trails leading from the parking lot eventually take you to the river trail if you head east away from the bridge. As you continue east along this section of trail which parallels the river, you will cross several small streams that carry melting snow and rain. There are a number of low spots so the trail may be muddy and wet depending on the season. At approximately 1.3 miles, you will see another trail coming off the hill on the right. Don't turn, just continue forward (to the left.)

The old section of trail skirting the private land has been improved over the years and is now clearly marked. (See photo on left.) Boardwalks have been added to a marshy section next to the Swan Pond/wetlands area. Remains of charred trees and scorched ground remind us of the wildfire that burned about 25 acres in this area over the Memorial day weekend in 2016. 

In 1.9 miles (from the trailhead) the trail reaches the South Fork. Just before, a path to the left cuts through the woods and takes the hiker to the confluence of the South Fork and Eagle River. Don't turn left but continue a short distance and you will reach the South Fork itself. The bridge across the South Fork is long gone so you will have to ford the stream or find a log for crossing if you want to pick up the trail on the other side and continue to Barbara Falls. It may be a good idea to bring a separate pair of shoes for wading. (Note: there are times when the river level is too high to safely cross especially after heavy rain or summer melt off.)

Once across the South Fork, continue on the trail to the right (south) uphill to get to Barbara Falls. In about .5 mile (2.4 miles from start) the trail passes under a set of power lines. To get to the falls overlook, turn left at the four-way intersection. Continue on this path veering to your right until you see a sign that says Barbara Falls to the right. This trail takes you to the falls overlook (upper viewpoint.)

Llama looking at moose in the Swan Pond
To get to the base of the falls (lower viewpoint) turn right (west) at the four-way intersection, and follow the directions above. Note: the unmarked path to the base of the falls will be on your left after you cross the bridge going this direction (west) toward Ken Logan Circle.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

"Get Your Hike On" with an Alaska Hiking Group

Looking for a hiking buddy or group? Here's a list of Alaska hiking groups compiled/copied from various Facebook posts and websites. The groups range from easy family-friendly to more challenging for experienced hikers. Some welcome anyone; others are women only and are geared for various ability levels. I included website and/or Facebook links if available. If you know of others, just send me a message and I will include. I hope this helps and that you find the group that is right for you. Get Your Hike On!

Anchorage Trail Walkers -
Website says - We get out 2-3 times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays DURING THE
DAY, usually at 10am.

Women Who Hike Alaska -

Hike Like A Woman Alaska: Typically women only, but may host “family style” events where everyone is welcome. All skill levels, though the hikes will vary in difficulty

Thick Chicks with Hiking Sticks (slower pace) 

She Hikes - Matsu / Anchorage (females only, moderate/difficult hikes, faster paced) (Anchorage) (Matsu)

Website states: We host a wide spectrum of outdoor activities. Many of our events require strong safety awareness, good personal fitness, advanced skills, and quality outdoor gear. Our core participants are older adults (age thirty and up) with a fair amount of outdoor experience. We are not geared toward beginners or those just thinking about getting fit. Our events are generally not suitable for children.
AK Wild women hiking and backpacking (female only, various levels)

Kenai Peninsula Outdoor club on Meetup (Very active - open to all)

Wehikealaska Palmer hiking group -

Alaska Outdoors
As per website, hosts 2 hikes on Monday and Thursday year around .

Hike it baby (lots of different areas) - 5 miles or less, hiking with baby/toddlers
Anchorage-Matsu Tiny Trekkers - Families with kids of all ages, ++kid-paced

For more groups in Anchorage at this website - Outdoors & Adventure Groups in Anchorage

***I am not endorsing these groups one way or the other, just providing info on hiking groups.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Hike Williwaw and Long Lakes - Chugach State Park, Alaska

Walrus Lake (Uppermost Williwaw Lake)
The hike to Williwaw Lakes is one of my favorites in Alaska's Chugach State Park. This trek which is a short drive from downtown Anchorage, offers a variety of options including day hikes, overnight or multiday adventures, In the winter, it is also popular ski trail. The lakes are alpine jewels situated in a mountainous valley above Anchorage at the base of craggy Mount Williwaw (elev. 5,445 ft.). The trek to the lakes takes the hiker through alpine tundra amid a variety of alpine flowers, grassy meadows and scrub hemlock. The pristine lakes offer the hiker an alpine paradise with spectacular views of surrounding mountains with the added bonus of wildlife viewing of dall sheep, moose, coyotes, fox, and various waterfowl. There are plenty of camping opportunities around the Williwaw Lakes.

Walrus Lake

There are several ways to access the lakes. For the more gentle but longer route, take the Middle Fork Trail from the Prospect Heights Parking lot. For a shorter but more rugged trail, start from the Glen Alps parking lot to connect with the Williwaw Lake Trail via the Ball Park. For more info on access points and driving directions, see the hiking books such as "50 Hikes in Chugach State Park" or "55 Ways to the Wilderness in Southcentral Alaska" and/or the online apps such as "AllTrails."

The Loop/Traverse to Long Lake
From the pass above Walrus Lake (upper most Williwaw Lake) you can opt for a longer (possibly two day trip) to Long Lake and the valley of the North Fork of Campbell Creek. What I like about the Williwaw-Long Lake traverse is that it is a delightful and very accessible "wilderness" trip in Southcentral Alaska right at Anchorage's back door. By the way "Williwaw" means “very windy” so be prepared for high winds, and secure your tent well (if camping.) The weather can change quickly and drastically at these elevations. I have also encountered very windy, wet and wintery conditions while camping around Long Lake in late summer. It is best to do this traverse June through early August if you want to avoid adverse weather.

Lower Williwaw Lakes and Valley
To continue with the traverse/loop once over the pass (above Walrus Lake) to the Prospect Heights trailhead, hike around either side of Long Lake and follow the North Fork of Campbell Creek downstream about 2.5 miles beyond the last lake. At this point look for a distinct trail on your left which climbs about 800 ft. (up the northwest ridge of Wolverine peak) to a notch/saddle on the ridge southeast of Near Point. From here you can connect to a trail that goes back to Prospect Heights by (1) continuing on the trail up and over Near Point or (2) hiking cross-country from the saddle to the trail (that goes back to Prospect Heights.) The second (2) is my preferred option so as to avoid climbing over Near Point.

Long Lake
*Note: When I do the traverse, I prefer to hike the direction/trail to the Near Point saddle and Long Lake because the hike out from Williwaw Lakes in this direction is mostly downhill to the Prospect Heights parking lot. There is good camping at Long Lake. The next day, we climb the pass between Long Lake and Walrus Lake and then hike to the Prospect Heights parking lot.

Click here to download a map of Chugach State Park, Chugach State Park Map - Alaska DNR

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Rendezvous Ridge, Chugach State Park

Here's a great hike in Chugach State Park (Southcentral Alaska) for a sunny summer day with spectacular views. I like to access this hike from the South Fork trailhead although there is access in Arctic Valley.

To get to the South Fork trailhead access, take the Eagle River Loop/Hiland Road exit off the Glenn Highway just past the weigh station. Turn right at the traffic light onto Hiland and continue about eight miles up the road. Take a right onto South Creek and follow it to West River Drive and take another right. The parking lot is on your left.

The trail starts out on a boardwalk for a short distance and then turns into a trail that traverses the right side of the South Fork valley as you head away from the parking area. (If you continue on the main trail, it drops down to a bridge that crosses the South Fork of the Eagle River and continues to Eagle and Symphony Lakes at the end of the valley.)

To access Rendezvous Ridge, stay to the right at the junction where the main trail turns left to the river. At this junction there is a sign post that points to the Rendezvous Ridge trail.

The trail will climb toward a saddle (Hunter Pass) on the ridge above. Near or at the saddle, take a trail to the left (south) which continues climbing to the ridge. This trail is less traveled and may be faint. (However, if you want to climb Rendezvous Peak, take the trail to the right. For info on climbing Rendezvous Peak and Arctic Valley access, see any of the online apps such Alaska Hike Search.)

Add caption
Once on the south ridge, there are any number of route possibilities.You can follow the south ridge up valley and ultimately descend to Eagle and Symphony Lakes below. For more on this route see my post "Symphony Lake - Ship Creek Loop" posted 9/30/18. You can also drop from the ridge into the Ship Creek drainage at several points along the way. (For many hikers, these routes would be multi-day hikes.)

However, if you are just looking for a day hike, stay on the ridge and enjoy the views!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Less Traveled Way to Raven Creek, Chugach State Park

This is a pleasant spring or early summer hike which can be done in April, May and early June depending on weather and trail conditions. The trail from the Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC) to Heritage Falls can usually be hiked all times of the year including winter. However, this hike to the head of the Eagle River valley is best done spring or early summer due to the river crossing.

This hike along the Historic Iditarod Trail starts from the ERNC parking lot and is about 9.5 miles (according to my GPS) to the confluence of Raven Creek and the north fork of the Eagle River where there is good camping on the river bar. The Eagle River was exceptionally low this year, so we could still easily make the river crossing in late May.

From the ERNC, the first section of trail meanders through the woods. At about mile 1.2 the hiker gets a first glimpse of the Eagle River below the "Rapids Camp." (There is a short trail down to the river opposite the Rapids Camp and also an established campsite.)  In about three miles the trail meets up with the Eagle River at Echo Bend where it generally follows the river from this point forward. The trail once ran adjacent to the river around the "Perch" (Mile 4). However, due to erosion the trail has been rerouted above the "Perch" and outstanding views of the Eagle River can now be had from the new high trail.

View of Eagle River from the trail above the Perch
At Echo Bend the hiker may be able to alternate between river and trail depending on river level. However, after the Perch the trail is more direct than following the river, so it's recommended that you stick to the trail until you reach the river crossing roughly seven miles from the ERNC. It's not uncommon to see moose, sheep, goats and bear along the trail so be sure to bring some type of bear protection.

Once you've hiked about five miles on the well established trail from the ERNC, you will notice some camping spots near the river. (See a previous post for more detail on the hike to Heritage Falls.) At this point, look across the river, and you will see Heritage Falls. This is a great place for a lunch break. In another quarter mile, you will arrive at Icicle Creek. Cross Icicle Creek and continue on the trail for another 1.5 miles or so to reach a spot where you can ford the Eagle River. 

After Icicle Creek, the trail crosses several small streams with rickety wooden bridges, one being Yakety Yak Creek (Mile 5.8). After these bridges the trail becomes more faint and can be difficult to follow. After the last bridge, don't take the trail/turn to the left but continue ahead in the direction of the river. The trail becomes very faint and overgrown from here in some spots. Just keep going until you reach the river.

During the spring and maybe early summer, the hiker can usually ford the Eagle River somewhere at a point about 1.5 miles beyond Icicle Creek.  Look for a spot where the river widens and the current is slower. (See Facebook video below.) 

Note: If the water level is too high to safely ford the river, the main trail (not far away) continues up valley and eventually to Girdwood. There is camping at Twin Falls (Mile 8.1) and Thunder Gorge (Mile 10.3). See Trail Map.**

Once across the river, the hiker can walk the river bar for several miles to the confluence of Raven Creek and the Eagle River. As you walk up the river bar, you can see Twin Falls across the river on the left. If you want to continue or take a side trip to Thunder Gorge, Eagle Lake or the Ford Site, you will need to cross the river again. Usually the lowest water is near the confluence of Raven Creek and the Eagle River where the river widens. 

Confluence of Raven Cr and Eagle River
There is good camping and great views of surrounding mountains all along the river bar. Since this is the less traveled route, it is not likely that you will see other hikers or campers, only the occasional bear hunter in the spring. However, wildlife is usually plentiful so look for moose, sheep, goats and bear on the surrounding mountains.  Above all else, enjoy the beauty and solitude this valley has to offer!

*Note: avalanche danger is a concern during the winter and spring months on the Girdwood end of the Crow Pass trail. An update on Crow Pass trail conditions may be found at Crow Pass Trail Updates Facebook

**Note:  For a detailed description of the Historic Iditarod Trail or driving directions to trailheads see "50 Hikes in Alaska's Chugach State Park, 55 Ways to the Wilderness or the online hiking apps.