Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC) to Heritage Falls

The Historic Iditarod (aka Crow Pass) Trail which spans the Girdwood Valley to Eagle River is considered one of the best trails to hike in the Chugach mountain range and offers diverse scenic sights including glaciers, waterfalls, wildlife. It’s not only a great hiking/backpacking route, but it's also an historic portion of the Iditarod Trail that led from Seward to mines in the Interior. A bit of trivia not known by many is that this trail was rebuilt in the 1970s with girl scout labor.

There are a number of hiking options from the Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC) parking lot. You can hike the entire twenty-three mile traverse, hike portions of the Crow Pass trail (as I often do) or take other shorter trails that start from the ERNC. Follow this link for more on these shorter trails. Eagle River Nature Center Trails.

If you elect to hike the entire twenty-three mile traverse you can start from either Girdwood or the ERNC. The Elevation Gain is 2,100 feet from Crow Creek trailhead; and 3,100 feet from the ERNC so most hikers start from the ERNC. 




ERNC to Heritage Falls
One of my favorite sections is the trail from the ERNC to Heritage Falls.  It's about a 10.5 mile round trip (RT) from the ERNC and makes for a nice day hike. The trail from the Nature Center to the Perch (mile 4) and then on to Heritage Falls (mile 5) can usually be hiked all times of the year including winter.

(Note: this is not true of the Cross Pass end where avalanche danger is a concern during the winter months.)

    View from new trail above the Perch 
    From the ERNC, the first section of trail meanders through the woods until it meets up with the Eagle River at Echo Bend (mile 3) where it generally follows the river from this point forward. 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.) It's not uncommon to see moose, sheep, goats and bear on your way to Heritage Falls depending on the time of year you are hiking. During the fall, you have the added bonus of stunning fall colors. 

    The trail once ran adjacent to the river at approximately mile 4 near the Perch. Due to erosion it has been rerouted above the "Perch" and outstanding views of the Eagle River can now be had from the new "high" trail.

    During winter months when the river is frozen, the hiker can alternate between the river and the trail. The trail from the Perch to Heritage Falls is more direct than following the river on this section. So I usually hike the river from Echo Bend (when frozen) to the Perch, and then get back on the trail just beyond the Perch for the remainder of the hike to Heritage Falls.

    Once you've hiked about five miles (from the ERNC), you will notice some camping spots near the river. At this point, look across the Eagle River, and you will see Heritage Falls - frozen in the winter. This is a great place for a lunch break (or an overnight if you are camping). If you hike another half mile, you will arrive at Icicle Creek. Whatever your destination, enjoy!
                                        

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