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Hike to the Perch, Heritage Falls (September Featured Hike)

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.

One of my favorite hikes on the Historic Iditarod Trail is the section from the Eagle River Nature Center (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 ERNC to the Perch (mile 4) and then on to Heritage Falls (mile 5) can usually be hiked safely all times of the year including winter. It's especially beautiful in the fall due to the changing color. For driving directions to the ERNC, go to this link ERNC Website.

See page 2 for a map with mileage and elevations -  Historic Iditarod Trail Map.

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 where there is an established campsite.) Keep an eye out for moose, sheep, goats and bear on your way to Heritage Falls which can be seen from the trail depending on the time of year. The moose in the photo (left) was seen just off the trail near the ERNC. During the fall, you have the added bonus of stunning fall colors.

In four miles you will reach the Perch which can be good place for a break (or a final destination). In recent years, the trail which once ran adjacent to the river has been rerouted above the Perch due to erosion. If the Perch is your final destination, be sure to take the new trail to a high point just above the Perch before you turn back. You will be rewarded with the outstanding views of the Eagle River (top photo.)

During winter months when the river is frozen, the hiker can alternate between the river and the trail starting at Echo Bend. However, the trail from the Perch to Heritage Falls is more direct than following the river on this section. So during winter months 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.

After you've hiked about five miles (from the ERNC), you will notice some (informal) camping spots near the river. (View from this vantage in photo.)  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!
As a side note, there are a number of hiking options from the Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC). You can hike the Historic Iditarod Trail to Girdwood which is a twenty-three mile traverse,* hike sections of the trail (as I often do) or take other shorter trails that start from the ERNC. Follow this link to find out more on these shorter trails from the ERNC. 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. Be aware that on the Cross Pass end avalanche danger is a concern during the winter months.

Click here for notable trail sites, mileage and elevations on the Historic Iditarod/Crow Pass Trail -