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Hike to Heritage Falls (Featured Winter Hike)



Why I Like This Hike:  This section of the Historic Iditarod Trail starts from the Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC) and makes for a splendid hike any time of  year especially in the winter after a fresh snowfall. The well-established trail is truly an all-season hike with potential for wildlife viewing and doable for all skill levels.

Background
:
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 because it offers such diversity including glaciers, waterfalls and wildlife. Not only a great hiking/backpacking route, 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.

Moose on trail near ERNC
How to Get There:  For driving directions to the trailhead at the ERNC go to this link ERNC Website.  Or go to Google Maps - Directions to ERNC.

Hike Description: This hike covers the section of the Historic Iditarod Trail from the Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC) to Echo Bend (mile 3.0) the Perch (mile 4.0) and  Heritage Falls (mile 5.2). It's about 10 miles round trip (RT) from the ERNC to Heritage Falls but any of the above mentioned can be a worthwhile destination depending on how far you want to hike. During winter months the hiker can usually trek (or ski) on sections of the frozen Eagle River instead of the trail. 

From the ERNC, the first section of trail meanders through the woods. After about 1.2 miles the hiker gets a first glimpse of the Eagle River below the "Rapids Camp." At this point there is an established campsite (left) and a short trail down to the river on the right. In three miles you will come to Echo Bend where the trail meets up with the river. 

Fall colors along the Eagle River
In four miles the trail makes a short climb to "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 check-out the newer trail to a high point (about 75 feet) just above the Perch before you turn back. (Note, this may be icy in the winter.) You will be rewarded with  outstanding views of the Eagle River.

During the winter month when the river is frozen, the hiker can alternate between the river and the trail starting at Echo Bend.(When conditions are icy micro-spikes are advised.) However, the section of trail from the Perch to Heritage Falls is more direct than following the river. So during winter or spring when the river is frozen or the water low, I hike the river from Echo Bend to the Perch, and then get back on the trail just beyond the Perch for the remainder of the hike to Heritage Falls or Icicle Creek. Keep an eye out for moose, sheep, goats and bear which may be seen from the trail (usually after the Perch) depending on the time of year.

After you've hiked about five miles (from the ERNC), you will notice some (informal) camping spots with fire pits near the river. At this point, look across the Eagle River and you will see Heritage Falls. This is a great spot for a lunch break (or an overnight if you are camping). If you care to hike another quarter mile, you will arrive at Icicle Creek. Whatever your destination, enjoy!

More Hiking Options: 
As a side note, there are a number of additional hiking options from the Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC). You can hike the entire Historic Iditarod Trail to Girdwood (which is a twenty-three mile traverse*) or take shorter trails that start from the ERNC. Follow this link to find out 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 Crow Pass end when doing the traverse. Be aware that if you hike the traverse or start from the Cross Pass trailhead (Girdwood end) there is avalanche danger during the winter months.

For a brochure, map with trail mileage and elevations go here - Historic Iditarod Trail Map 

Stunning fall colors from the trail above the Perch

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