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Hike to Heritage Falls (An all season hike)


Stunning fall colors from trail above the Perch
The section of the Historic Iditarod Trail from the Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC) to Heritage Falls and Icicle Creek makes for a great hike anytime of year, even during the winter months but bring micro-spikes if it's icy.

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
As mentioned above, this hike description 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. For driving directions to the ERNC go to this link ERNC Website. For a map with mileage and elevations (page 2) go here - Historic Iditarod Trail Map.

Trail Description: 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. As you hike to Heritage Falls keep an eye out for moose, bear and (after the Perch) sheep and goats depending on time of year.

Fall colors near the Perch.
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 check-out the new 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.

Note during the winter month when the river is frozen, the hiker can alternate between the river and the trail starting at Echo Bend. 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 (photo below), 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!

As a side note, there are a number of hiking options from the Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC). You can also 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 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.

Walking up the river when the water is low.