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Historic Iditarod Trail to the Perch, Heritage Falls & Icicle Creek

"Hike More" in 2020! "Here's a great hike to start off your new year. This hike on the Historic Iditarod Trail starts from the Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC) and ends up at Icicle Creek (if you choose to go that far.) This makes for a great January hike because it can be safely done in winter 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 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.

This hike covers the section of the Historic Iditarod Trail from the Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC) to the Perch, Heritage Falls and Icicle Creek. It's a versatile hike about 10.5 mile round trip (RT) from the ERNC with several end points including the Perch (mile 4.0), Heritage Falls (mile 5.1) and Icicle Creek (mile 5.3). I like this hike because it can safely be done in the winter. (Microspikes may be needed during  icy periods.) By January the hiker can usually trek (or ski) on sections of the frozen Eagle River instead of the trail (photo above). It's a wonderful hike anytime of the year, particularly in the fall due to the stunning color. Driving directions to the ERNC at this link ERNC Website. Go to this link for a map with mileage and elevations (page 2) - Historic Iditarod Trail Map.

View from above the Perch with fall colors

Trail Description: 
From the ERNC, the first section of trail meanders through the woods for about three miles until it meets up with the Eagle River at Echo Bend 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." At this point there is an established campsite and a short trail down to the river. 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.  (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. (Note, this may be icy in the winter.) You will be rewarded with the outstanding views of the Eagle River.

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 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.

Campsites - Mile 5
After you've hiked about five miles (from the ERNC), you will notice some (informal) 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!

Stunning fall colors from trail above the Perch
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.

Moose on trail near ERNC
*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 when doing the traverse. Be aware that if you hike the traverse or start from the Cross Pass trail head (Girdwood end) there is avalanche danger during the winter months.