Saturday, May 25, 2019

Less Traveled Way to Raven Creek, Chugach State Park

This is a pleasant spring or early summer hike which can be done in April, May and early June depending on weather and trail conditions. The trail from the Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC) to Heritage Falls can usually be hiked all times of the year including winter. However, this hike to the head of the Eagle River valley is best done spring or early summer due to the river crossing.

This hike along the Historic Iditarod Trail starts from the ERNC parking lot and is about 9.5 miles (according to my GPS) to the confluence of Raven Creek and the north fork of the Eagle River where there is good camping on the river bar. The Eagle River was exceptionally low this year, so we could still easily make the river crossing in late May.

From the ERNC, the first section of trail meanders through the woods. 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 and also an established campsite.)  In about three miles the trail meets up with the Eagle River at Echo Bend where it generally follows the river from this point forward. The trail once ran adjacent to the river around the "Perch" (Mile 4). However, due to erosion the trail has been rerouted above the "Perch" and outstanding views of the Eagle River can now be had from the new high trail.

View of Eagle River from the trail above the Perch
At Echo Bend the hiker may be able to alternate between river and trail depending on river level. However, after the Perch the trail is more direct than following the river, so it's recommended that you stick to the trail until you reach the river crossing roughly seven miles from the ERNC. It's not uncommon to see moose, sheep, goats and bear along the trail so be sure to bring some type of bear protection.

Once you've hiked about five miles on the well established trail from the ERNC, you will notice some camping spots near the river. (See a previous post for more detail on the hike to Heritage Falls.) At this point, look across the river, and you will see Heritage Falls. This is a great place for a lunch break. In another quarter mile, you will arrive at Icicle Creek. Cross Icicle Creek and continue on the trail for another 1.5 miles or so to reach a spot where you can ford the Eagle River. 

After Icicle Creek, the trail crosses several small streams with rickety wooden bridges, one being Yakety Yak Creek (Mile 5.8). After these bridges the trail becomes more faint and can be difficult to follow. After the last bridge, don't take the trail/turn to the left but continue ahead in the direction of the river. The trail becomes very faint and overgrown from here in some spots. Just keep going until you reach the river.

During the spring and maybe early summer, the hiker can usually ford the Eagle River somewhere at a point about 1.5 miles beyond Icicle Creek.  Look for a spot where the river widens and the current is slower. (See Facebook video below.) 

Note: If the water level is too high to safely ford the river, the main trail (not far away) continues up valley and eventually to Girdwood. There is camping at Twin Falls (Mile 8.1) and Thunder Gorge (Mile 10.3). See Trail Map.**

Once across the river, the hiker can walk the river bar for several miles to the confluence of Raven Creek and the Eagle River. As you walk up the river bar, you can see Twin Falls across the river on the left. If you want to continue or take a side trip to Thunder Gorge, Eagle Lake or the Ford Site, you will need to cross the river again. Usually the lowest water is near the confluence of Raven Creek and the Eagle River where the river widens. 

Confluence of Raven Cr and Eagle River
There is good camping and great views of surrounding mountains all along the river bar. Since this is the less traveled route, it is not likely that you will see other hikers or campers, only the occasional bear hunter in the spring. However, wildlife is usually plentiful so look for moose, sheep, goats and bear on the surrounding mountains.  Above all else, enjoy the beauty and solitude this valley has to offer!

*Note: avalanche danger is a concern during the winter and spring months on the Girdwood end of the Crow Pass trail. An update on Crow Pass trail conditions may be found at Crow Pass Trail Updates Facebook

**Note:  For a detailed description of the Historic Iditarod Trail or driving directions to trailheads see "50 Hikes in Alaska's Chugach State Park, 55 Ways to the Wilderness or the online hiking apps.

Facebook video of fording the Eagle River at approximately Mile 7.