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Barbara Falls or Southfork Falls (Two Ways to Get There)


The hike to Barbara Falls (also known as South Fork Falls*) can be done in any season. The frozen winter (silent) falls can be as spectacular as the noisy summer falls. There are two ways to get to this 60 foot beauty in Eagle River, Alaska. The easiest and shortest way is to drive to the gate at the bottom of Ken Logan Circle. Then walk about a half-mile on old roads from the end of Ken Logan Circle (in a neighborhood off Hiland Road.)  Please respect private property. Depending on your route to the falls, you may be walking in a right-of-way on or near private property.

Short Route: Take the Glenn Highway about 10 miles north to Eagle River Loop and exit toward the mountains. Turn right at the first light onto Hiland Road. Continue uphill about 3.3 miles and turn left onto River View Drive into a neighborhood. Veer left as it becomes Waterfall Drive, then follow until it dead-ends into River Park Drive. Continue right to Ken Logan Circle. Most of the circle is signed off-limits to parking so be careful where you park and obey signs, as vehicles may be towed if parked illegally. 

Barbara Falls Trail starts just behind the metal gate at the end of Ken Logan Circle with signs that read “Do Not Block Gate” and “Private Property.” Please be respectful of the private property. To get to the lower viewpoint close to the falls, take the path/trail (unmarked) on the right/south just before the bridge (as you are walking from Ken Logan Circle). This trail descends to the creek and continues upstream several hundred yards to the base of the falls. You’ll use a hand rope to cross a small section before walking through some trees. This trail has recently been improved and makes the base of the falls more assessable. (Video below taken from the base of the falls.)

Trail to Base of Falls
To access the upper viewpoint, or the "falls overlook" cross the bridge and continue straight on the trail another 250 yards to an intersection. Go right (uphill) and keep veering right toward the creek until you see a sign that says Barbara Falls. Follow this trail (to the right ) which will take you to the "falls overlook" (upper viewpoint.) You may notice a trail to the left of the falls overlook that leads downhill. This trail is very steep and not recommended to access the base of the falls. Better to use the trail described above to access the base of the falls. Total one-way walk to overlook is about half a mile.

Long Route:
You can also hike to Barbara Falls via the Lower Eagle River Trail. This is a lovely hike about six miles round trip. The trail can be seasonably wet and muddy and so waterproof boots are recommended. Also be advised that you will need to either ford or find a log for crossing the South Fork to reach the trail on the other side to continue your trek to Barbara Falls. In warm weather don't forget bear deterrent as the entire area (not just the falls) is frequented by both black and grizzly bears.

The Lower Eagle River trailhead (to Barbara Falls) can be accessed from the south side of the Briggs Bridge off the Eagle River Loop Road where there is pubic parking and a boat launch. From the Briggs Bridge access, the lower Eagle River trail goes east through birch and spruce forest over relatively flat terrain. This trail is part of the Eagle River Greenbelt System. Any of the trails leading from the parking lot eventually take you to the river trail if you head east away from the bridge. As you continue east along this section of trail which parallels the river, you will cross several small streams that carry melting snow and rain. There are a number of low spots so the trail may be muddy and wet depending on the season. At approximately 1.3 miles, you will see another trail coming off the hill on the right. Don't turn, just continue forward (to the left.)

The old section of trail skirting the private land has been improved over the years and is now clearly marked. (See photo.) Boardwalks have been added to a marshy section next to the Swan Pond/wetlands area. At one point the area became flooded and some boardwalks were underwater. (However, as of June 2020, boardwalks have been repaired and are now above water.) Remains of charred trees and scorched ground remind us of the wildfire that burned about 25 acres in this area over the Memorial day weekend in 2016.

In 1.9 miles (from the trailhead) the trail reaches the South Fork. Just before, a path to the left cuts through the woods and takes the hiker to the confluence of the South Fork and Eagle River. Don't turn left but continue a short distance and you will reach the South Fork itself. The bridge across the South Fork is long gone so you will have to ford the stream or find a log for crossing if you want to pick up the trail on the other side and continue to Barbara Falls. It may be a good idea to bring a separate pair of shoes for wading. (Note: there are times when the river level is too high to safely cross especially after heavy rain or summer melt off.)

Once across the South Fork, continue on the trail to the right (south) uphill to get to Barbara Falls. In about .5 mile (2.4 miles from start) the trail passes under a set of power lines. To get to the falls overlook, turn left at the four-way intersection. Continue on this path veering to your right until you see a sign that says Barbara Falls to the right. This trail takes you to the falls overlook (upper viewpoint.)

To get to the base of the falls (lower viewpoint) turn right (west) at the four-way intersection, and follow the directions above. Note: the unmarked path to the base of the falls will be on your left after you cross the bridge going this direction (west) toward Ken Logan Circle.

Notes:
*Barbara Falls is also known as South Fork Falls.  More recent hiking websites and books often refer to it as Barbara Falls. When and why the name Barbara Falls came about is a mystery; however, it is designated on maps as South Fork Falls, it's traditional name.

**No matter which route you take in the summer, be sure to bring some type of bear deterrent as this area is frequented by both black and grizzly bears in the warmer months. The noise from the falls is loud, so it's easy to surprise a bear. (See video below.)


Comments

Anonymous said…
I think you're mistaken about the name. I've lived here for decades and these have always been called South Fork Falls. I checked several USGS maps and they still show these falls as the South Fork Eagle River Falls...? Just curious where Barbara came from...?
More recent hiking websites and books often refer to it as Barbara Falls. When & why the name Barbara Falls came about is a mystery. I have updated my blog post to reflect that it is AKA South Fork Falls. Thanks for your comment!
Anonymous said…
When I moved to the Highland neighborhood in 2004, everyone I knew called it Barbara falls. I never heard it called South Fork until recently.