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Hike to Heritage Falls, Icicle Creek and Beyond

 

View of Eagle River Above the Perch

Overview: 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. It’s not only a quintessential hiking/backpacking route but an historic portion of the Iditarod Trail that led from Seward to mines in the Interior. It was (reportedly) rebuilt in the 1970s with girl scout labor. This section of the Historic Iditarod Trail starts from the Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC) and makes for a versatile spring, early summer hike or overnight. 

Driving directions to the ERNCERNC Driving Directions

Why I Like This Hike:
It's a lovely all-season hike (or overnight) suitable for most skill levels. You can make this trek as easy or challenging as you want. If you want a shorter less demanding hike, just make your end point the Perch (mile 4.0), Heritage Falls (mile 5.1) or Icicle Creek (mile 5.3). If you go all the way to Raven Creek or the head of the Eagle River valley, you will probably want to spend the night. Download a map with mileage and elevations (page 2) -  Crow Pass or Historic Iditarod Trail Map (ERNC website.)

The Nitty Gritty:
This hike along the Historic Iditarod Trail starts from the ERNC parking lot and is about 9.5 miles one-way (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. 

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.

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 stick to the trail until you reach the river crossing roughly seven miles from the ERNC. Wildlife sightings (moose, sheep, goats and bear) are common along this trail section 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. 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 on the new bridge and continue on the trail for approximately 1.5 miles to the Eagle River. 

New Bridge at Icicle Creek
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. An alternate route to the main trail involves crossing the river to continue up the valley. The river can usually be forded during spring/early summer about 1.5 miles beyond Icicle Creek.  

Look for a spot where the river widens and the current is slower. The river is very dynamic, so you may need to look around for a suitable spot to safely cross. (River crossing video on Alaska Llamas Facebook page.) Be advised the water level may be too high to safely ford the river mid to late May. If this is the case, the main trail is not far away and continues up valley (and ultimately to Girdwood.) There is camping at Twin Falls (Mile 8.1) and Thunder Gorge (Mile 10.3) and at Eagle Lake.  


If you are able to cross the river, it's an easy walk along the river bar to the confluence of Raven Creek and the Eagle River. As you walk up the river bar, look for Twin Falls across the river on the left. Once you arrive at the confluence, to continue to Thunder Gorge 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. & 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!


For a detailed description of the Historic Iditarod Trail or driving directions to trailheads see "50 Hikes in Alaska's Chugach State Park55 Ways to the Wilderness.

*Note: avalanche danger exists during the winter and spring months on the Girdwood end of the Cross Pass Trail so be sure to check trail conditions.


Camping on the river-bar near Raven Creek 


Comments

Enjoying your blog very much. We are future pack llama owners in the valley. So grateful for all your hard work and information.
Alaska Llamas said…
Thanks for your comment.