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One woman’s stand-off with a persistent grizzly I am drifting off to sleep in my tent in the Ray Mountains, a little-known mountain range north of Fairbanks and south of the Brooks Range. My 12-year-old Australian sheepdog, Blumli, sleeps at my feet. The arctic sun, still above the horizon, casts a soft evening glow on the surrounding peaks. The wilderness is pleasant and peaceful. After a long day’s walk, I drift into sweet slumber, knowing the next 10 days will feed my soul in a way that only wild country can. I don’t know what awakens me, a slight motion from Blumli, or that internal messenger that says, “Wake up, there is a bear 15 feet from your head.” I am not excessively worried. I’ve seen hundreds of bears, and never had anything you would call a bear encounter. Bears, except possibly polar bears, don’t habitually hunt humans. Our troubles…

By Steven Merritt Just like checking the hiking box for Flattop Mountain in Anchorage is a must for visitors or newcomers alike to southcentral Alaska, no trip to Whittier would be complete without a side trip on the Portage Pass Trail, which offers access to Portage Lake and unmatched views of Portage Glacier. While the Begich, Boggs Visitors Center in Portage Valley is a great jumping off point to catch a ride on the M/V Ptarmigan for a lake tour to the glacier, earning the view with your feet is a rewarding option. Playing at Portage Lake. Once through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel into Whittier, an access road to the small U.S. Forest Service trailhead is just to the right. The trail ascends some 800 feet in less than a mile before cresting at Portage Pass, where the glacier and lake emerge in a broad panorama. Looking back gives…

Easy to difficult outings near Anchorage Hitting the trail is a great way to enjoy summer in Alaska—it’s good exercise, you can unplug from technology for a few hours, and you might encounter wild animals. Here are five scenic hikes within easy reach of Anchorage. 1. Turnagain Arm Trail (easy) A typical view along the Turnagain Arm Trail With four trailheads along this approximately 10-mile route, you can do a quick hike or bring a picnic and make a day of it. South-facing and snow-free early in the season, this trail is a great introduction to Alaskan hiking—you’ll see wildflowers, mountain views, and maybe even Dall sheep or brown or black bears. • • • 2. Dew Mound (easy) Bear track on the Dew Mound trail Trek through a forest of birch, cottonwood, and spruce on this 6.1-mile loop. Take a lunch break at the exposed rock of Dew Mound…

A hiker makes his way up the Mount Healy Overlook Trail. Photo by Steven Merritt By Steven Merritt With its vast wilderness and the chance to get an up close and personal look at wildlife, visitors to Denali National Park and Preserve often are pulled away from the core area of the park entrance, but there’s plenty to do in and around the Visitor Center—especially for day hikers. While many of the shorter trails in the area stick to the lowlands near the visitor center campus, the Mount Healy Overlook Trail—one of the steepest in the park and often lightly trafficked—offers a perfect outing with a hikers’ trifecta of views, exercise, and elevation gain. Located off the Taiga Trail, not far from the Visitor Center, it rises steadily through spruce forest before reaching benches at an overlook near the halfway point. From there, switchbacks introduce a steeper climb as you…

Hikers navigate the trail to Eagle and Symphony Lakes. Photo by Scott Banks. Whether you live in Anchorage or are visiting the city with time allotted for outdoor adventures, you’ll find a variety of day or overnight backpacking trips in Chugach State Park, less than an hour’s drive away. With some route tweaking, you can elevate those excursions from awesome to epic. Either way, you’ll be happy you took the time to explore the area’s mountain playground. Williwaw Lakes 5.9 miles one way This gradually ascending hike leads to a stunning series of lakes strung like rosary beads along a u-shaped, glacially sculpted valley. Level tent sites abound surrounding the lakes, all with views of the 5,445-foot Mount Williwaw, which towers over the end of the valley. If you hike to the last lake, a 500-foot climb up the north side lands you at Walrus Lake, above and out of…