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.
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 sight of other campers. The last time I camped there, I thought I heard artillery exploding miles away until I realized I was hearing my own heartbeat. The moss was so pillow-soft and deep, I walked around the campsite in my socks.
Most campers return home the way they came, but if you have the energy, climb the pass beyond Walrus Lake and walk down Long Lake Valley that drains the North Fork of Campbell Creek. It connects with the Near Point Trail.
Note: There are two approaches to Williwaw Lakes. For the most leisurely, hike the Middle Fork Loop Trail from the Glen Alps parking lot.
Eagle and Symphony Lakes
This hike can be done in a day—but why rush when you can pitch your tent and fish for grayling in Symphony Lake? Wildlife sightings include moose, bear, and ptarmigan, and in the fall, the alpine slopes endlessly delight blueberry pickers.
The trail begins with a short uphill, dips down to river level, and then gradually ascends to Eagle and Symphony lakes. A mile-wide boulder field between the lakes challenges even experienced hikers—trekking poles are handy for balance. Flat camping spots are scarce beside the lakeshores but the surrounding peaks contribute to a spectacular setting.
For the mountain-goat backpacker, a challenging alternative lies three miles from the trailhead past the bridge over the south fork of Eagle River, where a side trail to the left climbs into Hanging Valley. Two miles in past a tarn, you mount a short rise to the shores of Hanging Valley Lake. Here, surrounded by 2,000-foot black-rocked ramparts, the camping spots are abundant, and you’ll likely be the sole occupant. My last trip there, I interrupted the reverie of a young bull moose with an imposing rack. Sheep kept a wary eye out as they grazed in the upper reaches of the surrounding mountains.
Rabbit Lake to McHugh Creek
4.4 miles one way (to Rabbit Lake)
Nestled in an alpine valley above Anchorage, Rabbit Lake makes an ideal day trip. The trail follows an old roadbed through alder patches and over a few shallow creeks. It opens up for vistas of Rabbit Creek Valley with a stunning view of the Suicide Peaks. Explore the area or dare to take a swim—but be forewarned, the water is brain-numbingly cold.Many local day hikers turn around here and head back home for a soft bed. For the epic version of this hike, though, spend the night, and in the morning, continue along the trail that skirts Rabbit Lake and veers west past McHugh Lake, 6.4 miles down the McHugh Creek drainage. It’ll take you to sea level at a different trailhead. On my last trip, I counted 54 sheep, all within easy photo distance.
- Wildlife encounters are always possible in this area, including brown and black bears, and moose. Give them plenty of room.
- Always check the weather forecast before you go. Mountain weather can change quickly.
- Bring a gas cook stove, as open fires are prohibited in Chugach State Park.
- A parking fee is required at each trailhead, where a kiosk posted with information and maps will get you hiking in the right direction.
- The Alaska Department of Natural Resources publishes one- and two-page guides with trail descriptions, park rules, and a map at dnr.alaska.gov. Questions? Contact Chugach State Park at 907-345-5014.