With our long daylight hours and spectacular views, hiking is a favorite pastime among Alaskans, and there’s nothing like the prospect of a long, meandering trail to pique our interest. In that vein, we thought we’d put together a description of a few of our favorite long day hikes, easily accessible near Anchorage or the Kenai Peninsula. All of them have campgrounds at or near the trailheads, so once you’re back at the trailhead, you’re also back at your camper van (and all of its well-deserved comforts)!
Eklutna Lake (Chugiak)
Eklutna Lake is a playground for much of Anchorage, and is a water source for the town. The lake is about an hour’s drive northwest of the city, but still offers the quintessential wilderness experience with its long day hikes and recreation opportunities.
The Twin Peaks trail and the Lakeside trail share the same trailhead area, at the Eklutna Campground inside the Chugach State Park. The Twin Peaks trail climbs upward for about 3 miles, taking you to gorgeous views of the Eklutna Lake Valley and even the Knik Arm. Look for Dall Sheep once you arrive at the top, and if it’s late summer, there’s good blueberry picking up here, too.
The Eklutna Lakeside Trail follows the shoreline of the lake for nearly 13 miles, and numerous additional trails shoot off and up the mountainsides from the main trail. The trail is actually an old roadbed, and thus is more of a multi-use trail—mountain biking is a popular activity out here, and ATVs are allowed on the trail Sunday through Wednesday during summer. The Lakeside Trail is mostly level, with several stream crossings (most with bridges) and a few waterfalls. Hike about 5 miles out on the trail, and you’ll arrive at the Bold Ridge trailhead, a 3.5-mile, 2,500-foot one-way ascent, which leads to more spectacular panoramas of the lake, the mountains and Eklutna Glacier. The end of the Lakeside Trail is the Eklutna Glacier moraine, and a viewpoint for the glacier itself.
Eklutna Lake also offers numerous other recreation opportunities, including kayaking—you can rent kayaks at the activity center near the trailhead, and if you want to try your hand at backcountry camping, there are several campsites near the end of the lake, as well as two public-use cabins along the shoreline. At mile 10.5 of the Lakeside Trail, you can catch the East Fork Eklutna River Trail, which winds for another 3 miles through the forest to Tulchina Falls, an impressive waterfall where there are also views of Mt. Bashful, the tallest mountain the the Chugach State Park.
Here’s the Alaska State Parks campground map and trail info. Get there early to claim your campsite—Eklutna is popular among locals and visitors alike.
Gull Rock (Hope)
Starting from the Porcupine campground, this trail winds along the shores of the Turnagain Arm out to Gull Rock for about 5 miles one way, which makes it one of the shorter long day hikes on our list. At times, the trail follows the shoreline on a shallow ridge above the water, but other times it veers inland, where the views of the Arm become a game of peekaboo.
Occasional flat rocks and outcroppings present themselves as great spots for photos or snack spots, but the real goal here is the end at Gull Rock. The headland affords views back onto Turnagain Arm and the Chugach mountains behind, as well as expansive views of the Cook Inlet and the Alaska Range beyond it. If it’s clear, Mt. Redoubt features prominently.
This is a popular mountain biking trail as well, so watch out for bikers (they’re good about letting you know they’re there), or join them on your own bike!
Here’s the USFS trail map and info. Camping is available at the Porcupine Campground, a National Forest campground, as well as in the town of Hope at a couple of private RV parks/campgrounds.
Crescent Lake (Cooper Landing)
While Cooper Landing is better known for its connection to fishing on the Kenai River, it also has some great hiking, and it’s worth a stop to tackle some of those long hikes, even if you’re not fishing.
Crescent Lake is accessed via the Crescent Lake Trail, beginning on Quartz Creek road about 4 miles from the Sterling Highway. It’s 6.5 miles out to the lake, or you could continue on around the lake to catch the Carter Lake trail, and end on the Seward Highway near Moose Pass, an 18 mile trip. It’s a long day hike if you’re doing the out-and-back, but you’ll have plenty of daylight to finish, and the elevation gain isn’t ridiculous, like a lot of other trails in this mountainous region.
The trail rises about 1,000 feet, with the majority of the elevation gain coming in the first half of the hike. You’ll mostly follow Crescent Creek all the way to the lake, through hemlock and birch forest in the lower elevations and, after about 4 miles, emerging onto alpine tundra with lovely wildflower meadows and clusters of aspen and cottonwood. The trail follows the creek through similar terrain all the way to the lake.
Here’s the USFS trail map and info. You can camp nearby at the Forest Service-run Crescent Creek Campground or Quartz Creek Campgrounds, both near the trailhead on Quartz Creek Road near Cooper Landing. The town of Cooper Landing also offers several private RV parks and campgrounds.
Tonsina Point & Caines Head (Seward)
Tonsina Point is a popular trail, especially on a sunny day. The trail leads out to a long sandy beach, with spectacular views of Mt. Alice and Resurrection Bay. Watch closely and you might see orcas or humpbacks in the bay, or otters or sea lions swimming close to shore. The trail then extends beyond Tonsina along the beach revealed by low tide all the way to Caines Head.
The trailhead begins at Lowell Point, south of Seward about 2 miles. The trail to Tonsina winds steadily up through spruce and alder forest, and then rapidly down a series of switchbacks to Tonsina Creek. Cross the iron bridge and follow the creek out to the beach, where you can sit and enjoy the sun on this sandy beach (a bit of a rarity in Alaska). Or, continue on the trail through an old mossy hemlock forest, and you’ll arrive at another fork of the creek, and another sandy beach. It’s about 2 miles to this point.
Here’s where it gets fun. If you’ve timed it right, the tide is at its ebb and you can hike on the beach (which gets rocky again just past Tonsina point) for another 2.5 miles, until you get to North Beach on Caines Head, a piece of land that juts out into Resurrection Bay and is its traditional entry point. Hike up onto the headland for another 1.5 miles and you’ll reach Fort McGilvray, a WWII fortification built to guard the town of Seward and the railroad terminus there. Bring your headlamp if you want to explore the fort—it was built into the hillside and it’s dark inside.
This is a popular spot for overnight camping trips—the trail isn’t exceptionally long or difficult, but since you have to time your hike with the tides, it’s worth it to spend the night, because you’ll have to wait until the next low tide to hike out. Alternatively, you can schedule a water taxi one way, and not worry about the tides for the hike back.
Here’s the Alaska State Parks trail map and info. The closest campgrounds at Lowell Point are Millers Landing (which also offers water taxi services) or the Silver Derby campgrounds (both private) or the Seward Waterfront Campground (run by Seward Parks & Rec).
For more information on these and other trails, we recommend 50 Hikes in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula and Best Hikes Near Anchorage, both of which we have in our office for you to peruse before you head out, and the All Trails app is useful for learning about recent trail conditions. We recommend using downloaded or hard copy maps over using apps on your phone while you’re hiking: Once you’re away from the trailheads (and often not even there), cell service is spotty if it’s available at all.
Make sure you have a camper van waiting for you when you return from one of these hikes—make your reservation today!