Chugach State Park

Symphony Lake and Eagle Lake

Chugach State Park is the third largest State Park in the country. It features 6000-foot peaks within sight of sea level. And it’s right outside Anchorage, where the population is 300,000 fortunate souls. Although there are access points to hiking trails and other recreation opportunities all around the park perimeter, including within the Anchorage city limits, there are three main access areas to explore – Eklutna Lake, Eagle River and Girdwood and we’d been given suggestions for great hikes in all three.

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Denali State Park


We made some good decisions, and we were lucky. What remained for us to explore in Alaska was the the Kenai Peninsula and Chugach Mountains south and east of Anchorage and a small area north of there that includes Denali State Park. The forecast for north of Anchorage was slightly better, so we headed that way.

Denali National Park protects the wilderness area around Denali, at 20,308 feet, the tallest mountain in North America. The smaller Denali State Park is just south of the National Park. There are three major attractions within the State Park – the Parks Highway with strategically situated view points, campgrounds and trailheads, the wide, braided, glacial Chulitna River, and the 37-mile long, open K’esugi Ridge – boasting views of Denali* from all three.

*But only on rare, clear days. We had two of them!

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Hatcher Pass

The Bald Mountain Ridge, Government Peak, Matanuska Glacier in the distance from Hatcher Peak

Have you ever heard of Hatcher Pass? Neither had we. It’s the old (and only) mining road in the Talkeetna Mountains which are between the bigger and more well-known Alaska Range to the north and the Chugach Range to the south. It’s become a secret backcountry recreation area for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. Helen and Mike and Nick and JS thought we’d love it. Reason enough to head that way.

O. M. G. Exclamation point.

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Valdez harbor

Valdez is a commercial fishing and shipping port with a history that is both colorful and tragic. It’s also a fun town to visit in a stunning location.

Recall that Mount Saint Elias, at 18,009 feet the second highest peak in the US, is only 10 miles from the ocean’s edge as the eagle flies (yes, we confirmed that this is the expression to use in Alaska). That means our relatively short drive to Valdez would cross yet another mountain range – the Chugach Mountains, the tallest, steepest mountains we’ve seen yet – before dropping into the city. Valdez is near the end of a narrow arm of the Prince William Sound where glacial rivers dropping down from tall, steep, glaciated mountains on 3-1/2 sides of the city turn the water a distinctive aquamarine color.

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Wrangell-St Elias National Park

Regal Mountain and the Stairway Icefield

Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve is the most superlative and unique-est we’ve ever visited. It’s the largest National Park in the US. At 13 million acres, it’s roughly 6 times the size of Yellowstone. It is surrounded on 3 sides by other parks including Glacier Bay National Park (US), as well as Canada’s Kluane National Park and Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, creating an enormous international wilderness area. Mount St Elias is the tallest peak in the park at 18,008 ft and the second highest peak in the US (Denali is 20,308 ft). Mount St Elias is also 10 miles as the eagle or raven flies (we’ve not seen many crows in Alaska!) from the ocean, providing one of the highest reliefs in the world as well as a uniquely preserved ecosystem in its entirety. Established in 1980, Wrangell-St Elias is one of the most recent additions to the National Park Service.

Like most National Parks, WSE’s mission is to preserve and protect natural scenic beauty, wildlife populations and their habitats all while providing and balancing access and recreational opportunities by visitors. WSE also celebrates the region’s 20th century mining history. Unlike most National Parks, WSE also provides continued opportunities for the few small communities and the subsistence lifestyles of the people who live there – yes, people live deep in this wilderness, surrounded by the National Park.

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Tok Rendezvous

Dana, Muffin, Sue, Doug

I got an email about a month ago from Dana, my old friend and college roommate. Among other news, in this email he mentioned a trip upon which he and Muffin were about to embark to BC and the Yukon. I wrote back that we’d just come up through there, had that day entered Alaska, and were planning on spending the next couple of months exploring there before heading back towards home through BC and the Yukon. There ensued a series of “Wait, what?!” emails back and forth and, to summarize, we figured out that we could arrange at the end of June to rendezvous in Tok, which is Alaska’s ultimate crossroads where the Alaska Highway meets and splits from roads in every possible direction.

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