Anchorage Hikes to do with Your Family
Summer is coming soon and that means SO many options of where to go and what to do as a family. For those of you living in Alaska or have the opportunity to visit this summer, I am excited to share our family’s top 10 favorite hikes within an hour (give or take) of Anchorage.
Top 10 Family Hikes Near Anchorage
Before you go, be prepared
Before you head out, make sure you have all the necessary knowledge and gear to hike safely as a family. Enough food and drinks, appropriate footwear, sunscreen, rain shell (as rain comes in unexpectedly sometimes!) and bear bells/bear spray and/or an air horn.
Many of these hikes require a Chugach State Park pass, which can be purchased online or at many local retailers. Day rate is $5.00 and can be purchased at the trailheads with cash, check or card. Blog post links to additional resources to make sure you are prepared are linked at the bottom of this post.
Did someone say “Ice cream”?
We also love stopping at nearby ice cream shops when we finish a big hike… so a few dollars for post adventures treats is recommended!
Hiking in Bear Country
All of these hikes recommended are in bear country. If you are new to Alaska, be bear aware by visiting Alaska Department of Fish and Game. You will likely encounter moose as well, so read up on how to handle these potential wildlife encounters.
Bear spray can be purchased at many local retailers such as REI and Costco.
1. Twin Peaks Trail (to first bench)- Eklutna Lake
This hike, if desired, is a combination of water play, semi challenging uphills, bench destinations and AMAZING views of Eklutna Lake and the surrounding mountains.
How to get to the Twin Peaks Trail
To get there from Anchorage, drive north on the Glenn Hwy until the Eklutna Lake exit. The road is somewhat windy and about 12 miles until the end where you reach the parking lot. We usually hike the Twin Peaks trail first and always leave time for playing in the lake/incoming stream post hike. The Twin Peaks trail leaves from the north side of the parking lot. It is fairly wooded for most of the way.
Twin Peaks Trail: What to Notice
My kids love to count the erosion prevention railroad ties as we hike. I forget how many there are, but it is either 7 or 9 before the first bench. This gives them something to be excited about as we hike and “reels” them along.
The hike is steep in areas but only about 2 miles in distance until the first bench. We love to stop just before the first bench (final steep hill) where you will see a large rock off to the right. We veer off there and enjoy our lunch/snack on the mountainside. There is usually no one there and the views are spectacular!
This stop gives the kids an extra boost before attacking the final climb to the first bench. If you have older kids or are hiking with other adults, hiking to the 2nd bench is very nice. The distance to the first bench is less than 2 miles up a fairly sustained uphill climb. The second bench is another mile up. Total climb is roughly 1,800m to the 2nd bench.
As a family with young kids, the first bench is plenty of an endeavor! The hike down takes a lot less time as kids like to run down (be sure to pack bandaids as I feel at least one of my kids trips on the descent and needs some mama kisses and a bandaid!)
When we finish the hike, we love to walk down to the lake, throw rocks, build driftwood bridges and enjoy a post hike snack under the driftwood forts that are often there. As you leave, there is an ice cream shop just down the road that has just reopened and is under new management. A super fun place to get ice cream before venturing back down the long road.
2. Portage Pass Hike with Kids – Whittier
If you have never done this hike, this is top of list! Photos don’t do justice on the views you experience in all directions.
How to get to the Portage Pass Trail via Tunnel
To get there, you drive south from Anchorage on the Seward Hwy to the Portage exit. What makes this hike/adventure extra memorable is that you get to go through a LONG tunnel!
The tunnel opens to incoming traffic from the Bear Valley side to Whittier on the half hour and when leaving Whittier it is open on the hour.
Given that the tunnel opens only once per hour, you need to plan accordingly! Giving yourself some time to walk around Whittier (and enjoying some amazing seafood chowder or ice cream is also highly recommended). Once out of the tunnel, you take the first road on the right. It can be bumpy, so drive slowly. Signs will direct you to the Portage Pass Trailhead.
Portage Pass Hike: What to notice
Once at the trailhead, the trail is about 1 mile to the summit. Depending on your time/age of kids even reaching the summit is fun. There are endless ponds and little trails to explore there. The views of portage glacier in front of you and Whittier and Prince William Sound behind you are stunning! No photos can capture the 360 degrees of beauty from the summit.
If you are wanting more of a hike, you can continue hiking down the next mile to the lake. This hike is about 4 miles round trip. The first mile is up, the 2nd mile is down and of course reversed on the way back. Total climb from trailhead to pass is about 800 ft.
3. North Face, Alyeska and/or Winner Creek Trail – Girdwood
How to get to the North Face Trailhead
To get there, you drive south on the Seward Hwy from Anchorage and exit at the Girdwood Exit (about 45 minutes south of Anchorage). You drive into Girdwood until the road comes to a T. Take a left and drive until you hit the Alyeska Hotel. There is parking for day use on the left. You shouldn’t park at the hotel when just hiking.
To access the North Face trail, find the tram and the trail can be found just past and to the left of where the tram begins. You will also see the start of the winner creek trail, which is a great young kiddo hike as it is flat. You could hike this a bit at the start as well to make your hike longer.
The North Face hike start is just to the right of the winner creek trail entrance. The North Face Hike is 2.2 miles and just over 2,000ft in elevation gain. For an easier option, the Winner Creek trail (which can be an out and back is fairly flat).
One way hike up and a FREE tram ride down!
This hike is a favorite family hike as it is a one-way hike to the top and a FREE tram ride down! This hike is recommended for older kids, capable kids that can hike mostly up for 2 miles or parents that are willing to carry kids in front/back packs.
It rains a lot in Girdwood, so plan accordingly with gear or look at the weather and find a clear day to go! The views of the mountains, the Turnagain arm and being in a rainforest is quite spectacular!
M and M Fairy
My kids LOVE when we have an “m and m” fairy on this hike. I pack a little felted bowl and run ahead and hide it in a tree/mossy log,etc. for them to find. It seems to reel them along and make the hike go faster and be more enjoyable for all.
The “Dirty Dozen” Switchbacks
Most years, the 12 switchbacks called The Dirty Dozen are labeled at the top with numbers. My kids love to find the numbers and get their picture next to their age. This hike is on the Alyeska ski resort, so make sure to check the website that it is open before venturing out. It sometimes doesn’t open to late June due to the snowpack still being deep at the top this time of year.
Blueberries and other snacks
In August, you can find lots of wonderful blueberries along the trail, especially during the last mile. There is a restaurant/bar at the top if you want to enjoy a lunch/dinner at the restaurant. You can also BYO inside as well! There is a wonderful ice cream shop in the strip mall on the left as you leave Girdwood right before you get to the highway. So many flavors to choose from!
4. Arctic Valley South Fork Overlook Trail- Eagle River
How to get to Arctic Valley
This is another ski resort area hike just outside of Anchorage. To get there, head north from Anchorage on the Glenn Hwy and take the Arctic Valley exit just a few miles north of town. This is a military road and is patrolled regularly, so be sure to drive the speed limit. Arctic Valley is at the end of this 7-mile uphill road. Parking is at the end of the road. There is often parking available next to the lodge or in the upper lot and requires a parking pass.
The hike we enjoy as a family is straight up the valley ( South Fork Overlook Trail). You access the trail from out front of the lodge and just to the left. You are on the right trail if you go under the T-bar line. Stay left when the trail veers to the right. There are a few bridges, but your goal is to have your destination be the ridgeline/saddle at the top of the valley.
Arctic Valley Hikes: What you will notice
This is a gentler mountain hike and the views at the destination are spectacular of the Eagle river valley at the saddle. You can extend the hike by hiking up to the left ( Mt. Gordon Lyon) or right (Rendevous Peak) from the ridge line, but with littles just getting to the ridge is an accomplishment! In late July/early August there are also lots of blueberries to be enjoyed! Total distance to the saddle is one mile of a relative gentle climbing. Elevation gain is roughly 800 ft.
5. Kincaid Beach- Anchorage
How to get to Kincaid Park
You can get to Kincaid Park from where you are in Anchorage by going all the way West on Raspberry Road. This road goes into the park. Parking for this hike is recommended up by the chalet.
Alaskan Beach destination hike- be sure to pack a picnic to enjoy
This is a favorite hike as an Alaskan beach destination! It is fun to bring a picnic for lunch or dinner! You are allowed to have fires on the beach if a nighttime adventure is what you are after (check local burn bans before you go). I recommend a change of clothes, as at low tide, it is hard to resist playing in the mud!
Familiarize yourself with the Tide Chart
Be sure to check the tide chart and only go as far as you are comfortable out on the tidal flats during low tide. Our family rule is you cannot go in deeper than ankle deep mud. If you are not familiar with ocean /tidal mud, it can be very sticky and hard to get out.
Be aware of when the tide is coming in, so you don’t get stuck out too far and can’t get back to shore as the water is coming in.
Paved route or trail route.. you choose!
If you are looking for a mostly paved experience, you can take the paved coastal trail down to the beach. At the bottom of the hill (which you can also use strollers on this part) at about .7 miles, there is a very sharp left-hand turn and a bench there. Follow that trail until you reach the beach! There are places to store your strollers/bikes/etc. before you start heading down the sandier trail to the beach. There are other ways to access the beach by hiking the bluff trail. If you look at a map of Kincaid park, you can access the bluff trail from the Jodphur parking lot or from the Kincaid parking lot. This is a fun way to have a hike before getting to the beach. It is very rooty, has some steeper descents and is overall more challenging for younger hikers. We often take the bluff trail to the beach and then take the paved trail back to our car.
6. Sunnyside Flattop- Anchorage
How to get to the Sunnyside Flattop Trailhead
This is a very popular hike for locals and tourists. There are two sides to the flattop trail- the front and back side (or sunnyside as many call it). The hike I will describe is the Sunnyside (backside). You can access this trail by searching for Sunnyside Flattop off of Canyon Rd. The parking is tricky as the road is steep and narrow. Trail for sunnyside starts by a fence and there is usually a porta potty there during the summer months.
Saddle or Summit
This is a fun hike for all ages and reaching the saddle between Flattop and Peak 2 is a great destination for young kids! If up for a bigger hike, summiting Flattop from this side is doable as well. The view of the valley in front and behind are stunning! There are some fun boulders to hike around and the late snow pack creates a fun place for kids to cool off as they slide down on bottom or upright on their feet (boot skiing!).
To continue on to the summit of Flattop, the trail continues to your left (from the saddle). The total round trip distance is 3.5 miles to the summit and 1,600 ft. in elevation gain. Reaching the saddle is roughly two-thirds to three-fourths of the way to the top and much less in elevation gain as the final pitch to the summit is quite steep.
7. Turnagain Arm Trail- Anchorage
How to get to Potter Trailhead/Turnagain Arm Trail
This is a favorite spring hike of ours as it is first to melt out and is a fun place to go on a spring scavenger hunt. About a mile in, there is an option to veer off the trail to the right and sit and have a snack/look at the ocean and mountains/volcanoes across the way.
Out and Back or Point to Point Hiking Options
This trail is a fun out/back or for more of an adventure, you can shuttle a car to the McHugh trailhead (4 miles total) or Rainbow trailhead (8mile total). The parking lot for this hike is at the Potter Trailhead just south of Anchorage on the Seward Hwy. This hike is a gentler hike and reaching the overlook destination about one mile from the Potter trailhead is roughly 200 ft in elevation gain.
8. Rabbit Lakes- Anchorage
How to get to Rabbit Lakes Trailhead
You access this hike the same way you would the sunnyside of Flattop hike. Park as far at the end of the road as you can. The trail begins where the road ends.This is a fairly flat hike to a beautiful lake. It is a longer hike- about 4.5 miles to the lake and moderate elevation gain of approximately 1300ft.
Hiking, Camping and/or Paddleboarding
This is also a great destination to camp in the summer. If you are ambitious, you can also bring your inflatable paddleboard out there, as Rabbit Lake is a fun lake to paddleboard on! Don’t forget your life jackets!
9. Hilltop- Anchorage
How to get to Hilltop
Hilltop makes a great “urban hike” or short on time hike. Hilltop is the local ski resort right in Anchorage and makes for a great hike that isn’t too long, but the views of the surrounding area, the ocean and the city below are beautiful! On a clear day, you can also see Denali and the adjacent mountains of Hunter and Foraker.
To access this hike, park in the parking lot after the Hilltop Chalet and hike wherever you would like to the top of the ski hill. We usually follow the dirt path to the top. This is a short hike- less than a mile and approximately 300 ft. elevation change.
Outdoor Dining, Music and Bike trails too
Just this summer (2022) Hilltop opened a restaurant- Finn’s Kitchen for the summer months as well for people to enjoy food and outdoor dining post adventure. There are also new bike trails there and a full music line up for Fridays during the summer months.
10. The Butte- Butte/Palmer
How to get to The Butte Trailhead
We rarely go this far north for hiking as a family, but if heading that way, the hike in the Butte called The Butte is a nice hike. You can access the parking lot off of Bodenberg Butte Road off the Old Glenn Hwy. There are two ways to do it. We have always done the side with all the stairs.
400 stairs and 360-degree views
I believe there are roughly 400 stairs to climb. Once at the top it is an incredible 360 degree view of the Matanuska Valley- glacier, water and mountains! Having so many stairs to climb can be a fun counting game for the kids on the way up and then on the way down they know just how many they have to go before getting back to the trailhead. There are also nice benches to stop and get a break/snack along the way. Total hike is about 2.3 miles out and back and 900 ft elevation change.
Have fun, be safe and be respectful of the trails this summer!
I hope many of you reading can enjoy a hike or two in the Anchorage area this summer! As always, be prepared with the right clothing, food, water and safety gear. Be sure to pack out what you packed in, so many others can enjoy the litter free trails this summer and in years to come! Check out all the great resources written by Tales of a Mountain Mama team members linked below. Hike on!
Family Hiking Resources:
- Best Hiking Shoes for kids
- 9 Tips for Hiking with Kids
- Hiking Safety for Kids
- What to pack for Hiking with Kids
- Wilderness First-aid for Outdoor Families
- Best apps for Hiking and Camping
Family Friendly Hikes in the Anchorage Area
© 2022, Tales of a Mountain Mama. All rights reserved. Republication, in part or entirety, requires a link back to this original post and permission from the author.