Glen Alps Trailhead

“Sunny today, high of 69 degrees.  Tonight, sunny, high of 45.”  - Weather report for June 23, 2000.

During the long, long days of summer, it has become a tradition to hike Flattop mountain and camp on the summit.  In fact, on the Saturday either preceding or following summer solstice the top of the mountain begins to resemble a refugee camp.  Please understand, soaking sun all day and all night is a necessity for those of us who spend our winters up here.  Just under our shoulder blades, Alaskans have a special organ that stores up sunlight so that we can survive the winters!

When spending time in Anchorage there are some things that ought to be on everybody’s checklist.  One of those will surely be spending time in the Chugach State Park, which surrounds the city to the east.  There are a number of entry points into this park.  Glen Alps provides an ideal place to start for all levels of hikers. 

To find Glen Alps, head out of downtown on Minnesota (L Street) or New Seward (Gambell) south.  Minnesota will become O’Malley and the New Seward will have an exit for O’Malley Road.  Head east toward the mountains on O’Malley.  From here, brown and white park signs will help guide you to Glen Alps.  Just before O’Malley ends make a right turn on Hillside Drive.  Follow Hillside south and turn left on Upper Huffman.  When Huffman forks, turn right on Toilsome Hill.  This road will twist and wind up the hills for about two miles.  The Glen Alps parking lot will be on the left side of the road.

This is a fee area and costs $5.00 per day to park.  There are toilets here.  But what you are really looking for are the trailheads...

Anchorage Overlook Trail (Easy)

 For an easy quick hike, the Anchorage overlook trail brings great views, with a minimum of effort. The trail begins at the northeast end of the parking lot, over by the toilets.  This trail is paved and is only a quarter mile to the observation deck.  If you have small children in strollers, this trail should be no problem to roll along.   From the observation deck, one can see most of the greater Anchorage area.  The municipality as a whole includes Eagle River and Girdwood, which cannot be seen due to the Chugach Mountain Range.  But one thing I appreciate about Anchorage is that it has not become a “concrete jungle”.  Except for the downtown skyline, there are enough trees to obscure the view of most of the city.

Blueberry Loop/Flat Top (Moderate/Difficult)

This trail will get you up to where you want to be!  Find it at the southeast corner of the parking lot.  It begins as a flight of stairs heading up toward the mountain.  Blueberry Loop trail is a fairly easy path, and it is very well maintained.  The initial assent is steep, and I find myself out of breath by the time I reach the point at which it levels off.  You will pass right up through tree line where even though the trees are ancient, they only stand about five to seven feet tall.  Before continuing on, if you are a geocacher, be sure to find Romancing Alaska's Frog Cache located at N61 06.155 W149 40.828 at elevation 2295.

If you decide to stay on the blueberry trail, there is little elevation gain or loss until one starts the decent back down.  Eventually there will be a fork in the trail.  Blueberry Loop will continue on around the hill to the left, and Flattop trail will climb to the right. 

Flattop is a tougher and more risky trail.  There have been deaths along this trail as there will be places where stepping too close to the edge of a sheer cliff could mean a drop of anywhere from twenty to several hundred feet.  I do not recommend bringing small children up this trail.  Flattop trail is fairly well maintained, but erosion and subsidence coupled with its steepness make it difficult in spots.  Claimjumper and I carried our packs up for an overnight stay and this made the trail even more challenging.  The trail brings adventurers up two saddles before winding through a rock field.  The trail through the rock field has been cleared and is relatively easy.  The most difficult part of the climb comes at the end of the trail, near the top of the mountain.  From here, the trail is marked only by orange spots that have been painted onto the places where the hand and footholds are most safe.  And you will use both hands and feet.

The top of the mountain is amazing!  It is a big square area with views of Anchorage on the west side, and views of the surrounding mountains and valleys to the north, east and south.  All of the sides have steep cliffs, so you will need to be very careful not to let children or pets out of you immediate reach.  Mountain goats can be found this high from time to time.  One family of goats even came right up to me during one trip.  I held out my hand and poured some of my water into it.  Two of the goats drank right out of my hand!  The top of the mountain is quite chilly.  A wind breaker is a must, but we also carry polar fleece to slip on to keep us from cooling too quickly.

When you are ready to descend again, the wooden marker that you passed at the top marks the beginning of the safest route down.  Again, keep looking for the orange dots to guide you.

 If you decide to camp out overnight, there is a large, relatively flat area that can be used to stake down your tent in the middle of the top.  And stake down you must!  The winds at the top can come without warning and they are very strong.  Even though we had staked down fairly well on a windless evening, by morning the winds were so strong that all but one of the stakes had been pulled up.

For more information, check out www.dnr.state.ak.us/parks/units/chugach/hillside.htm    

Last Visited: July 2008


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