Simple, clean, and as inviting a space as I’ve ever seen, the Trail of Blue Ice practically begs for use. This five-mile, mostly-flat trail is the darling of many a casual recreation enthusiast, and with good reason. Built over a span of several years beginning with cooperative grants and public funding beginning in 2002, the trail was officially completed in 2009 to a tune of around four million dollars. But oh, what we visitors received in return for our taxpayer money. Built by a private contractor under supervision from the Chugach National Forest, the trail was completed in phases that provided constant promise of good things to come.
It’s hard to decide what families like best; the wide, gravel tread so parents and kids can ride together, or the fancy walkways made of durable, rot-resistant Alaska Yellow Cedar that still smells new. Winding through forests of alder, cottonwood, and spruce, the Trail of Blue Ice passes through every public access point along the entire stretch of Portage Valley Highway, a purposeful move by the Chugach National Forest/US Forest Service to encourage walking, biking, hiking, and other recreational activities along this stretch of road most out-of-town visitors speed past.
We recently reaped an entire weekend of the trail’s benefits by overnighting midway at popular Williwaw Campground for the holiday weekend. Bikes in tow, AK Dad, Kid, and I were able to refrain from driving for three days, riding to and from such attractions as Begich, Boggs Visitor Center at icy Portage Lake to the east, and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center four miles to the west. My two men even took an afternoon “work break” to visit the local cafe next to Begich, Boggs for an ice cream treat and short hike near Byron Glacier trail, another popular destination with southcentral Alaska families.
Day use is easy since most access points are managed by the Chugach National Forest and well-maintained for vehicles of all sizes. If biking the entire trail is your desire, start at either end; Moose Flats Day Use area just off the Seward Highway Turnoff, or Begich, Boggs Visitor Center at Portage Lake. Do remember the round trip will entail 10 miles of riding, and while flat, can be windy in the afternoon, so gauge younger riders’ ability and turn around before they get tired. Rest breaks are easy, too, with many picnic spots available along the trail, most notably at Explorer Pond, Williwaw Fish Viewing Area, and Moose Flats. Bring plenty of water and snacks, as no services are available between the two points. Nearly any type bicycle can navigate the level tread well, and parents with trailers or jog strollers should find it most enjoyable.
Dress for wild weather or delightfully sunny skies; Portage Valley is an isthmus connecting Prince William Sound and the Kenai Peninsula and creates its own weather accordingly. Wind is common, as are rainstorms that drench the unprepared in seconds. Pack warm, waterproof layers in a backpack or pannier, and add gloves and a perhaps a beanie to go under the bike helmet.
Rent bikes from Lifetime Adventures in downtown Anchorage if you’re just visiting; my pal Dan will set up the entire family with everything required for a great trail experience.
If your cyclists are road-savvy and able to ride for some distance in a straight line, they might benefit from an additional mile of pavement to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. I will preface this section with a warning that I would NOT recommend this ride for any child younger than eight or nine, and only in the case where following directions, watching traffic patterns, and knowing bicycle safety rules are well-versed. A short but stress-inducing ride along the Seward Highway is tense, but if approached with caution, patience, and a good deal of pedal power, the additional mile from Moose Flats to AWCC is worth the energy. We rolled up to the ticket window and impressed the hell out of a staff member collecting admission, and had a blast riding around the 65-acre facility, causing the elk and moose to perk up at our funky mode of transportation. The ride from Williwaw Campground to AWCC took an hour, and AK Kid proved his mettle by repeating over and over, “This is so cool.”
Chugach National Forest staff remind all trail users to be bear-aware, as both black and brown bears like the trail almost as much as humans. That said, the use of a bear bell, singing voice, or loud talking is enough reason for most bruins to take a hike in the opposite direction. Also, trail users should remember the “rules of the road” with respect to pedestrians and cyclists. Stay to the right, and make your presence known no matter your mode of transport.
For more information about the Trail of Blue Ice, or to research other activities within the Chugach National Forest, visit the USFS Glacier District site, HERE.
Then, my intrepid AKontheGO friends, go. Just go.