Hiking Anchorage’s Highest Peaks: What families should know

The views are worth the climb in Anchorage, as long as you're prepared!

Many Anchorage residents favor the city’s urban trail system as a go-to place for outdoor recreation at the drop of a hat. We’re lucky, really; at our figurative (and in some cases literal) doorsteps lie miles and miles of mountain pathways ranging from easy to difficult. Kids grow up hiking to destinations with names like Flattop, Ptarmigan, and Arctic Valley, high-fiving their friends when they reach an age when scrambling up a scree slope to summit triumph becomes a reality. I think that’s pretty cool.

Scooting up the mountain from Bear Valley trailhead.

But all this access can come with a price for visitors. Where Alaskans may perceive Anchorage’s narrow, steep, and sometimes rocky trails to be just another day in paradise, newcomers to the state, especially those with little or no hiking experience, may find the trail everyone recommended at the visitor center to be too tough for their family.

Hiking up the ridge from Bear Valley. I had to stop and rest near this great cairn.

Note: This doesn’t mean a visiting group of happy hikers can’t enjoy these trails, but it does mean a certain level of ability, planning, and respect for the independent nature of the environment in which they are about to venture. Below are our tips for family hiking in Anchorage’s high mountain country:

Grab a map, find a website (ahem), and connect with other hikers before venturing out among Alaska's wild spaces. Photo from Meetup.com

1. Know where you’re headed. The Alaska Public Lands Information Center can assist anyone, visitor or resident, with matching ability to trail. Open daily during the summer months, and M-F the rest of the year, this facility is located on 4th Avenue, kitty-corner from the famous Log Cabin Visitor Center operated by Visit Anchorage.  Another great resource lies in the great number of guidebooks available at all sorts of outlets. For a hiking-specific information, the Falcon Guides are a great resource, especially Best Hikes Near Anchorage.

Be they little or big, knowing abilities of every hiker in your party makes for a safe and fun experience in Anchorage.

2. Know your family’s ability. Anchorage is unique in its urban/rural-feel, and our access to wilderness is immediate – often dramatic. If your family comes from the flatlands or a more urban setting, and isn’t used to scrambling in all types of weather, plan a more sedate day hike until you become comfortable. Or, plan a guided trip with any number of Anchorage-based companies.  Also important to consider is the type of gear you brought to Alaska. If rugged trails were not on your agenda and sneakers are the extent of your footwear, spend hiking time in places that won’t lead to injury from unsupported feet or slippery slopes.

AK Kid's ski hat became a rather important element to his hiking enjoyment up in Bear Valley last weekend. Anchorage's weather up high can change dramatically in just moments.

3. Pack wisely. Anchorage’s elevation numbers range from zero to a few thousand feet, and depending upon where you are at any particular moment, the weather will be whatever it is. How’s that for vagueness? It means, parents, that packing for rain, wind, snow, or bright sunshine is your best bet, any time of year. The concept of layering, which I talk about over and over in my book, will never more important than it is here: Bottom layer, wicking fabric; middle layer, fleece; top layer, wind/rain shedding, depending upon the day. We also always add a warm hat and gloves to our packs, as is witnessed by last weekend’s hike to Bear Valley. Sunny and foggy within minutes, and AK Kid was begging for his ski hat once we reached the ridgeline.

Lunch is, of course, the best part of hiking.

Also remember to pack water for every hiker, and high-energy snacks that will give a boost of power to tired kids. Nuts, cheese sticks, pretzels, and energy bars are our favorites. Sometimes, if AK Kid is really, really nice to us, we’ll add a bag of Hershey’s Kisses.

Confident, well-dressed hikers enjoying a drizzly day in Alaska.

For more about Alaska hikes and walks with kids, read these popular posts:

Hiking Campbell Creek Estuary

Arctic Valley: Bring the kids!

Guided Hikes and Walks in Alaska


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