If hiking in Montana or Colorado could be compared to a delicious vanilla ice cream, then hiking in Alaska is an ice cream sundae with chocolate sauce, walnuts and those little brownie bites on top!
I find that when I'm in Alaska, even if I venture out for what seems like an average day-hike, I inevitably wind up with my toes at the edge of a glacier, jumping into a glacial lake filled with icebergs, or gazing at a mother moose and her calf grazing amongst the purple fireweed. In Alaska, there's no such thing as an average day in the outdoors. It's as if nature is on steroids...and projected in HD... at the same time.
One of the reasons hiking in Alaska is so unique and incredible is the ever-changing flora. Since Alaska has a short period of time (May-September) when it's warm enough for the flowers to bloom, the plants quite literally must take turns blossoming and being pollinated. On top of that, bees have a shorter amount of time to pollinate flowers in Alaska. So the plants here must mature advantageously. This means that the trail you hike one week may have entirely different flowers blooming on it the following week. Wow! Not only can you see a multitude of floral species, but edible plants are there as well. Twisted Stalk, Salmon berries, Miner's Lettuce and blueberries are just some of the naturally occurring "trail mix" that hikers can sample along the trail.
One day of hiking in Alaska delivers comparable experiences to a multi-day backpacking trip you might experience in another part of the world. I attribute much of this to the dramatic terrain that characterizes the state. Largely shaped by volcanic eruptions and glaciation, Alaska is home to archipelagos, deep fjords and valleys, as well as active volcanoes and creeping glaciers. This explains why an 8.2-mile round-trip hike to Harding Icefield, for example, takes hikers on a marvelously varied landscape... through cottonwood forests, across Marmot Meadows where waterfalls are cascading down the cliffside, past views of the deep blue crevasses of Exit Glacier, and all the way up to the edge of the spectacular icefield. From here, you can gaze out at ice and snow that stretch as far as the eye can see--perhaps an image of what the past ice age may have looked like. It is not uncommon to see mountain goats leaping between rocks, marmots darting into the brush or bald eagles soaring overhead. Don't believe me? Check it out for yourself on any one of Backroads Alaska Multi-Adventure or Walking & Hiking Trips.
One thing to remember is that while the Alaska's wilderness is magical it can also be unforgiving. The weather is notorious for being unpredictable so it's extremely important to prepare for your hike with a variety of changes in mind. Sturdy hiking boots, a good rain jacket and layers for warmth are essential. Part of the appeal of trekking in Alaska is the ruggedness of the trails. While the forest service does a great job of maintaining them, the area you choose to hike as well as the time of year can greatly affect trail conditions. Ice, snow, water, mud, plant overgrowth, bear activity, avalanche risk, snow bridges and rocky uneven ground are common on many trails in Alaska and can sometimes cause closures. But as long as you've got the right gear and (if you're with Backroads!) a knowledgeable guide, you'll find that conquering the Alaskan trails can be extremely manageable and rewarding.
Over twice the size of Texas, Alaska is the largest state in the U.S. It's also the least densely populated. These conditions add up to vast expanses of untouched wilderness and therefore abundant wildlife. Coming across moose--and even bears--on hiking and biking trails (even a city park trail like the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in Anchorage) is a part of everyday life for locals.
Mountain trails cross rivers made pink with upstream-swimming salmon, while dozens of bald eagles soar patiently above while waiting for a tasty snack to swim by. Coastal trails, like those along the Turnagain Arm or down the spit in Homer, offer the chance to see spouts of humpback whales or the white spines of the belugas. You may see playful otters who hold hands and spin around in the water or even the occasional porpoise. Hiking in more northern and inland areas, such as Denali National Park, you'll find that the towering Cottonwoods and emerald ferns are replaced with dwarfed bushes, mosses, and evergreens--shallow root systems that have adapted to the mushy muskeg and frozen tundra. Caribou, grizzly bears, porcupines, wolves and the elusive lynx roam this beautifully harsh landscape. In Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, you've got 13.2 million acres to explore! Now this place is remote.
Alaska is truly a unique and awe-inspiring place; exploring it on foot provides an opportunity to breathe in all that the land has to offer. Go ahead... climb atop those snow-capped mountains that jut straight out of the ocean, stare up at the immense glaciers that crack and move and patiently carve out mountainsides and walk amongst the bears and moose and tiny little flowers that endure through winter and then thrive when that snow melts away with the sunshine of late spring.
There's simply no other place quite like Alaska. Backroads has been adventuring here for over twenty years with trips for families and adventurers of all types. We just can't get enough of this place! I feel lucky to be a leader on Backroads Alaska Trips and always look forward to my next journey back to this amazing corner of North America! Will I see you there?
Check out our Alaska Family Multi-Adventure Tour Video!