2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
Runtrails' Web Journal
 
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   HIKING ON THE SCENIC TRAIL OF BLUE ICE
AND THE WILLIWAW NATURE TRAIL

SUNDAY, JULY 15

 
"Traveling the length of Portage Valley, the Trail of Blue Ice offers many spectacular views  
of glaciers, wildlife, salmon, scenery, and of course wildflowers! . . . This trail is  
ideal for hiking or biking and links all of the developed recreation sites in
Portage Valley. Along the way are views of Byron, Middle, and Explorer glaciers. 
The trail also winds by the Williwaw Fish Viewing Platform . . ."
 
~ from a U.S. Forest Service webpage about viewing wildflowers in Alaska
 
 

This is a continuation of the last entry, which describes our overnight stay at the Williwaw USFS Campground in Portage Valley and our visit to the impressive visitor center at Portage Lake.

After supper I took Cody for a 4-mile walk on the Trail of Blue Ice, the Williwaw Nature Trail, and the salmon viewing area between Black Bear and Williwaw campgrounds.

This is a good map of the trails from another Forest Service webpage. I marked my route in yellow:

Click on the link above if you want to see this pdf. map larger.

THE TRAIL OF BLUE ICE

The five-mile-long (one way) Trail of Blue Ice is simply awesome! The photos on this page are all ones I took this evening.

This trail is designed to showcase several glaciers -- hence the name "blue ice." The only glacier I saw from this section of trail tonight was Middle Glacier:

Farther along in this entry I'll show you some better views I got from across the road on the Williwaw Nature Trail. I had a more "global" view from that perspective and the clouds had lifted a little bit by the time I got reached that area so I could see lots of blue glacial ice. 

I hope to see the other two glaciers that are visible from the Trail of Blue Ice tomorrow. Explorer Glacier is farther west than I went tonight, and Byron Glacier farther east than I went. I've already seen Byron Glacier in the distance from Portage Lake and up close from the trail that goes right to its base.


A small trail leads south from the Trail of Blue Ice; I think it goes toward Middle Glacier.

In addition to the unique features of the Trail of Blue Ice that I've already mentioned, it also has beautiful trees, shrubs, and wildflowers, lots of ponds and streams, the chance to see bears, moose, spawning salmon, and many other species of wildlife, and scenic views of mountains, forests, and meadows -- even when it's raining or overcast!

This hiking/cycling path is wide and has a mostly-level paved and crushed rock surface that is smooth enough to be accessible to people using wheelchairs and strollers:

The Trail of Blue Ice also has numerous attractive Alaskan yellow cedar walkways, some curved and serpentine, over wet areas.

There are sturdy wooden bridges over several streams and two very handsome wooden tied-arch bridges:

Serpentine boardwalk (above) leading to a tied-arch bridge
over the North Fork of Williwaw Creek (below)


I am just in awe of the beauty of this bike path -- both the design/construction of it and the scenery through which it passes. It's a must-see if you're in Alaska.

The trail was completed only last year at a cost of about $5 million -- that's about a million per mile but I think it's an excellent way to spend money for public enjoyment. Funding was through Alaska's transportation enhancements program. Most or all of the work was done by an experienced trail-building company, Oregon Woods, Inc.

OTHER SCENES ALONG THE TRAIL OF BLUE ICE

I started my hike at the trailhead close to our campsite.

I tried to get Jim to ride his bike on the trail tonight but itís a lot less pleasant riding a bike in wet, chilly weather (mid-50s F.) than it is to walk in it. I just bundled up in rain pants/jacket and walked. I didn't even take an umbrella. Cody and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.


Raindrops on fireweeds

First I hiked about half a mile west to the Black Bear Campground, turned around, and returned to my starting point. The trail winds through mostly spruce trees and willow/alder brush for about two miles between Black Bear CG and Portage Lake.

Soon after getting on the trail I crossed the South Fork of Williwaw Creek on my first bridge and curved section of boardwalk:


All the streams in the valley are a gorgeous turquoise blue color from glacial silt.

 

After hiking through the forest for a short distance on a sandy path I soon crossed the South Fork again on this bridge:

That's one of my favorite pictures from this hike. I love the color of the creeks!

There is a lot of boardwalk in the half mile between Williwaw and Black Bear campgrounds. I am totally impressed with these beautiful curved, wooden structures!

I was even more impressed when I came to the first tied-arch bridge over the North Fork of Williwaw Creek:

I showed a close-up view of that bridge near the beginning of this entry.

I took this picture on the way back to my starting point:

Next I headed east toward Portage Lake.

The trail goes through a wooded area, follows the South Fork of Williwaw Creek for a while, and then winds through more open terrain:

 

It's about 1Ĺ miles from Williwaw CG to Portage Lake and Begich, Boggs Visitor Center but I went less than a mile in that direction before turning around and getting on the Williwaw Nature Trail, which I'll describe next.

The Blue Ice trail is paved from that intersection to the visitor center:

WILLIWAW NATURE TRAIL

Here's a closer view of the map of this trail (brown dots), which connects to the Trail of Blue Ice (gray dots) in two places:

Most of the Williwaw Nature Trail is across the Portage Valley Highway from our campground and the Trail of Blue Ice.

I got on it at the SE end of the loop and walked CCW on the loop that starts at this end between the two ponds you can see on the map above. It's about 1/2 mile to the road, then another mile along the creeks and ponds on the other side and over to the fish viewing platform between Williwaw and Black Bear campgrounds.


Trail between the first two ponds on the SE end of the Williwaw Nature Trail

The trail is smooth crushed rock the entire way, except for bridges across streams. It is lined with lots of pretty blue lupines and other flowers this time of year:

The first two ponds were very scenic. This is the SW side of the larger lake to the right:

 

Idyllic, right?

Well, I was a bit surprised when I saw this backhoe and piles of gravel a little further on:

 

I was puzzled. Were they enlarging or making the lake deeper for some reason? Repairing damage from the record levels of snow -- and snowmelt -- much of Alaska received this past winter?

I didn't know the answer until I saw a sign explaining it about a mile farther up the trail.

Continued on the next page . . .

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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