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"Explore treasures tucked into the mountains around Eklutna Lake and Glacier.  
The seven-mile-long glacial lake is ideal for kayaking, and the trail around  
the water's edge is perfect for a bike ride or all-terrain vehicle trip."

The Lakeside Trail would be great for a run or hike, too!

We enjoyed our first visit to this scenic lake in the north part of Chugach State Park. Jim and I cycled along the shore today and now I'm psyched to come back with Cody to do some hiking up in the mountains above the lake.

Colorful kayaks are lined up along the shore.

Scenic view to the far end of the lake

Today we got half a day of hazy sun, then mostly haze, in South Central Alaska. That affected the quality of these pictures and may have been part of the reason I was disappointed with the photos I took yesterday on Rendezvous Ridge.

Turns out, there are some massive forest fires in Russia and other Asian countries this week. The smoke is drifting to the northwest part of North America, including Alaska, Washington, and Oregon.

Rain is predicted in the Anchorage area for the next few days, so maybe that will drive the smoke out. I didn’t smell it today, but it sure looked hazy to the west when we got up to 1300 feet on the road through the Eklutna Valley.


Eklutna Lake, flanked by towering Chugach Mountains in every direction, is part of the humongous Chugach State Park located just east and north of Anchorage.

Native Dena'ina Athabascan peoples used to live here and fish in the lake. The name Eklutna has its origins in their language.

On a sunny day the lake's beautiful blue water coming from the Eklutna Glacier mirrors the snowy peaks surrounding it. Today was too hazy for mirror images but you can still see some shimmer in this view looking southeast toward the glacier end of the lake:

The lake is rather narrow -- about a mile wide -- but it stretches for seven miles from NW to SE.

Over the last two centuries the glacier has receded ten or twelve miles from the SE end of the lake, which is farthest from the trailhead. If you follow the Lakeside Trail its full length, about 13 miles, you can see the glacier.

We didn't go that far today, just eight miles out and eight miles back. We want to return someday and go all the way to the end of the trail.

View to the northwest from south end of lake; the water level is about 10 feet low right now (no tides here!)

Eklutna Lake is popular for camping, fishing, boating (including kayaking), hiking, cycling, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and riding ATVs.

There are numerous options for developed and backcountry camping so visitors can stay several days to explore the place. However, it's convenient enough to metro Anchorage to the south or the Mat-Su Valley towns of Palmer and Wasilla to the north to be easily accessed on day trips. That's what we're  doing.

Bridge over Twin Peaks Creek near the beginning of the ATV road that accesses the Lakeside Trail

The lake is about 30 miles one way from our campground at JBER, a little farther if you're staying in downtown Anchorage. Just drive north on the Glenn Hwy. to MP 26.5 and east on the hilly, narrow paved road to the lake.

The road ends at the parking area at the NW end of the lake. You can't see the water from the road but it's just a short walk from the parking area to a nice grassy area where people like to picnic, swim, and put their kayaks in the water:

First glimpse of the lake

Parking is $5 per vehicle unless you have an annual park pass that costs $25.

So far this summer, we're up to $15 in non-pass fees at the trailheads where a pass can save frequent visitors some $$$.

$5 was a small price to pay for the fun ride and fabulous views we got today!


Before we visited the lake we didn’t know much about the Eklutna Lakeside Trail except its location on the NE side of the lake, distance (almost 13 miles one way), and difficulty rating (easy -- elevations ranged from 863 to 1063 feet on the hike/bike and ATV trails we rode).

This was our GPS track today:

The rolling terrain close to the lake is easy to ride in general:

Above and below:  going outbound (south), about six miles from the trailhead

However, occasional deep gravel and rocks caused me some problems. The tires on my TriCross bike are wider than road tires but not as wide and grippy as mountain bike tires.

Jim didn't have any trouble maintaining traction over the rocks or through 3-4 inches of gravel with his mountain bike on this trail.

Jim rides along the somewhat-rocky trail soon after we turned around.

A few rocks on the trail near the end of the lake; note how few leaves are on the trees here.

We ran into mud and slippery roots in only one place on the trail today. Otherwise both the ATV road and hiking/biking trail were dry.

We turned around after eight miles near the lake inlet instead of going another five miles to the end of the trail. By then we were kind of beat up by the rough surfaces and decided 16 miles were more sensible today than 26.

Near the lake inlet where we turned around

The scenery was gorgeous, however – the deep turquoise color of the water from glacial silt, lots of green trees and plants,

some bright flowers and kayaks to add more colors to all the blue and green around us, beautiful Chugach peaks on all sides, and glimpses of Eklutna Glacier beyond the far end of the lake.

Although some sections of the Lakeside Trail are nicely shaded like in the photo above, much of it is out in the open because it is so close to the shoreline.

Because of the narrow trail in some places we should have begun riding earlier than 11:45 AM. I was surprised there weren't more people in the parking lot then.

Although we didn’t see any bikes on the trail until we got to the spot where we turned around eight miles from the trailhead, we encountered about twenty people going outbound as we rode back to the parking area. With all the foliage in some areas where the trail is narrow it's difficult to see oncoming cyclists around curves until you almost collide with them.


On Sundays and Wednesdays ATVs are allowed on the narrow, rocky jeep road that roughly parallels above the Lakeside hiking/cycling trail. We deliberately chose a day ATVs wouldn’t be out there, which was a good decision.

What we didn't know is that the Lakeside Trail starts on the jeep road, then veers off numerous times. In some places you have to use the road to get to the next segment of trail.

Cyclists and hikers can stay up on the road the whole time if they want, or they can use both the road and trail. There's a learning curve the first time you're out there. We rode on a little more of the road outbound and as much as possible on the trail on the return.

We much preferred the trail.

It is generally flatter, smoother, and closer to the lake than the hilly, rocky jeep road. In fact, sometimes the Lakeside Trail is right next to the cliff above the lake! We had to be very careful in those places to not bounce or slide off.

When the lake is at "full pond," the water is almost up to the trail.

We rode for a little over two hours. By the time we got back to the truck (about 2 PM) the parking area was pretty full.

I wouldn’t want to be out there on a bike or on foot on a sunny weekend, or at least I’d get there early. The trail is rather narrow in some places, too narrow for two bikes or a bike and hiker to pass comfortably:

Jim pauses on a narrow part of the trail to wait while I take yet another picture.
Up ahead in the trees the trail is even more narrow.

Most of the way the trail is wider, however:

Near the beginning of the trail, heading south toward Eklutna Glacier

I would like to go back with Cody to hike the Twin Peaks Trail, which is open to foot traffic only. It starts near the parking area so we wouldn’t have to contend with bikes or ATVs.

I’d also like to hike up the Thunderbird Falls Trail, which is in the general vicinity but closer to the Glenn Highway and faster to reach from Anchorage than Eklutna Lake.

View of Twin Peaks from Eklutna Lake; bet the lake looks good from the trail to the top!

Stay tuned for reports from those hikes.


On the way back home we stopped at the WalMart in Eagle River. Jim went in to get more oil for his truck. I stayed out to guard the bikes so I don’t know how it compares to the other WalMarts in the metro area.

A patch of pinkish clover (foreground) and fluffy Alaska cotton near the lake; see close-up below.

We relaxed in the afternoon and evening. I was on the computer a while (we have a decent MiFi signal at JBER) and walked Cody around the campground since he didn't get to go to the lake.

Jim repaired the bathroom vent in the camper and tried to figure out how to fix the outside steps; a weld has broken. He went to the BX after supper to get free WiFi.

Alaska cotton and clover

By evening it was quite cloudy and/or hazy from smoke. It’s supposed to rain the next week or longer. <frown> 

I’m glad we got to enjoy some new trails while it was sunny. I’m a little tired so it’s good to have a rest break for at least one day.


Since we’ve been in Alaska we’ve read/heard about several of the highways being shut down for several hours.

This is a hazard in Alaska and northern Canada that was only barely on our radar before our five-day delay at Watson Lake in the Yukon last month for road repairs after excessive rain and snowmelt wiped out sections of the Alaska Highway.

There simply aren't all that many major roads in Alaska (and even fewer in the Yukon Territories) so when one shuts down, alternatives are few to none. Be very aware of this if you're driving to or in Alaska.

Nearing a creek crossing on the jeep road (one of the places
where the Lakeside Trail gets back on the road)

Here are some examples that have occurred since our arrival in Alaska five weeks ago:

  • The day after we went down to Homer, the Sterling Hwy. was shut down for many hours to investigate an incident involving a wildlife ranger who shot an erratic female driver in self defense after she shot at him (she later told police she wanted “suicide by cop”).

  • The Seward Hwy. was closed for four to five hours on the north side of Turnagain Arm for a serious accident several weeks ago, then again yesterday south of Portage because of a car hijacking.

  • The Parks Hwy. was closed one day last week because of a wreck with a fatality.

  • And the Richardson Hwy. was closed for hours when a motorcyclist was killed by a moose between Fairbanks and Delta Junction. 

Just sayin'.

Ironically, none of these were for weather-related problems like snow or flooding, which are also common reasons for road closures in Alaska.

Above and below:  on the bridge over the creek crossing

At this point we’re not too surprised by any road closures up here. It doesn’t take much to shut down a busy highway in the Far North, stranding travelers for hours or days. This just doesn't happen much in the Lower 48 states because in most places there are alternate routes.

Fortunately, we usually don’t have to be somewhere at any particular time during our trip to Alaska and we're here long enough that inconveniences like these won't ruin our vacation.

Keep the likelihood of road closures in mind if you ever visit Alaska. In many ways it isn't like the rest of the country. Allow plenty of time to reach each destination, have alternative routes and/or destinations in mind in case one of the above scenarios happens, and go with the flow. It'll make your trip much more enjoyable.

Next entrykeeping busy on a rainy weekend in Anchorage

Happy trails,

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

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil