Denali AKA Mt. McKinley


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"From the top [of Bodenburg Butte], hikers can gaze upon a wide swath of rivers, forests,   
and farmland stretching from Knik Glacier to Cook Inlet. To the south, 6,398-foot Pioneer
Peak rises like a wall from surrounding farmland, while 6,119-foot Matanuska (Byers)
Peak stands guard to the east. And nestled between the iconic peaks is Knik Glacier, its
white-blue icy expanse drawing the eye like a giant shining gemstone. It's an impressive
vista and one that lures hundreds of hikers a day during peak summer weekends."
~ from an online article by Matt Tunseth, Alaska Dispatch News, June 2, 2015
One of my goals this summer is to hike some different trails than I hiked when we were in Alaska three years ago.

I've been reading news on the ADN website nearly every day for the past several months, so when I saw Matt's article a month ago, I bookmarked the site, researched a couple of other sites about the little mountain, and added Bodenburg Butte to my list of trails to hike when we were in the Anchorage area.

How could I go wrong when Matt wrote that "few hikes offer as much bang for the buck?"

View north from halfway up the West Butte Trail

Today was the day or, rather, the evening I chose to ascend the 900-foot butte to see the amazing views promised to all hikers willing to make the sometimes-difficult climb.

The weather was great --  sunny all day and warm enough to run the air conditioner in our camper in the afternoon. I got a massage in the morning, which eased my increasingly sore muscles, and relaxed all afternoon. By 5 PM I was itching for an adventure.

It was so pretty that I decided I wanted to hike to the top of Bodenburg Butte near Palmer, mostly because of the spectacular 360-degree views people have reported from the summit. It's the easiest and cheapest way I know to see miles of Knik Glacier because it's not very visible from the roads.

Knik Glacier from Bodenburg Butte

My online research described Bodenburg Butte as a very popular hike with parking very limited for both trails going to the summit.

I wanted to go up the better-maintained West Butte Trail. Neighbors near that trailhead have complained so much to local officials that parking on the street is now prohibited. Hikers are confined to about 18 vehicle spaces in the official parking area.

Map from The Milepost website

I figured getting to the parking lot on a weekday when most people are eating supper might be good timing -- that worked well today. When we arrived at the West Butte parking area about 6 PM we were happy to see only half a dozen vehicles in the lot.

Jim found a shady spot to park where he could be comfortable and watch a movie on his computer. People came and went while he and the dogs waited for me to complete my hike. 

Step right up, folks!

Leashed dogs are allowed on the trail. I went up alone, however, because the West Butte Trail has a gazillion wooden steps in the second half when it makes most of the 700-foot elevation gain. The steps would have been difficult for Cody and I simply could not have descended on them with Casey on a leash.

(OK, so there aren't quite a gazillion steps. I counted 518 on the way down and may have missed some while talking to other hikers.)

The steps are a chore for someone with bad knees but a definite improvement from trail conditions before they were installed and people had to use ropes to get up and down some of the boulders and really steep spots.

The views at the top were definitely worth it -- Matanuska Valley, the Talkeetna Mountains, and the Alaska Range to the north, Cook Inlet to the west, nearby Chugach Mountains to the south, and Knik Glacier and surrounding snow-capped peaks to the east. I was not able to see Denali.

It's about 1.5 miles to the top of the butte on this trail, for a roundtrip total of about 3 miles.

The first half is wide, partly shady, and relatively easy, with a gradual increase in elevation through old growth forests and alder thickets:


Some people stop at the bench on top of a small hill about halfway up the mountain. There are nice views of the Matanuska River valley and Talkeetna Mountains to the north:

After the bench the trail becomes significantly more of a challenge, with most of the elevation gain in the last 3/4 mile.

The first part is heavily shaded, with some steep steps as well as steep drop-offs on one side of the trail. Note all the ropes strung between the posts in the photos on this page:

The large expanse of rock below has steps chiseled into it, with ropes to assist:

The views really opened up near treeline, making the effort worthwhile. I loved the meadows full of blooming fireweeds and the views of the surrounding valleys and mountains:



It took me 40 minutes to reach the top, including waiting a couple times for people who were descending in narrow places.

There was one last set of steps and then I was on the wide, rocky top of the butte:

That bench has a fabulous 180-detree view.

I had the summit to myself for about five minutes before a young couple, then a mom and young child, arrived.

I wandered around the perimeter of the rocky plateau and took lots of photos in all directions. These pan CCW from the southwest to the south, southeast, east, northeast, north, and northwest:



Above and below:  Knik Glacier





I called Jim to let him know I was on my way back down. I had a great signal on the summit, where it was windy and dusty but pleasant nonetheless.

The fireweeds in the meadow below the summit are just beginning to bloom. They should peak in a couple weeks. I might go back up when we get back at the end of July so I can see them in full bloom.


Here are three web pages describing this interesting trail:




The sites say the distance is three miles roundtrip but my GPS said a little less than that. My total time was about 1:30 hours. YMMV, depending on how much you wander around the top of the butte and how long you spend gawking at the panorama before you.

I highly recommend this hike. It's a lot easier than uber-popular Flattop (next entry) and the views are even better.

Next entry:  a different kind of Flattop Mountain hike

Happy trails,

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

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2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil