Denali AKA Mt. McKinley


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"Routes ranging from hikes of less than a mile to multi-day treks over Crow    
Pass all start at the Eagle River Nature Center. The center offers interpretive
programs and great wildlife-viewing opportunities throughout the year."
~ Official Guide to Anchorage, 2015 edition, p. 9
The Eagle River Nature Center, nestled among 7,000-foot peaks, is located in the northern part of gigantic Chugach State Park. Since we didn't get up there in 2012 it was high on my list of new places to hike this summer.

Jim went with me on our first attempt to hike there with the dogs.

Although it was mostly cloudy the scenery was gorgeous and it was interesting to see a different perspective of Rendezvous Ridge, where I've hiked a bunch of times, from a couple thousand feet below in the valley -- looking up instead of looking down.

Driving south on Eagle River Road

Unfortunately, we went on Saturday afternoon when traffic on Eagle River Road was backed up in both directions while crews striped several miles of new pavement. Worse, when we got to the nature center we couldn't find a parking spot. Both the upper and lower lots were packed.

Jim parked for a few minutes in a no-parking zone and graciously stayed in the truck while I quickly checked out the nature center building and asked some questions about hiking:

Inside the visitor center

Fascinating wooden sculpture on the back deck; it depicts the meandering Eagle River.

As we were heading back to JBER, disappointed that we couldn't hike near the nature center that day, we spotted this mama moose and calf after they safely crossed Eagle River Road:


Jim vowed never to return to the nature center, fearing the trails would be as crowded as the parking lots. I was determined to go back on a weekday morning to do some hiking when I hoped fewer people would be there.

I think I found a good solution -- I picked today, a Monday, to take Cody hiking with me because the visitor center is closed on Monday and Tuesday. However, the trails are open every day in the summer. I marked the ones Cody and I hiked today in yellow:

There are lots of trails to hike, and this map doesn't even 
include the long, popular Crow Pass Trail to Girdwood.

I discovered that just because the nature center itself is closed, it doesn't mean lots of people won't be out hiking on a summer weekday. The parking area was about three-fourths full when I got there about 11:30 AM and when I left about 2 PM.

We saw about ten people on the three-mile Albert Loop and about a dozen on the shorter Rodak Nature Trail. That was OK. If I'd wanted the place to myself I should have gotten there earlier.


I started going CCW on the Albert Loop first.

It is mostly smooth and wide, with lots of wooden bog bridges over wet areas and streams. Open areas afford views of the surrounding peaks, some snow-covered. The trail narrows farther around the loop, closer to the river.

Here are some pictures from the first mile:

Beginning of the Albert Loop

Cow parsnips and other wildflowers line the trail.

Trail intersections are well-marked.







Organ and Flute Glaciers

I ran into a real watery mess when I got close to the Eagle River. I had passed a sign several hundred feet earlier pointing to a newly-built alternate route but figured with the lack of winter snow and spring rain that the trail couldn't be all that wet.

I was wrong. It was both wet and muddy, increasingly more difficult to negotiate:

This section of the Albert Loop has been impassable for two summers, apparently.

This bridge is broken but I crossed it OK out and back.

I give up! I'm turning around now . . .

I backtracked to the rough alternate trail through the woods and followed it for about half a mile:


I finally reached a spur trail where I could walk to the wide gravel river bed:


Upstream (south)

Downstream (north)

What a sweet boy!

Cody got into the cement-colored water but didn't drink it because it contained too much silt. He did drink from a couple clear streams in the wetlands.

We crossed more streams and wet areas on the Albert Loop on our way back toward the visitor center:


We passed another intersection with the Crow Pass Trail, which is part of the famous, original Iditarod Trail:



Continuing along the Albert Loop, we came across more bog boards and two little baby birds (ptarmigans, perhaps) along the trail. I got a photo of them from a distance and don't have a good close-up of them because they scooted into the weeds before I could zoom in with the lens:



The Albert Trail is open and groomed for skiing in the winter but it is closed from August until winter freeze-up to reduce human-bear conflicts.


When we got back to one of the intersections with the Rodak Nature Trail I followed that interpretive loop for 7/10ths mile.

This trail is quite civilized -- wide gravel paths with two large deck areas over creeks and ponds where salmon spawn in August and September. Some of the trails are closed then to avoid human-bear conflicts but they are open now. They're even open in the winter for cross-country skiing.





I liked this trail and will encourage Jim to come back with me another time to hike it with Casey. I'd also like to do some of the other trails that start here.

There is a nice variety of terrain on the two nature center trails I hiked -- some rainforest, some areas of dense shrubs, open fields with lots of wildflowers, wetlands, and braided river gravel. Some of the other, longer trails go up into the surrounding mountains.

I didn't see any moose or bears today but Cody and I noticed bear scat several places. I had bear spray and called out "Hey, bear!" frequently, especially in areas with dense foliage. 

Cody and I walked 4.25 miles at the nature center. He had a total of about five miles today, which is good for a 12-year-old Lab. (Casey had a total of about seven miles running and walking with Jim today.)

Next entrya wet Turnagain Arm-Portage Valley day trip

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