Ready, Set, Hike!
From Rainforests to Glaciers
When you think of Rainforests, you probably don’t picture Alaska. Yet, Chugach National Forest represents America’s northernmost range of temperate rainforest and is the second-largest Forest in the National Forest System (roughly the same size as the states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island combined). About one third is composed of rocks and moving ice, and the remainder is a diverse and majestic tapestry of land, water, plants, and animals. Cordova rests within this natural treasure and is truly a hiker’s paradise, with sixteen exceptionally well-maintained trails covering 35 miles of hiking. Cordova Ranger District is nestled between the Copper River Delta and the southeastern end of Prince William Sound and covers approximately 2.3 million acres. Hiking through these uncrowded trails is a dream, with amazing Alaskan scenery and wildlife all around. From easy-going boardwalks and flat streamside trails to towering forest and mountain peak adventures, there is a trail for all ages and ability levels. Cordova’s many trails all share one important thing in common: the trailheads are each easily accessible via car from the Copper River Scenic Highway.
Before you take off into the woods for a day of hiking, you may want to check with the US Forest Service Cordova Ranger District (907-424-7661) for the most current trail conditions Be sure to pack for the weather, with protection should you encounter wildlife, and don’t forget your camera. Vistas abound!
Backpacking requires a little more forethought. You should pack carefully, planning for all eventualities, including the possibility of your trip being a little longer than anticipated. Always let someone else know where you are headed and when you plan to come back. Don’t assume that the cabin you are headed to is vacant; always properly rent the cabin via the USFS website. Trail maps are available at the Chamber Visitor Center at 404 First Street as well as the USFS office at 612 Second Street. Here are some of our favorite hikes around Cordova:
Perhaps one of the best hikes around Cordova begins right in town. From the Forest Service offices, you can follow signs up Council Ave. to the end of 6th street where you’ll find the base of the ski hill. In the non-skiing months, this hike is a favorite for all ages. You cross muskeg meadows and spruce forest, berry bushes and fireweed blooms as you reach the Midway point. Don’t forget to stop often and look back at the amazing views of Orca Inlet. When you reach the Midway, you can also gaze in the other direction at Eyak Lake and the Copper River Delta then turn around; or continue up to Top Station and beyond to Eyak Peak.
Take a short – and gorgeous – drive out the Copper River Scenic Highway to the Sheridan Glacier Trail. This trail provides opportunities in all seasons to get up close and personal with a glacier. Feel the chill of a glacier pool and run your hands through pure glacier mud. If you pack a picnic you can eat your lunch along the edges of a glacial lake while taking in the expansive vistas of the moraine and listening to the sound of the cracking ice. Take the Copper River Highway to 13.7 mile, then follow Sheridan Glacier Road for 4.3 miles to the end.
This moderately-steep trail begins in a spruce-hemlock forest and follows a stream that provides resting spots with views of waterfalls. Midway, the landscape transitions into a shrub habitat before opening into a small picturesque alpine basin. From this basin, rock cairns guide the hiker to the top of a nearby ridge that offers commanding views of the Sheridan and Sherman Glaciers, as well as the Copper River Delta. This trail has intermittent boardwalk covering much of the wet, muddy areas in the lower sections, and little tread work on the upper sections. The first 1.9 miles is a “17(b)” easement. 2.9 miles, 4.5 hours roundtrip. Difficulty level: Difficult
Two easy walking trails begin at the picnic area at the end of Alaganik Slough Road. The boardwalk trail is ADA accessible and allows hikers to traverse the fragile wetlands and observe the beautiful blooming wildflowers in spring and summer. An adjacent meadow trail takes hikers through the wetlands back to the secluded waters of Alaganik Slough. Both trails offer interpretive signs from the US Forest Service. Fisherman find this a favorite spot to catch coho salmon in late summer and so do the bears. Take the Copper River Highway to 16.9 mile, and turn south on Alaganik Slough Road. Follow the road 2.9 miles to the trail head.
This trail climbs a steep grade passing through mature spruce-hemlock forest to a picturesque alpine bowl where Crater Lake sits. The first half climbs over rough, rocky sections with numerous switchbacks and muddy areas as well as wooden bridges. The second half continues to climb, but at a gentler grade, through hillsides that are abundant with wildflowers during the summer months. A bench is provided midway up the trail for a great view of Eyak Lake. At 1.2 miles and intertie provides access to Eyak Ski Hill Trial. At the lake the hiker has the option to access the Alice Smith Intertie or climb Mt. Eyak. The entire loop from Crater Lake trailhead to Power Creek trailhead is 12 miles (approximate time is 10-12 hours). Length: 2.4 miles Time: 4.5 hours round trip USGS Map: Cordova C-5 Access: Power Creek Road mile 1.5 Difficulty Level: More Difficult
This trail follows the west bank of the Eyak River for one quarter mile through mature Sitka spruce forest before opening into rolling muskeg meadows. At mile 1.5 the trail reunites with Eyak River for the remainder of the distance before reaching Mountain Slough. At the end of the trail the flora composition changes to a typical delta habitat of dense alder and grasses. This is a popular access site for anglers during the coho salmon season from August to mid-September. The trail is muddy and wet in places, especially after heavy rain. Portions of this trail are “17(b)” easements. Length: 3.3 miles (5.3 km) Time: 5 hours round trip USGS Map: Cordova C-5 Access: Copper River Highway mile 5.7 Difficulty Level: Easy
This short, mostly boardwalk trail winds through spruce-hemlock forest to a knoll overlooking the Copper River Delta. From this spectacular vantage point, one may view the Gulf of Alaska, Kayak Island and many species of wildlife, especially trumpeter swans and moose. The trail has several places to rest and relax. Length: .8 miles Time: 1.2 hours round trip USGS Map: Cordova B-4 Access: Copper River Highway mile 19.2
The first section of trail follows the contour of Hartney Bay and offers excellent bird watching and wildlife spotting opportunities. Spawning salmon may also be viewed from mid-July to August. The first mile of trail is a “17(b)” easement.* The next two miles moderately climb through spruce-hemlock forest and muskeg areas scattered with wildflowers. The last mile is a steep climb onto Heney Ridge following rock cairns above tree line. Once on the ridge you are treated to spectacular views of the Copper River Delta, the Prince William Sound, and Kayak Island (on clear days). There are many unique wood structures to assist hikers with traversing the varied terrain. The trail is muddy and wet in places, especially after heavy rain. Length: 3.7 miles Time: 5.5 miles round trip USGS Map: Cordova B-5 & C-5 Access: Difficulty Level: Intermediate to Difficult
This well maintained trail winds its way through mature spruce-hemlock forest and ends at the north end of McKinley Lake. Several bridges allow hikers easy crossing over small streams. This trail also provides access to two public use recreation cabins. McKinley Trail Cabin (100 yards beyond the trailhead sign) and McKinley Lake Cabin (at the end of the trail). A rough, unmaintained trail continues for 1/4 mile past the lake cabin accesses the remains of the Lucky Strike Mine. Interpretive signs guide the visitors through the history and remains of the abandoned mine and mining camp. Midway, Pipeline Lakes Trail joins McKinley Trail for an optional loop. Length: 2.4 miles (3.9 k) Time: 3.6 hours round trip USGS Map: Cordova (B-4) Access: Difficulty Level: Easy
Most of this trail is boardwalk. The first 3/4 mile passes through dense spruce-hemlock forest before opening up into muskeg meadows that offer impressive views of the Chugach Mountains. Short spur trails provide fishing access to five small lakes with populations of cutthroat trout up to 12 inches in length. At the junction with the McKinley Lake trail there is an option of returning to the highway or continuing north to McKinley Lake cabin. Length: 1.8 miles (2.9 km) Time: 2.7 hours round trip USGS Map: CORDOVA (B-4) Access #1: Copper River Highway mile 21.4 Access #2: Via McKinley Lake Trail Difficulty Level: Easy
This trail follows the river through Power Creek drainage, then leads the hiker up several switchbacks. Midway, at the beginning of Surprise Valley, the recently built Cordova Electric Hydropower Dam can be seen. The last half of the trail follows the creek up the Power Creek Basin, passing by several beaver ponds and hanging glaciers to the Power Creek Cabin**. The cabin site has wonderful panoramic views of the valley and surrounding mountains. At mile 3.0 the Alice Smith Intertie accesses the Crater Lake Trail. The entire loop from Power Creek trailhead to Crater Lake trailhead is 12 miles. Length: 4.2 miles (6.8 km) Time: 6 hours round trip USGS Map: Cordova C-5 Access: End of Power Creek Road mile 6.9 Difficulty Level: Moderate
This well-drained, level trail winds its way through stands of cottonwood and spruce trees, and guides the hiker through a small, glaciated valley to the outlet of Saddlebag Lake. Split log bridges at several small stream crossings aide the hiker during high water periods. From the lake outlet, Saddlebag Glacier can be viewed at the far end of the lake. Mountain goats can often be spotted on the cliffs on either side. The lake usually has icebergs near the outlet. Length: 3.1 miles (5 km) Time: 4.5 hours round trip USGS Map: CORDOVA B-4 Access: Via Copper River Highway to mile 24.6. Turn north Difficulty Level: Easy
Not an official US Forest Service trail, this area is accessed via a small parking area near 0.5mile Whitshead Road. There is a small City of Cordova Water Department structure on one side of the parking area and a barricaded access road on the other. A somewhat steep walk up the gravel access road leads to a small water tower with a social trail on the hiker’s left. Continuing on the walking trail up another somewhat steep section, the trail then flattens out revealing meadows on the hiker’s left and a “Meals Reservoir” sign. This is the entrance to the Cordova Disc Golf Course, which consists of nine holes meandering through the meadows. Past this on the main trail lies the Cordova Reservoir. While using this area for recreation, please be sensitive to your watershed impacts. Remember this is our City’s drinking water and anything you leave on the ground or in the water will have an effect on the water.
Please note: Due to a bridge washout, Child’s Glacier and the Million Dollar Bridge, Cordova, are currently only accessible via private guided trip. Child’s/Million Dollar Bridge are not accessible with your vehicle, RV or camper. Contact the Cordova Chamber of Commerce or US Forest Service for information on planning a trip to Child’s Glacier and information on authorized guides.