Hit the trails!

This summer, lace up those hiking boots and hit the trails for a day of fun family adventure. Check out one or more of these kid-friendly favorites that will impress even the most seasoned outdoor enthusiasts. From roaring waterfalls to jaw-dropping views, you’re bound to find adventure for all in one of these six local favorites:

Thunderbird Falls Trail
Distance: 2 miles (roundtrip, out and back)
25321 Old Glenn Hwy, Chugiak
Parking: $5 fee

The Thunderbird Falls trail is noted as a popular “first hike” for families with little ones, and with good reason! Drive only 30 minutes from Anchorage to find the trail tucked into the Chugach State Park, just north of Eagle River, with a clearly marked trailhead between the Eklutna and Mirror Lake exits off the Glenn Highway.

For a weekend escape from the city, enjoy this family-friendly waterfall hike in just an easy-breezy afternoon. The one-mile trail climbs fairly steeply at first, with an initial elevation gain of 100 feet, but then quickly levels out to a walk for the rest of the route.

Lisa Maloney, author of Day Hiking Southcentral Alaska, explains that this hike is a universal favorite because of its “easy access, and you get a good payoff for a short hike that the whole family can do together.” You’ll be rewarded with beautiful straight-on views of the 200-foot waterfall, as well as the serenity of wandering through the forest and along the Eklutna River on your way there.

Feeling adventurous? Traverse the creekside trail all the way down into the canyon, and then follow the creek to the base of the falls, where you’ll be met with the face of the waterfall (and plenty of chilly spray). Be aware of slippery footing and the canyon lip, particularly with small children.

Photo credit: ska.org

Byron Glacier Trail
Distance: 3.2 miles
(roundtrip, out and back)
1500 Byron Glacier Road, Girdwood

Seeking incredible glacier views in the middle of summer? Alaska has it! The Byron Glacier trail is an all-time family favorite with growing popularity. Head south from Anchorage along the Turnagain Arm, and take a left onto Portage Glacier Road. At the end, you’ll find the trailhead for Byron Glacier just before approaching the Portage Lake parking lot. Bring your furry friends along for the journey! Dogs are allowed
if leashed.

“The Byron Glacier Trail is absolutely a favorite,” says Lisa. “It's easy enough for the whole family to go on, and there are lots of different things for kids to see, from the relatively dense brush at the beginning to the really pretty stream beside the trail and the boulder fields beyond.”

This scenic trek wanders along the glacial Byron Creek after emerging from a lush forest setting. You’ll be met with views of the glacier as you near the snowfields below, and keep following the well-maintained trail until reaching the “beach” at the foot of the slopes where the remains of a once-much-larger glacier
still stands.

“This trail also packs a couple of definite hazards that parents (and everyone) should be aware of,” Lisa explains. “The first is that there can be extreme avalanche hazard here during the winter. Even when the trail itself is clear of snow in the spring, there can still be avalanche hazard from above, when snow comes down off the mountains and piles up across the trail.”

In recent years, social media has created a buzz around this particular area and the exploring of ice caves. However, these natural structures are not stable, and “it's entirely possible for them to collapse or drop pieces on you.”

Hikers are advised to wait until the mountains above the trail are free of snow to ensure safe passage. It is wise to forgo wandering into the ice caves entirely, for risk of collapse. “Or just keep it simple and visit during the summer, which is really when this valley is at its prettiest anyway,” says Lisa. “If you have questions about whether the trail is safe to hike, consider calling the Chugach National Forest or the Avalanche Information Center and consulting the experts directly.”

Upon arrival in the valley, the options are limitless for exploring! What might begin as a morning stroll could easily become a full day of exploration, so arrive at the trailhead prepared. “You and your kids can play in the wide, calm stream that flows near the end of the maintained trail, or climb on the boulders left by the receding glacier,” Lisa says. During the proper seasons, this day hike is a perfect choice for families seeking a weekend adventure outdoors.

Photo credit: Lisa Maloney, author of Day Hiking Southcentral Alaska

Rendezvous Peak Trail
Distance: 3.5 miles (roundtrip)
Access from Arctic Valley or Eagle River
Parking: $5 fee

If you’ve lived in the Anchorage area (or might even be visiting for the first time) you’ve probably heard of the Flattop Mountain trail. Labeled as a “must do” for family hikes in the warmer months, it also means that this particular trail is extremely well trafficked.

Enter: Rendezvous Peak! The lesser-known but arguably more scenic neighbor to Flattop. With a 4,050-foot summit, your view from the peak will span to every direction: from the Alaska Range to Denali, and the Talkeetna Mountains to the Chugach Mountains.

The Rendezvous Peak trail is lightly trafficked and climbs gently, making it good for all skill levels. It is best used from March until October, and your furry family members are also welcome to explore with you, as long as they are kept on a leash.

“This is a great first peak, and if your kids have the stamina, you can walk the ridge behind it and get great views of Eagle and Symphony Lake in the distance,” Lisa explains. “If your family picks blueberries or crowberries, it can also be really exciting to watch the plants mature through different stages on their way to producing berries.”

From the trailhead parking area, which also has parking ($5 fee), restrooms and picnic areas, you can choose from three different trail options that will bring you to the summit. The most popular one takes you up a wide trail beginning at the chairlift where you’ll walk parallel to a creek.

Or, turn it into an overnight adventure with the whole family in tow. “(It’s) nice to camp at the campground and hike all in one day,” says Erin Kirkland, author of Alaska On the Go guidebooks and 2019 Alaska State Parks Ambassador. “And be sure to wear appropriate footwear and carry
extra gear.”

Go ahead, enjoy the blissful solitude at the top!

Photo credit: AlaskaHikeSearch.com

Winner Creek Trail
Distance: 6 miles (roundtrip, out and back)
Milepost 2.9 Crow Creek Rd., Girdwood

Travel just 45 minutes south of Anchorage to find yourself in America’s northernmost rainforest. What better place for an afternoon of family-friendly exploration? Kids of all ages will love the Winner Creek trail in Girdwood, particularly during the exciting hand tram portion of the journey.

“Winner Creek is a great family-friendly trail because it’s relatively mild but still long enough to feel like an accomplishment,” says Lisa. “There are so many things to see, from thundering water to friendly boardwalks, thick vegetation (staying away from the devil’s club) and, of course, the hand tram as a big adventure.”

An easy three-mile (one way) walk carries you along a wide, lush, well-developed trail. Little elevation gain makes this route a great choice for all skill levels and ages. Crossing over the blue-water gorge is a highlight of the trip, with both a wooden bridge portion and the hand tram, strung up above Glacier Creek. The entire route is multi-use, so keep an eye out for runners, bikers and more. Or, pack up your own set of wheels and hit the trails!

Be sure to opt for the “Lower Winner Creek Trail,” which is best for kids and families. The “Upper Winner Creek Trail” marches on for 18 miles roundtrip, up and over the beautiful surrounding mountains. If you’re seeking a much more strenuous route, however, the Upper Trail might just be for you!

Photo credit: Alaska Backcountry Access

Curry Ridge Trail
Distance: 3.1 (each way)
George Parks Hwy, Mile 135.4, Trapper Creek

The trail begins at the K'esugi Ken Campground in Denali State Park and is “absolutely a must for families of all ages,” recommends Erin. Full of “amazing views of Denali,” that you’ll see for just about the entire hike, she says, the trail also features plenty of gorgeous wildflowers lining the trail to the top. Once to the top of the ridge, hikers will enjoy a beautiful clearing featuring the pristine Lake 1787 (named for its elevation). The distance to the lake is a little over three miles by trail.

This well maintained trail is lined with gravel for the first half of the hike, and the entire trail is wide enough so that others can pass if your hiking group is moving slower on busy days.

The average time for this easy/intermediate hike is about 1.5 hours to the lake, and another hour to get back down. The switchbacks help make the trail easy enough for kids to get to the top without too much fuss. This dog-friendly trail (off-leash) is also full of small stream crossings so your pooch can jump in to cool down.

For camping, the nice and fairly new campground right at the trailhead – K’esugi Ken Campground – includes RV and tent campsites. A great base camp for a fun and family-friendly hiking adventure.

Photo credit: Erin Kirkland/Alaska On the Go Guidebooks

Tonsina Point Trail
Distance: 4 miles
(roundtrip, out and back)
Caines Head State Recreation Area, Seward
Parking: $5 fee

This family-favorite hike is perfect for an afternoon of wildlife viewing and taking in the mountainous scenery around Seward. Though part of a much longer trail, this particular section will take you from Lowell Point out to Tonsina Point on a well-maintained route, through switchbacks in the forest and flatland boardwalks until you approach the beach.

“(This is) an excellent first backpack trip for kids,” says Erin. “Stay at Tonsina Point cabin or go further to Caines Head and visit the remains of Fort McGilvray. Also, you can utilize water taxis for one-way ride, one-way hike.”

“The first section out of the trailhead is exciting,” says Lisa, “and the big trees and birds in the forested section has a magical feel to them.” For the first mile and a half, wander uphill along the rocky, wooded trail. Once you’ve reached the “summit” of this section, you’ll be greeted with surrounding mountain, fjord and ocean views.

Follow the criss-crossing trail downhill until you find the bridge section, and take a look down into the crystal clear creek flowing below. You’re sure to spot salmon in July and August. It is not uncommon to spot other wildlife along the way, so be bear aware.

“When you cross the bridges and actually reach the point there’s a big payoff: Not only do you get a cool picnic pavilion back in the trees, but the ‘beach’ is also right there,” says Lisa. “It’s not far from town, but it feels almost like a world to itself.”

In the summer, let the kiddos pick salmonberries growing alongside the trail, then pick a spot on the beach to sit and enjoy. The trail leads directly out to the water, where you can unpack your picnic, toast some s’mores over a bonfire and enjoy the unbeatable surrounding views. Safety tips apply! “Pay attention to tides,” Erin explains, “and practice bear-aware safety protocols.”

Photo credit: Lisa Maloney, author of Day Hiking Southcentral Alaska