You don’t have to be in the middle of nowhere to find solitude.
[by Lisa Maloney]
One of the biggest rewards of climbing a mountain in Alaska is getting to wander the alpine tundra—a wonderland of wildflowers, berries and hardy plants, all rendered in ankle to knee-high scale. If you’ve gained enough elevation you can see the mountain ridges pile up like layers of corrugated earth. Carpeted in lush green and studded with bare rock; they’ll slowly turn orange, red and yellow as the tundra ages into the fall. You can get to that reward easily. Park at or above treeline and go straight from asphalt to tundra with a single step. Put in the effort of climbing toward a peak or ridge, and you might find yourself looking down on eagles or feeling adrift as a sea of clouds swallows the mountain beneath you, leaving you perched on an island in the sky. The landscape photo opportunities are endless. Here are three of the best easy-to-access tundra spots near Anchorage:
1) Arctic Valley Ski Area
This winter playground transforms into an insta-tundra hiking experience in summer. It’s also one of Southcentral Alaska’s most popular destinations for picking blueberries and crowberries in the fall. Look for the Arctic Valley exit from the Glenn Highway and follow the road for about seven miles; parking costs $5, or $25 for an annual permit. From Arctic Valley you can summit Rendezvous Peak or neighboring Mount Gordon Lyon (both a little over 4,000 feet in elevation), or explore the ridge behind Rendezvous Peak—but take care not to wander onto the neighboring military land unless you’ve secured the appropriate recreation permit (inquire at the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson visitor center).
2) Hatcher Pass
About an hour-and-a-half drive north of Anchorage, is one of the best drive-up tundra destinations in the state. Park at the top of the pass and explore short tundra trails in Summit Lake State Recreation Site (mile 19 of Hatcher Pass Road), or park at Fishhook Trailhead (mile 16.5) and scramble your way straight up the tundraclad slopes of Marmot Mountain. On clear days, watch for paragliders swooping down from the peak.
3) Turnagain Pass
The parking area (mile 58 of the Seward Highway) is an easy and spectacular drive from Anchorage. Stop and explore the trails that wind out and up into the tundra. This area is particularly rich in subalpine wildflowers but, as always, watch for bears too.
Arctic Valley Ski Area – arcticvalley.org
Hatcher Pass – Get trail maps and details at dnr.alaska.gov
Turnagain Pass – www.themilepost.com