Best in Dirt: Anchorage, AKTrails with Wildlife Crossings
Alaska is defined by peaks, glaciers and water. Running Portage Pass Trail below the Portage Glacier. Photo courtesy of Michael Deyoung Photography.
Go if … you want to run where mountains and ocean converge. Embraced by six mountain ranges (the Chugach, Kenai, Talkeetna, Tordrillo, Aleutian and Alaska mountains) and warmed by a maritime climate, Anchorage is home to 42 percent of Alaskans. Situated along the coast of Cook Inlet in south-central Alaska, the city is surrounded by Chugach State Park, which spans a half-million acres and has hundreds of miles of trails. The Alaska Mountain Runners (AMR, alaskamountainrunners.org) is a tight-knit group of trail friends who routinely run up these accessible 13,000-foot mountains during Saturday morning training runs.
“We like to keep the trails open year round,” says Brad Precosky, founder and president of AMR. “A group of us go up Bird Ridge (a local race course) every Sunday all winter long. And when spring comes, the mountains seem to crawl with runners.” AMR also puts on the six-race Alaska Mountain Running Grand Prix every year and, in 2003, hosted the world’s best mountain runners at Alaska’s Mount Alyeska for the World Mountain Running Trophy.
Best Trails Get up close and personal with moose (and maybe even a grizzly) at Kincaid Park, 43 miles of trails spread across a 1400-acre expanse of rolling forested hills with spectacular ocean views. Try the Mize three-mile loop, which provides views of Cook Inlet and a flower garden.
Chugach State Park’s Hillside Trail System (dnr.alaska.gov/parks) is used by Nordic skiers in winter but in summer connects runners with a number of outstanding trails. Here, locals recommend the Williwaw Valley Trail, a scenic 14-mile out-and-back (with 1585 feet of elevation gain) along Middle Fork Campbell Creek, which showcases shimmering emerald lakes beneath majestic Mount Williwaw. You have a good chance of spotting snow-white Dall sheep, moose and ptarmigan. “Williwaw Valley shows off Chugach’s best scenery,” says Todd List of Skinny Raven Sports, Anchorage’s running shop. Also in this area is Powerline Pass trail, a 22-mile round trip that crosses through the Glen Alps in prime moose habitat with views of Flat Top and O’Malley Peaks.
For a quick trail hit, drive 15 minutes from downtown Anchorage to the Potter Trailhead to access Turnagain Arm Trail, a forested, hilly eight-mile run to Rainbow Trailhead. This run is grueling but has beautiful overlook views of Turnagain Arm, where you might catch a glimpse of beluga whales at Beluga Point.
Race June’s Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb is a tough race from the Bird Ridge trailhead, climbing 3400 feet in just three miles. In July, the 24-mile Crow Pass Crossing starts 12 miles from Anchorage and sends runners on a scenic route back to the city over a mountain pass, across a river and scree fields and through dense vegetation. August’s Matanuska Peak Challenge has good reason to call itself “the ultimate mountain run.” The course is a 14-mile out-and-back over the Lazy and Matanuska mountains, totaling 9000 feet of punishing elevation change.
But if you prefer a more “runner-friendly” course, also in August, consider the Lost Lake Run (lostlakerun.org), a 16-miler held on Forest Service trails in Chugach National Park. “Lost Lake is one of the most beautiful trail runs in Alaska,” says List. Find information for these races on the AMR website (alaskamountainrunners.org/calendar).
> Go when “June to August [highs are in the 60s to 70s] is ideal exercising weather,” says List. Plus it stays light until around
1 a.m., perfect for long evening runs.
> Refuel Start the morning with a breakfast burritos or fresh fruit and granola at the Snow City Cafe (snowcitycafe.com), or fine espresso at the Kaladi Brothers (kaladi.com) cafe and coffee roaster. For a different dining experience, munch on halibut ceviche with chips or plate of blackened chicken mushroom alfredo while watching a movie at the Bear Tooth Theatrepub (beartooththeatre.net). Or go upscale at Orso (orsoalaska.com), a fine-dining establishment known for its fresh Alaska King Crab, wild Alaskan mushrooms and delectable desserts.
> Pitstop Skinny Raven Sports (skinnyraven.com) sells running shoes, athletic apparel and accessories plus casual wear. Outfit your Alaskan adventure at Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking (alaskamountaineering.com), where you’ll find camping, backpacking, skiing and climbing products.
> Resources Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau (anchorage.net) has information on Chugach State Park, including a downloadable map. Alaska Department of Natural Resources (dnr.alaska.gov/parks) has detailed information on hikes in Alaska’s state parks.