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Why You Should Go Hiking in Alaska (and How to Stay Safe)

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Editor’s Note: I’m not the only one in my family who has been bitten by the travel bug. My sister Kristi is giving me a run for my money in terms of putting pins in her map. I’m delighted that this is the first in several guest posts that she is writing to share her many adventures.

Those who know me know that in recent years I have become enamored with hiking. Going up can definitely be a challenge, but it is always worth the fight to get to the top and see the view that you earned.

Some of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen were in Alaska, and there is no shortage of spectacular hiking trails to be found! Hiking is one of the best (and my absolute favorite) ways to see all the beauty a state has to offer. Here is the number one reason why you should go hiking in Alaska (and how to stay safe).

You See More than the Average Tourist

Most people visiting Alaska marvel at its beauty from the window of a car or the deck of a cruise ship. Hiking allows you to explore all the hidden gems the state has to offer.

Such as Slaughter Gulch in Cooper Landing, AK. This challenging hike (about 4 miles roundtrip) provides SPECTACULAR views of the beautiful blue waters of the Kenai river and lake.

Slaughter Gulch in Cooper Landing, AK

Or how about this view from Flat Top? This popular trail is just a short drive from Anchorage and a local favorite (about 3 miles roundtrip).

Flat Top, Anchorage Alaska

Along the Seward Highway (the road south of Anchorage) are many places to stop and explore. This is from the McHugh Creek scenic loop and gives a great view of the Cook Inlet. (~2 miles)

McHugh Creek scenic loop

If you’re looking to find the perfect hike, one great hiking resource is the AllTrails app. It’s free and gives you the important need-to-know details (such as GPS location to the trailhead, total mileage, difficulty, reviews, etc.) of any hike you can imagine.

Of course, in order to get to all these beautiful vistas, there are a few safety precautions you need to take.

Beware the Elements

Hiking in Alaska

You cannot wait for perfect weather to hike in Alaska (or you’d never go!). The rain and snow can bring a fun element to your explorations. However, it is imperative take the right precautions and use the proper gear so that you don’t get yourself in trouble.

  1. Rain layer: With the unpredictable summer Alaskan weather, it is not uncommon to get caught in a rainstorm while out hiking. I always have my Nike shell stuffed in my pack or tied around my waist. It’s important that you keep you core dry when the rain comes falling down.
  2. Gloves, beanie, scarf: Sometimes you get lucky and your entire hike is lovely. Then, once you reach the summit, you are plummeted by high winds. Having a pair of gloves, beanie, and scarf can save the day (and don’t add much weight on the way up.)
  3. Hiking boots: As many hikes in Alaska are rocky, muddy, or sometimes even slippery, ankle support is super important. I recommend Keen hiking boots. They provide amazing protection and are worth every penny.
  4. Water backpack: Above all, stay hydrated! I love my Camelback pack and bladder, because it makes it much more convenient to drink water than just having a bottle. You want to bring a least 2 liters whenever you go out.

Albert Loop trail, Alaska

Heed Avalanche Warnings

One of my favorite hikes in Alaska was the Harding Icefield trail (near Seward, AK). I visited at the beginning of June, which is a little early to do this hike. Usually, the roundtrip is about 8 miles, but we were unable to go the last mile at the top due to heavy snow and avalanche warnings.

Alaska Avalanche warning

Pay attention to and heed the signs…don’t be THAT person. Avalanches are a serious threat, and it’s not worth playing with your life (or the lives of others). Even though the hike was cut a bit short and we didn’t get to see the full icefield, we had incredible views of the Exit Glacier and had fun playing in the snow (and getting completely soaked)!

Respect the Wildlife

One of the biggest draws to Alaska is it’s unparalleled, wild beauty. However, that also means that it is full of wild animals. To keep yourself safe, here are a few tips:

  1. Never hike alone. The noise of a crowd can often be the biggest deterrent. You also always want a hiking buddy in case a need for help arises.
  2. Keep your distance! One of the most common animals you will see on the trails are moose. Be aware of your surroundings and stay away if you sight one. Moose will charge you if they perceive you as a threat. The best thing to do if this happens is to run away. Put a solid barrier between you and the moose (such as a tree).

    Moose in Alaska
    This was actually just outside my house!
  3. Carry bear spray: Another common animal you might find on the trails are bears. Please be alert! Bear spray is a great tool to keep yourself safe. (Disclaimer: it is illegal to take bear spray on a plane, so make sure you have it shipped to a local Alaskan address or purchase some in state). If you see a bear, stay away!!! If one does approach you in the wild, talk in a low/calm voice and slowly back away. Raise your arms above your head so you appear bigger than you are. Unlike with moose, never run from a bear as it will most likely chase you…and they are quick. If one does decide to attack, use your bear spray and remember these rhymes:
  • If it’s black, fight back. If a black bear runs toward you, try to hit it in the face and defend yourself.
  • If it’s brown, get down. If a grizzly/brown bear charges you, get down and play dead.
Bears in Denali National Park, Alaska
Taken from the safety of a bus in Denali National Park

Alaska is known as the Last Frontier. There is much wilderness to explore. If you’re anything like me, that fresh air, wide open space, physical challenge, and breathtaking views are what bring me back to the trails every single time. Alaska has some of the best hikes I have ever been on, and there are endless options of what you can explore. I guarantee there is a beautiful trail for every physical level. You will do yourself a huge favor if you take the time to explore this state from a trail. Be prepared, stay safe, and happy hiking!

Would you go hiking in Alaska? Where would you start? Leave your answer in the comments below!

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Why You Should Go Hiking in Alaska

Another great pin for the travel map!

 

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