Article by Alli Harvey
When I first visited Alaska, I felt awed and overwhelmed by the stunning mountains surrounding me. Where, I wondered, do I go? How difficult will it be? Picking the right trail from so many options can be daunting! Many years later, I’ve done extensive field research – aka hiking. If you are looking for the easiest, best hikes in Alaska, Palmer is a wonderful starting point.
As a local, one of my favorite things is seeing people out on our trails, especially visitors. Picture-book mountains, ethereally blue glaciers, and rushing waters surround us, and are readily accessible. Many visitors experience an “aha” moment on Alaska’s trails: the moment when the realization hits that this is doable. Hiking is not just for the ultra-fit and well outfitted, or the experts. These trails and views are for you and me.
Here are local, easy hikes with spectacular views that you won’t necessarily find in the guide books.
A gentle 1.1 mile loop trail winds around its namesake, which lives up to its name. Reflections Lake is a gem; a peaceful spot surprisingly located right off the Glenn Highway. It’s great for a stretch-your-legs outing or making an afternoon picnic of it. The trail itself is wooded, but looking across the water a hiker is treated at every angle to the almost impossibly tall Chugach and Talkeetna mountain ranges that frame Palmer. The lake does its job – on a calm day, the mountains and sky double the scenery, reflected in the water. I’m astounded at the easy access and beauty of this trail. Bring your binoculars and look for wildlife from an elevated view point along the trail.
Location: Mile 30.8 off the Knik River Access exit from the Glenn Highway; 14 miles from downtown Palmer
Difficulty Rating: Very Easy
Amenities: A latrine is located at the trailhead
Gold Cord Lake
Grab a small backpack and a few extra, non-cotton layers to stay warm for this spectacular hike that begins and ends way up on high in Palmer’s famous Hatcher Pass. Breathe deep; the fresh, cool mountain air is rich with breezes rolling off nearby glaciers across the tundra. The trail is a 1.5 mile out and back entirely above treeline and culminates in a glacier-green lake right at the top. It’s a popular spot for a picnic! The 482 foot elevation gain switchbacks through some rocky sections that can be slippery when wet, so be sure to wear shoes with decent traction. Start at the Independence Mine parking lot; the trail begins on the other side of the entry road you drove in on.
Location: Access from Independence Mine State Historical Park parking lot in Hatcher Pass; 20 miles from downtown Palmer
Difficulty Rating: Moderate
Amenities: Latrines located at the trailhead
The Bodenburg Butte
Ah, “the Butte” – a local go-to, for a reason. The approximately 2 mile round trip trail climbs 669 feet and culminates in a full 360 degree view of the surrounding valley. Hikers take in flat farmland framed by jagged, glacier-carved peaks. The most prominent is Pioneer Peak to the south, skirted by Knik River and the ethereal blue glacier at its terminus. Located just off the Old Glenn Highway, this hike is steep in sections and requires some agility. But it’s a quick hike that pays off with amazing views! You’ll be in good company, as Alaskans flock to the Butte nearly every day of the year. I recommend packing a jacket for the top to buffet those fabled Matanuska winds.
Location: West Butte trailhead; 6.8 miles from downtown Palmer
Difficulty Rating: Moderate
Amenities: Latrine located at the trailhead.
These trails are true gems; some of my favorite outdoor destinations in Palmer. My favorite part about these is how absolutely doable each of the trails are, while still packing in amazing views and scenery. I hope to see you on the trail!
For more trails click here.
About the author: Alli’s mission as a writer and painter is to “ignite a sense of connection, awe, and access to ourselves and the everyday wild world around us through painting and writing, to inspire joy and purpose in the world.” A lifelong asthmatic who found home in Palmer, Alaska after growing up in Massachusetts, Alli is constantly astounded at the sheer natural beauty in the region. Every hike she’s ever hiked is a surprise. Alli loves supporting others in taking in Alaska, step by step, to get to new heights. When not writing or painting, Alli is out on the trails, playing Scrabble, stirring cocktails, or nose-deep in a book.