Don’t Pass This Up
By Morgan Smith
Crow Pass. Sitting above Girdwood watching over the valley, this pass is known by all and explored by most. In fact, this hike seems to be a favorite to most locals. Meanwhile, the history and lures of this area seem a bit hazy. I’m here to regale you with some facts to shed more light on an iconic trail in this valley.
Consisting of 23.1 miles of trail connecting Girdwood to the Eagle River Nature Center, Crow Pass Trail has much to offer not only visually but historically. Starting out as a section of The Historic Iditarod Trail, Crow Pass was also used as a mail route and road for transportation by early settlers. The trail included a roadhouse past Raven Gorge to offer travelers respite. Then in 1923, avalanche danger and the completion of the railroad meant the abandonment of this roadhouse and the use of Crow Pass.
Crow Pass didn’t open for hiking until Girl Scout Troop 83 started to reconstruct the trail in 1975, making it once again accessible. Now thanks to all of their hard work, Crow Pass can be hiked in sections or it’s entirety depending on one’s skill level and desired destinations.
From the Crow Creek Trailhead at the end of Crow Creek Road, you climb 2,100 feet in elevation to the top of the pass. Starting out, you wind up switchbacks through the brush. Once above the brush, you can veer at marked signs left and follow an old mining trail through an alpine meadow. Scattered like leaves throughout the meadow are remnants of the once working Monarch Mine. The mines were running from 1909 until 1938 and is definitely a detour from the main trail that’s worth taking. Keep your eye out for Dall sheep and mountain goats on the surrounding hills, just another marvel to behold on Crow Pass.
Just above Monarch Mine are falls created by Crystal Lake. The falls are massive and careen down a gorge that’s painted in red, yellow and deep purple earth tones. For those who are brave enough, there is even a trail the meanders right along side the falls to the bottom of the gorge, where you can stand and feel the tremendous power behind all that water.
When you’re finished exploring, you cut back to Crow Creek Trail to continue the hike up the pass parallel to the falls until you reach Crystal Lake. Here you find the lake surrounded by rolling hills perfect for a place to take in the views and relax. If you have a reservation, overnight stay at Crow Pass cabin is in order, and it is located right on the lake. This cabin is 16’x 16’ A-frame with a main floor with a sleeping loft that sleeps 6. Tent camping is also permitted with 5 established campsites along Crow Pass.
Feel like seeing Raven Glacier? It is one of several glaciers located up Crow Pass. Raven Glacier is only .5 miles further over the crest of the ridge bringing you to 3,550 feet in elevation. This spectacular blue glacier field winds up the mountain as far as your eyes can see and the sheer amount of water pouring off of it is truly a site to behold.
If your willing to continue to Eagle River, you’ll head down the other side of the pass dropping into Raven Creek Valley. There is lots of wildlife, including black bears, brown bears and moose. There are various bodies of water from falls, lakes and creeks, making the full hike worth completing. The only moderate to difficult part is fording Eagle River. Cold, sometimes swift water can make it tricky, but white markers on the shores help you know where the easiest place to cross is. Once at Eagle River Nature Center, plan on having a car waiting or you’ll have to hike the 23.1 miles back to Girdwood.
With so many wonderful hikes to access from Girdwood, the history of Crow Pass Trail makes it unique as the sites along the trail. Whether you are wanting to take a walk through history, look for wildlife, sit by a lake and relax, see glaciers or waterfalls, your options are endless. So if you get the chance and haven’t done it, take the time and see it. If you’ve already done it, you know the splendor of Crow Pass with its endless sights to behold.