Review: Day Hiking Southcentral Alaska
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
Ranging from steep peaks around Mat-Su Valley, the world’s northernmost temperate rainforest in Girdwood, the glaciers of Prince William Sound and sandy beaches in Kachemak Bay, Southcentral Alaska has much to offer hikers.
Day Hiking Southcentral Alaska, the new book by Lisa Maloney published by nonprofit Mountaineers Books gives hikers of all levels a useful reference for a variety of hikes covering the Mat-Su Valley, Anchorage area and Kenai Peninsula. With one hundred hikes concisely described and offering information for further exploration, it is easy to pick one that is best for you, even if it is only part of a trail.
According to a Mountaineers Books press release, “Lisa Maloney has lived in Alaska for more than 25 years. A former outdoors columnist for Anchorage Press, she also covered a nationwide hiking and backpacking beat for About.com, served as Senior Editor at Alaska magazine, authored the award-winning travel guide book Moon Alaska, and contributes outdoors and lifestyle articles to a number of publications.”
The beginning of the guide book features eight helpful pages of charts to let readers quickly skim to find the right type of hike. Each hike is defined by categories such as distance, difficulty, kid and dog friendly, views and the seasons for hiking. The introduction is a brief primer to safety in Alaska wilderness and an explanation of how to use the book.
Pages are filled with lots of quality photos from the trails, many of them taken by the author.
Trail entries begin with a small graphic showing rating, round trip distance, elevation gain and seasons, followed by information about maps, who to contact and trail specific notes containing information hikers should know. A short summary highlights the hike, followed by trailhead details and the trail description and a small map. All of the information provided is presented in a clear and easy to understand manner.
To give examples of the variety of hikes and how they are described, five hike entries have been chosen, ranging from south to north locations. Maloney provides candid assessments toward the best a trail has to offer, as well as possible risks or hazards when conditions are less than ideal. Such details may discourage or persuade, depending on the hiker’s ability and experience.
The trailhead is about seven miles from Homer on the Sterling Highway.
The year-round hike is 1.2 miles round trip to the beach, and it goes through a thick cluster of dense vegetation comprised of alders, berry bushes and cow parsnip, followed by scenic overlooks and then beach. It’s up to you if you want to walk north or south, but Maloney suggests marking the spot where the trail meets the beach to make sure you find the right way back and paying close attention to the tide.
“Many Alaska beaches are covered with gravel, so finding this kind of sand beach in Southcentral is a real treat. However, this region also has one of the world’s most extreme tidal fluctuations. The tide comes in much faster than you might expect, and the strip of beach right in front of Diamond Gulch can all but disappear in a high tide. Always keep an eye on the water.”
Palmer Creek Lakes
The trailhead is about 12.3 miles from the intersection of Resurrection Creek Road and Hope Highway.
“Some adventurous driving gets you to one of Southcentral’s dreamiest short hikes above the tree line: an old mining road and a clear-cut footpath take you to a pretty cascade out of the twin lakes, and the valley is big and isolated enough that it’s easy to feel like you’re completely on your own.”
Little O’Malley Peak and O’Malley Peak
The hike begins at the Glen Alps Trailhead.
The easiest part of this this fun hike is the 1.9-mile, short, steep hike to Little O’Malley Peak. Continuing on to O’Malley Peak offers steeper challenges and better views.
“Many people turn around here and head back after tagging Little O’Malley. However, from the saddle, you also have the first of two reasonably easy options for summiting ‘big’ O’Malley Peak: scramble straight up the ridge to the east side-hilling around several false peaks on your way to the top of O’Malley Peak at mile 3.9, elevation 5,192 feet. As long as you choose your way carefully and don’t mind all the false summits, this is a nontechnical route, though there is some exposure.”
Hanging Valley Trail
The popular trailhead for a number of hikes begins just after turning onto West River Drive in Eagle River. The 10-mile round trip hike leads into a less-travelled valley with two lakes.
“No matter how crowded the trails along the valley floor may get, this peaceful retreat in an alpine valley always feels like a world unto itself. By summer it’s a lush, green alpine wonderland; in fall, it paints itself in a riot of bright reds and oranges.”
The trailhead is at the Government Peak Recreation Area outside of Wasilla.
One of the most difficult hikes listed in the guide is a 6.5 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 3,800 feet. You could just go up 1.4 miles to Blueberry Knoll for the views. Once you reach the summit of the 4,781-foot peak, you’ll have a fantastic view.
“One of the most iconic peaks in the Mat-Su Valley, a surprisingly doable combination of steep trail and even steeper tundra scrambling leads you to commanding views over Knik Arm, the Knik Glacier, and the Talkeetna Mountains.”
Maloney’s guide Day Hiking Southcentral Alaska serves as a straightforward, easy to use hiking resource that will appeal to a range of hikers, locals and visitors while providing directions and more to readers who want information about any given trail.
Day Hiking Southcentral Alaska is available where books are sold in print, online and at mountaineers.org.
Author Lisa Maloney will be making appearances promoting her book at:
May 5 – Day Hiking Southcentral Alaska, Eagle River Nature Center, 2-4 p.m.
May 9 – Day Hiking Southcentral Alaska, Z.J. Loussac Library
3600 Denali St. Anchorage, 6:15-7:45 p.m.