Top 10 Hikes in the Alaska National Parks

Alaska national parks are an outdoor enthusiast’s ultimate paradise. This beautiful state is known for its vast wide open spaces, bountiful outdoor opportunities, and a slower, more remote way of life. This is the perfect place to connect with nature. It’s no wonder why this state is known as “The Last Frontier.”

Only about 160,000 acres of Alaska’s 365 million acres have been developed. About 88% of the state is under public ownership. Much of the land has been set aside to protect natural features. In fact, the state boasts a total of 8 national parks and a whopping 156 state park units! 

The state also has two of the nation’s most extensive national forests, the Chugach and Tongass, in south-central and southeast Alaska. As such, these protected state and national parks have a dizzying amount of spectacular hiking trails. 

There are literally hundreds of miles of hiking trails in Alaska. Many trails offer priceless views and access to some of the state’s most beautiful locations. 

In this article, we will dive into discussing the top 10 best hikes in Alaska. We will look at hikes in the national parks, national forests, and state parks. 

Note that these hikes aren’t in any particular order. This is because the hikes mentioned here vary significantly in length, difficulty, and scenery. It depends on what you’re looking for in these hikes before you decide which ones are the best.

This is a general list of what seem to be the most popular hikes in the state. Nonetheless, they are all spectacular in nature and will not disappoint! 

So let’s get right into it! Here are the top 10 hikes in the Alaskan National Parks!

#1 Flattop Mountain Trail 

  • Location: Chugach State Park
  • Distance (Miles): 3.3 miles 
  • Elevation: 1,430 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Pet Friendly: Yes

This is a wildly popular hiking trail conveniently located right near Anchorage. This trail is one for the books and shouldn’t be missed on your Alaska hikes itinerary. 

This 3.3-mile loop trail is considered by most to be challenging. The difficulty, however, doesn’t seem to keep people from hiking here. Flattop is usually always heavily trafficked by other hiking enthusiasts. The trail’s popularity is attributed to the remarkable scenery it provides from start to finish.

Naturally, the most rewarding view on this trail is saved for those who endure till they reach the top. The trail’s peak grants you access to panoramic views of Anchorage, Cook Inlet, the Chugach Mountains, Fire Island, and the Turnagain Arm Waterway. You might even catch a glimpse of Denali and the Alaska Range on days with good visibility. 

Pets are welcome but must be on a leash.

Spectacular view of Fire Island from Flattop Mountain Trail.
Spectacular view of Fire Island from Flattop Mountain Trail.

#2 Harding Ice Field Trail

  • Location: Kenai Fjords National Park
  • Distance (Miles): 9.2 miles
  • Elevation: 3,641 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Route Type: Out and Back
  • Pet Friendly: No

This is a challenging but popular hike inside Kenai Fjords National Park near Seward, Alaska. The route consists of a long, 9.2-mile out-and-back trail with lots of steep climbs. It takes about six and a half to seven hours to complete. This is considered one of Alaska’s most difficult established hiking trails. 

The views along this path, however, are well worth the effort. The first part of the trail traverses through thick forests of cottonwood and alder. You’ll also pass through some spectacular heather-filled meadows. 

Once you come out of the forests and meadows, the trail continues to climb higher in elevation. You’ll then catch unforgettable views of the vast mountain peaks and valleys behind you. 

What’s more, this hike also grants you unbelievable sights of the seemingly endless Harding Ice Field. This is the largest existing icefield that is completely located in the United States.

A father and his young son view the Harding Icefield from top of the cliffs along the Harding Icefield Trail. NPS Photo/P Calamari
Harding Icefield from top of the cliffs along the Harding Icefield Trail. NPS Photo/P Calamari

#3 Horseshoe Lake Trail

  • Location: Denali National Park
  • Distance (Miles): 2.1 miles
  • Elevation: 380 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Pet Friendly: No

This is an easy 2.1-mile hike inside this amazing Alaskan National Park. This trip is perfect for those who want to hike through one of Denali’s most beautiful areas (without the extreme challenge). 

Horseshoe Lake Trail is a perfect hike for beginners or for those with young children. The hike has very minimal elevation gain and is pretty much a brisk walk. Even though you won’t catch any views of Denali on this hike, there are still plenty of other sights to see.

Along the way, you’ll see the serene waters of Horseshoe Lake settled in front of a lush forested setting. There’s also an eye-catching beaver dam in the lake. 

If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of a beaver or two swimming around. The trail will also take you alongside the Nenana River, where you’ll see whitewater rafters floating by.

Horseshoe Lake Trail starts above the lake. The trail drops sharply to lake-level and then circles the lake. Hikers then return the way they came from. NPS Photo/Kent Miller
Horseshoe Lake Trail starts above the lake. The trail drops sharply to lake-level and then circles the lake. Hikers then return the way they came from. NPS Photo/Kent Miller

#4 Mount Healy Overlook Trail

  • Location: Denali National Park
  • Distance (Miles): 6.9 miles
  • Elevation: 2,483 feet 
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Route Type: Out and Back
  • Pet Friendly: No

This is a very strenuous yet beautiful 6.9 out-and-back trail through the Denali wilderness. It is one of Denali’s steepest trails. The trailhead is situated near the park’s visitor center. 

At first, the trail rises steadily through spruce forests. Around the halfway mark, the trail reaches some benches with a great overlook of the way you came. After this, the climb becomes progressively steeper. You’ll run into switchbacks as you ascend above the tree line. 

The official end of the trail is not the actual peak of Mount Healy. The end is, however, a spectacular open area with stunning views facing south. You’ll find tremendous views of the surrounding valleys, towering mountain ranges, and winding rivers below. On a clear day, you’ll catch sight of Denali as well.

The phenomenal view from the top of the Mount Healy Trail. NPS Photo/Emily Mesner
The phenomenal view from the top of the Mount Healy Trail. NPS Photo/Emily Mesner

#5 Mount Baldy Loop Trail

  • Location: Chugach State Park
  • Distance (Miles): 2.7 miles
  • Elevation: 1,128 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate/Difficult
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Pet Friendly: Yes  

This is yet another excellent hike located in the anchorage area. It’s a 2.7-mile loop trail that, in some parts, is rather steep and slippery. The hike takes about 2 hours to complete on average. 

Right when the trail starts, you’re essentially trekking uphill nonstop for an hour. This would be a strenuous hike for someone who doesn’t have particularly good cardio or strong legs. You’ll 

likely burn out fast if you’re unprepared physically. 

The summit of Mount Baldy provides superb views of Anchorage, Eagle River, and the Chugach Mountains. You could also catch a glimpse of Denali on a day with good visibility. 

Pets are welcome on this trail but must be on a leash.

Beautiful shot of the sprawling Chugach Mountain Range seen along the Mount Baldy Loop Trail.
Beautiful shot of the sprawling Chugach Mountain Range seen along the Mount Baldy Loop Trail.

#6 Exit Glacier Overlook Trail

  • Location: Kenai Fjords National Park
  • Distance (Miles): 2.2 miles
  • Elevation: 308 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Pet Friendly: No

This is a 2.2-mile loop trail that takes about one hour to finish. The hike is relatively easy and is perfect for families with young children. The first half of this trail, while you ascend, is nice and easy. The second half is a little more difficult, especially when the rocky floor of the trail is wet. 

The route first crosses through a beautiful cottonwood forest. The trail then comes to the scenic Exit Glacier Overlook, where the best view is. This overlook provides awe-inspiring views of the mighty Exit Glacier and the surrounding valley. 

Fantastic shot of Exit Glacier as viewed from the outwash plain. NPS Photo/Stephanie Wright.
Fantastic shot of Exit Glacier as viewed from the outwash plain. NPS Photo/Stephanie Wright.

#7 Thunderbird Falls Trail

  • Location: Chugach State Park
  • Distance (Miles): 1.8 miles
  • Elevation: 301 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Route Type: Out and Back
  • Pet Friendly: Yes

This is yet another fantastic hike in Chugach State Park and is perfect for beginners. This trail climbs steeply initially and gains about 100 feet in elevation. But this is only for a short time. 

After that, the path levels out nicely and turns into a leisurely walk.

This trail traverses through a lovely birch forest along the Eklutna River canyon. The route then leads to a viewing platform that offers terrific views of Thunderbird Falls. The viewing deck has been refurbished in recent years and provides an elevated straight-on view of the waterfall. 

Those with a more adventurous spirit can take a side trail down into the canyon. With careful footing, you can gently walk your way upstream to the base of the falls. You’ll be rewarded with the misty, chilly waters spraying your face!

Pets are welcome on the trail but must be kept on a leash.

What the view of Thunderbird Falls looks like up close as you traverse your way upstream.
What the view of Thunderbird Falls looks like up close as you traverse your way upstream.

#8 Savage Alpine Trail

  • Location: Denali National Park
  • Distance (Miles): 4.1 miles
  • Elevation: 1,414 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult 
  • Route Type: Point to point
  • Pet Friendly: No

This challenging but incredible hike offers sweeping vistas of Denali National Park and Denali itself. The views from some of the most elevated parts of this trail are unmatched. However, this hike is very strenuous. Great rewards don’t come without great sacrifice!

The trail is only 4.1 miles long but is extremely steep. You’ll also encounter strong winds along the way in excess of 40 miles an hour. Take care not to be blown over this way. If you have hiking poles, bring them!

Hiking this trail in the fall is exceptionally beautiful as the area bursts with color during this time. There’s also no shortage of wildlife on this hike. You’ll likely see animals such as ground squirrels, spruce grouse, golden eagles, and moose. The trail sometimes closes due to increased bear activity, so check the trail’s status before heading out to hike it. 

The valley floor along the Savage Alpine Trail explodes with vibrant colors during the Fall.
The valley floor along the Savage Alpine Trail explodes with vibrant colors during the Fall.

#9 Savage River Loop Trail

  • Location: Denali National Park
  • Distance (Miles): 2.1 miles
  • Elevation: 413 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Pet Friendly: No

This short, easy hike is perfect for beginners or those seeking a brisk walk in nature. 

The loop traverses along either side of the Savage River. This river continuously carves a canyon between Mount Margaret to the west and Healy Ridge to the east. 

The trail continues for about one mile before crossing the river over a bridge. It then leads back to the same parking area. 

For the most part, the trail stays along the river. There are only a few spots where it rises a few dozen feet higher than the river level.

You can still catch amazing views of Denali along this trail, even if it doesn’t have you climbing mountains. You’ll also encounter some lovely streams and wildflowers along the way. If you time it right, you might even catch a glimpse of some Dall Sheep or moose. 

The crystal clear waters of the Savage River flow through the mountains. The trail's bridge can be seen in the background. NPS Photo/Tim Rains
The crystal clear waters of the Savage River flow through the mountains. The trail’s bridge can be seen in the background. NPS Photo/Tim Rains

#10 Portage Pass Trail

  • Location: Chugach National Forest
  • Distance (Miles): 4.4 miles
  • Elevation: 1,437 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Route Type: Out and Back
  • Pet Friendly: Yes

This trail, while not highly strenuous in nature, is still no leisurely walk in the woods. 

The trail begins at the Whittier side of the Portage Tunnel and concludes at Portage Pass. The trail starts with 750 feet in elevation gain over relatively challenging terrain. It then starts to level out at the top of the pass. 

From here, the trail descends down past Divide Lake and concludes at Portage Lake. Looking across Portage Lake, you’ll also see the awe-inspiring Portage Glacier. This hike is unique because it is the only established trail with a view of Portage Glacier.

Portage Lake also has a picturesque gravel beach that would be the perfect spot to stop for a snack or picnic lunch.

Pets are allowed on this trail and, in certain areas, may be allowed to be off-leash. 

Portage Glacier as seen from Portage Pass.
Portage Glacier as seen from Portage Pass.

What is the overall best hike in Alaska?      

So to wrap it all up, there are some truly spectacular hikes within the great state of Alaska. 

When it comes to what the best overall hike in Alaska is, it again depends on what you’re looking for.

If you want a challenging hike with stunning elevated vistas, some hikes you may consider would be Flattop Mountain, Harding Ice Field, Mount Healy Overlook, Mount Baldy Loop, Savage Alpine, and Portage Pass Trail.

If you seek a more leisurely hike with lovely views, consider Horseshoe Lake, Exit Glacier Overlook, Thunderbird Falls, and Savage River Loop Trail.

Thankfully, there should be a trail option for everyone since this vast state has so many different hiking routes. Novice and experienced hikes alike enjoy Alaska’s vast array of phenomenal trails. 

Many of Alaska’s best hikes are inside State Parks and Forests rather than National Parks. So it’s crucial not to overlook these! Many state parks here are just as beautiful even if they aren’t on the “national” status. In many ways, these are the Alaskan last frontier!

For your convenience in planning any national park trip, here is a list of all the Alaskan National Parks, including a complete guide with downloadable lists, maps, and other great planning resources!

Want a FREE complete list and recap of all our US National Parks as well as downloadable maps and other great resources? Check out our US National Parks List and Map guide!

national parks map and list - printable checklis
Free Downloadable NP List & Maps

About Me

My husband and I have three precious daughters and live in the Kansas City, KS area. One of our favorite things to do is travel across the country visiting our extraordinary US National Parks!

Let us know what you think about our content and if you have any questions, suggestions, or have any favorite memories or tips you would like to share. We would love to hear from you!

Happy Travels! Sandy

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