With gorgeous lakes and a permanent icefield set between towering peaks, the sights here scream big Alaska. But the combination of trail hiking, easy scrambling, basic routefinding, and novice-friendly creek fords say start right here. The 19-mile out-and-back route follows the South Fork of Eagle River into the Chugach Mountains. And though the first half of the route, to Eagle Lake, is popular with Anchorage locals, few hikers venture where you’re going–to Flute Glacier.
Follow the boardwalk from the signed trailhead; it quickly gives way to a trail that winds through stunted spruce. After a mile the track breaks out into waist-high willow, where you’ll find blazing pink fireweed and plentiful blueberries in late summer. At mile 4.5, just before a bridge at the outlet to Eagle Lake, you have a choice. During high runoff periods, stay north of Eagle Lake, following a faint user trail (left) across talus slopes in order to avoid fording Eagle River 2.5 miles farther up-valley. In late summer or dry spells, it’s faster and easier to stay on the main trail, past the remnant hiker’s shelter, on the ridge above Symphony Lake (itself a sweet destination for a shorter trip).
To reach the Flute Glacier, follow user trails southeast from the shelter along the south shore of Eagle Lake. After short stretches of alder bashing, you’ll break out onto gravel bars along the upper Eagle River. Ford the stream where it flows around a large terminal moraine, and head upstream along the north bank. At mile 8.2, scramble up a steep, 300-foot boulderfield, passing left around a cliff-band waterfall. The terrain levels out until just before the glacier toe, where a loose second climb tests your patience after the first one. You’ll find broad, flat campsites beneath the second step; pack crampons if you want to explore farther, on the ice.
MORE INFO: Alaska Public Lands Information Center, (907) 644-3661; nps.gov/aplic/center
-Mapped by Steve Howe