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Regarded as one of the best long hikes in Chugach State Park, the Crow Pass Trail dives deep into the mountain range, following a section of the Historic Iditarod Trail.
Once traveled by dogsleds out of necessity, today the path is renowned for its natural beauty along with the historic significance.
In summer hikers will marvel at waterfalls, glaciers, and a powerful river––plus the brilliant wildflowers, abundant wildlife, and impressive peaks that typify the Chugach. The 22 miles from Girdwood to Eagle River are well suited for a 2-day backpacking trip, camping at one of many good sites along the way.
It’s also common to make the traverse in one big day.
For the thru hike you will of course need a vehicle staged at one end, as there is no public transportation.
For a more casual day hike you might go just to the pass and back from the Girdwood side, or farther if you like. The trail begins from the end of Crow Pass Road outside of Girdwood.
The first mile or so climbs rather steeply on slopes thick with willow and alder.
Look for the metal remnants of mining machinery, which were abandoned here about 100 years ago.
As the trail gets higher, it straightens out and traverses above a precipitous waterfall gorge.
A number of side trails lead to better views above the falls.
You can then choose from two versions of the trail that tackle the climb over the top of the gorge.
One takes secure switchbacks to a flat traverse, while the other is more direct but tougher, ambling up a rocky slope near the lip of the ravine. After these two routes reconverge, the trail rock-hops across a stream and continues on a gentler climb.
Amongst grassy alpine tundra you’ll pass the tranquil water of Crystal Lake and an overnight cabin near its shore (available by reservation), then rise to the crest of the pass between massive, snow-streaked peaks.
From there the panorama includes a preview of the next valley, which the trail proceeds to follow all the way down to Eagle River.
You’ll also gaze at the white expanse of Raven Glacier, a swath of ice cascading down to eye level from distant heights above.
Near the pass you might also see mountain goats, which like to graze at this lofty elevation. An unmarked detour can reach the toe of the glacier, but the trail continues down the other side of the rugged valley.
The slopes are littered with dark rock, recently churned by the now-retreating glacier.
Expect a bit of routefinding among the scattered talus and perhaps lingering snowfields.
The looming ice of the glacier makes a fine accompaniment to the next mile or so of views, before the trail rounds a corner and dips down to cross Raven Creek.
A short distance later, this creek tumbles into gorge of its own, and the trail crosses on a sturdy bridge over the chasm. Along Raven Creek the trail re-enters subalpine thickets full of berry bushes, and the next several miles are where bears are most likely to be seen.
Be sure to use proper precautions, especially if camping.
The first designated campsite is not until after the Eagle River crossing, but camping is allowed anywhere, and some comfy unofficial sites can be found earlier on. Where the trail meets Eagle River, the only way to go is through the rushing glacial water.
A white post designates the ideal point to cross, but some technique is needed to safely ford the swift current.
The remaining miles lead through deep forest of the river valley, where you should watch for moose and as always, bears.
This stretch has plenty of campsites with fire rings (fires are not allowed in the backcountry otherwise), plus reservable facilities like cabins and yurts.
The end of the journey is not far away, however, and the rest is on a well-used trail leading to Eagle River Nature Center. Sources: https://www.alaska.org/detail/crow-pass-trail https://www.ernc.org/crow-pass-trail.html http://akonthego.com/blog/crossing-southcentral-alaskas-crow-pass