FATMAP difficulty grade
McHugh Creek trailhead is popular for day hikes and waterfall viewing, but most people don’t go nearly far enough to see McHugh Lake or Rabbit Lake at the head of the valley.
Both are rewarding, but Rabbit, in particular, may be one of the most beautiful lakes in the Chugach Front Range.
The hike is very doable within a day, but also makes a good one-night backpacking trip.
Starting on the McHugh Lake trail, you’ll first go steeply up through lush forest with a diversity of trees.
After about a mile, however, the trail enters an area that burned in a 2016 wildfire.
The skeleton trees allow unobstructed views of the sea in Turnagain Arm, and the mountains on the other side.
Vegetation is quickly regrowing though, and brush overhangs the trail in places. Now less steep than before, the trail makes in an inclined traverse of the valley, with the creek tumbling somewhere below and the cliffs of McHugh peak overhead.
These burned slopes erupt with wildflowers in early summer, and turn blaze orange in fall.
Stop often to enjoy the views, and pace yourself on the continued ascent toward the tundra. At some point you’ll reach the edge of the burn zone where willow thickets take over, but the trail cuts cleanly through them.
You’ll also walk through meadows of tall, flowing grass before reaching the tundra.
Gradually the flora transitions to short grass and lichens of the alpine, with squat spruce making the last of the trees.
Suddenly the twin pyramids of the Suicide Peaks loom up ahead, and the trail passes a series of little lakes in the upper valley. The highest lake in this drainage is McHugh Lake, which collects in a bowl beneath South Suicide Peak.
Rabbit Lake is in another, higher basin by North Suicide.
A side trail goes to McHugh while the main trail steepens on the final hump to Rabbit Lake.
Make it to Rabbit to see a sweeping alpine cirque reflected on the turquoise water, or perhaps a sheet of ice left over from the winter. Keep in mind that McHugh Lake trail starts at sea level but ends at over 3000 feet, where the weather can be much different and snow can hold on through the summer.
Be prepared for a variety of conditions and for a long day out.
Also be aware that this area is particularly known for bear activity, so always practice proper safety when hiking and camping. Sources: https://alaskahikesearch.com/hikes/mchugh-trail-rabbit-lake https://www.adventuresoflilnicki.com/rabbit-lake-hike-anchorage-alaska/