Chugach State Park, located in southcentral Alaska immediately east of the Anchorage Bowl1, is the third-largest state park in the U.S. at 495,000 acres, or about 773 square miles. The park, established in the early 1970s, contains the western end of the Chugach Mountains (hence the name); these are the mountains that are the standard backdrop to every picture of Anchorage ever taken.2
The park offers several activities, described below. By far the most popular single attraction is probably Flattop Mountain, noded elsewhere. However, there are numerous other draws:
- Hiking/Skiing: The park has 28 trails, totaling over 160 miles/256 kilometers. These trails range in length from very short (as little as 1/4 mile) to very long (26 miles). The trails cover all skill levels from easy to very difficult. Most are all-season, lending themselves just as well to skiing, dogsledding, and sometimes even snowmachining in winter, as they do to hiking in summer.
- Camping: There are three campgrounds, at Eklutna Lake, Eagle River, (both north of Anchorage) and Bird Creek (south). All have basic facilities, including latrines (usually not flush), fire pits, water, and picnic areas, and some provide more. All charge use fees, which vary by site. If you prefer to be a little less rustic than that, there are a very few (that is, two) cabins available for rental; one at Eklutna and the other at Eagle River. Eagle River also has a yurt for rent.
- Picnicking: The three campgrounds plus the McHugh Creek recreation area have picnic sites. Actual use of the picnic site is free, but there are parking fees.
- Mountain Climbing: The entire park is mountainous, so this should be expected. However, several people have died, so be sure you know what you're about, especially if you're going to attempt the more difficult climbs; Flattop and Wolverine Peak are there for beginners.
- Boating: Eklutna Lake permits non-motorized and electric-powered boats. You can raft and kayak on Eagle River.
- Fishing: Various types of fish are available in Eagle River, Eklutna Lake's feeder streams, and Bird Creek; mainly Dolly Varden and several species of salmon.
- Wildlife Viewing: As well as plant viewing and view viewing. Dall sheep, moose, bears, birds, and other animals abound. If you're adventurous enough, there are several dozen glaciers in the eastern area of the park. Most trails, as well as the length of the Seward Highway, have viewpoints, and a couple (such as the short Anchorage Overlook Trail were made just for this purpose. Bring a camera and plenty of batteries and/or film or you will kick yourself later.
Visitors would do well to remember that you'll generally be a few thousand feet up. Prepare for it to be colder--considerably so, in fact--than down below. At the highest elevations, snow usually begins to fall in mid-September and totally vanishes around May.
The main access points to most park facilities are at Eklutna Lake (Mile 26 of the Glenn Highway, then ten miles down Eklutna Lake Road), Eagle River Nature Center (Mile 12 of the Glenn, then 12 miles down Eagle River Road), various points along the Anchorage Hillside, McHugh Creek (15 miles from downtown Anchorage on the Seward Highway), Bird Creek (26 miles), and Girdwood (37 miles, then two miles up the Alyeska Highway). All have parking lots, for the use of which, as mentioned above, you can expect to pay. (They need money to maintain the park from somewhere...)
The same warnings I put forth in my Flattop writeup apply here. This is a wild area. Be prepared for it. Bring mosquito repellent3, and be careful of moose and bears. (Bears will avoid you if you take care to make plenty of noise. Moose you just have to not piss off.)
Principal source: Chugach State Park official site, http://www.dnr.state.ak.us/parks/units/chugach/
1. The park is actually entirely within the Anchorage municipal limits.
2. Slight exaggeration. Some pictures are taken from the mountains.
3. Remember that in Alaska, "mosquito repellent" can mean anything from spray up to and including anti-tank weapons. Do not attempt to bring your anti-tank weapons from home if you don't already live in Alaska. The customs and/or airport inspectors HATE it. Any Anchorage supermarket will carry reasonably-priced models.