One of the largest state parks in the nation is also one of the most diverse. And, since it’s mostly within the municipal boundaries of Anchorage in the heart of the Chugach National Forest, it’s also one of the more accessible parks, especially by Alaska standards. This part of the Last Frontier features long coastlines, rugged mountains, numerous clear lakes, enormous glaciers, and sweeping ice fields. Plant and animal life vary significantly by elevation as well.
Governor Keith Miller created Chugach State Park in 1970. Hiking, fishing, and several other activities are quite popular at this park. While you spend time recreating, keep alert for some of Alaska's native creatures. Bear sightings are fairly common at this park, so be advised. Close encounters are very rare, so for the most part, Chugach State Park is a great family destination for your RV vacation.
Whether you are coming for the trails, water sports, ATV riding, or just some good old rest and relaxation, you can stay for the night or a weekend at one of the 145 campsites or seven cabins in four different campgrounds. No matter what the season, you and your family are going to need more than one day to enjoy all the fun you can have.
To get to the southern parts of the park, simply take the Seward Highway (AK-1) south from Anchorage, which is 13 miles to the northwest. This is the only road in or out of the area so you will have no trouble finding your way. If you are coming from the north, AK-3 takes you to AK-1, and if you are coming from anywhere in the east, AK-4 will get you there.
Just 14 miles to the west, you can visit the 4,000-acre Far North Bicentennial Park. The park boasts a wilderness area heavily habituated by bears where you can enjoy watching them from far away as they fish for salmon. You will be surprised to see how easy it seems for them to catch fish with their paws while it takes human anglers much more finagling.
Many of the park’s trailheads link directly with the Seward Highway. So do Crow Pass, the Eagle River Nature Center, and some other park sites. There are a number of scenic overlooks along the Seward Highway as well. Especially recommended is McHugh Creek, which is located at Mile Mark 111.7 on the east (mountain) side of the Highway. This high-altitude turnout includes paved walkways, a seating area, picnic tables, charcoal barbecue grills, and vault toilets.
At the pet-friendly Eagle River Campground, there are no RV or trailer length limits, so you do not have to worry about getting a spot big enough for your rig. The campground has no utility hookups, but you can use your generator to cook inside or you can use a BBQ grill outside. The park provides a campfire pit with a grill for cooking and a picnic table large enough for eight people. You will also have access to vault toilets as well as modern restrooms with flush toilets, drinking water, and an RV dump station to dump your black water tank. This campground has an overflow section of 10 campsites for those who are unable to get a reservation. As the name implies, the camp is just a few minutes from the town of Eagle River, which is a fun place to visit while you are nearby.
You can choose from 50 spacious campsites at Eklutna Lake Campground, which is right on the northeastern tip of the lake. There is also an overflow camping area right next to the camp with 15 sites for those who cannot get a reservation. The sites are limited to RVs and trailers up to 50 feet in length and have no utilities. However, you can cook outdoors on the provided campfire grill or use your generator for cooking in the RV. ADA accessible public restrooms and running water are located nearby for your convenience. This camping area has an interpretive trail with a telescope for wildlife viewing and stargazing. Fishing and boating are very popular at this campground, as are the trails. ATVs are allowed between Sunday and Wednesday. People, horses, and bicycles are allowed seven days a week. Many people also use these trails for dog mushing and snowmobiling. No matter what you come for, you are sure to have a great time at this campground.
Just south of Anchorage, Bird Creek Campground at Chugach State Park has 22 sites and allows RVs up to 35 feet in length. It’s also located across the street from a large gas station, which is a nice feature for last-minute supplies, snacks, and other camping and fishing needs such as bait and ice. Although these are primitive sites with no utilities, you will have no trouble cooking inside with your generator or outdoors on the fire rings the park provides.
Each campsite also boasts a large picnic table so you can all eat together as a family — no need to balance your food on your lap while trying to eat in a camp chair. The park also has vault toilets and drinking water spigots nearby. This camp also has an overflow camp with 20 sites. You will be near enough to the water to do some whale watching while you are here, so bring your binoculars and a camera. You can also bring your furbaby as long as it is restrained and supervised.
Located just up the road from Bird Creek, the RV Overflow Campground has 20 paved, concrete sites that are very level. However, the parking area is a little compact, so larger vehicles may have issues if the camp is crowded. The length limits for RVs and trailers is 35 feet. You will have a fire ring and picnic table at your campsite, just like the main campground, as well as access to potable water and vault toilets.
Fishing and whale watching are both fun here at this campground as well as hiking and wildlife viewing. Pets are welcome, and firewood can be purchased at the park host’s campsite. Fortunately, although Chugach State Park is very big and beautiful, it’s also not very crowded most of the time.
The two cabins at Bird Creek Campground include Beluga and Bore Tide. Beluga Cabin is at the southern end of the Bird Creek Campground to the left of the roundabout just off the Indian to Girdwood National Recreation Trail. The cabin can sleep eight with its four sets of wooden bunk beds, a dining table, and a wood stove. You can cook outside on the provided BBQ pit or fire ring. Pets are not allowed here.
Bore Tide is near the north end of the camp by the gate and can sleep up to 12 people. This large log cabin even allows pets and has six sets of bunk beds as well as a dining table, benches, and shelves. There is also a propane heater if you get cold, but you have to bring your own propane tanks. Out in the large yard, you can find picnic tables and a fire ring for cooking. Reservations are needed for both cabins.
The Eklutna Lake Campground is near the picnic area and has five cabins to choose from if you want to get out of the motorhome for a night or two. The Dolly Vardin Cabin hosts up to 12 people with six sets of bunks as well as a dining table, shelves, benches, and a propane heater. Pets are allowed at this cabin. On the southwest shore, you can find the Kokanee Cabin, which you have to walk or boat into. It sleeps eight with bunk beds as well as a dining table and wood stove. Pets are welcome. The Rainbow Trout Cabin is just south of the Dolly Varden Cabin and can sleep up to eight people. There are four sets of bunk beds and a dining table with a wood stove to keep you warm. Pets are allowed here too.
The Yuditna Cabin is about three miles up Lakeside Trail, where the Yuditna Creek meets the lake. It can accommodate up to eight guests and pets with its bunk beds and wood sleeping platforms. There is also a wood stove, dining table, and benches. Serenity Falls Party Hut can handle up to 13 people and is located near Mile 12 on the Lakeside Trail. No pets are allowed. There are picnic tables and fire rings with grills at each cabin. In addition, you need to bring your own wood or propane for the heaters. Vault toilets are available nearby, but there is no potable water.
Depending on park conditions, RV camping may or may not be allowed at the backcountry sites, which include the Bold Airstrip, Eklutna Alex, Kanchee, and Crow Pass. Most backcountry sites are around Eklutna Lake, which is in the far north part of the park. These are leave no trace behind campsites. Other rules apply as well. For example, campers may only use downed or dead wood for fuel, and there are limits as to camping location and length of stay.
Nobody is quite sure how the highest peak in the Chugach Mountains got its name. That’s a good question for the park rangers and historians. Few people climb up this mountain and there are no hiking trails to the top. There is snow on the ground all year and there are several large glaciers as well. So, Bashful Peak is mainly for viewing. But it is beautiful and quite visible from several nearby mountains that have hiking trails.
With a name like that, how can you not want to know the origins of the peak's name? A number of stories purport to explain why railroad workers gave the mountain this name, but none of these tales are very convincing. The hike to the top requires no technical skills, but it is rigorous with a capital “R.” It’s right in the middle of some other notable mountains in the area, so the views of the Chugach National Forest from the summit are very nice, indeed.
Previously known as the Paradise Haven Lodge, the volunteer-run Eagle River Nature Center is a good way to start your park excursion. There is a wide parking lot with plenty of room for your RV. Long-term (three-day) parking is also available here. The center is especially attractive for children, as over 5,000 schoolkids visit this place every year. Other features include docent-led snowshoe excursions and frequent special events, such as Alaskan heritage nights and outdoor concerts. Some public programs offered include Astronomy Programs, Junior Naturalists, and Kneehigh Naturalists.
For good skiing in the winter and good hiking in the summer, it is hard to beat the Arctic Valley Ski Area. This area of the park is also popular for weddings, parties, and other special events. In the summer, the blueberries are especially good. During the fall and spring, the mountain has two chairlifts as well as a tow rope. All year long, there are many well-maintained pit toilets in addition to a very nice snack bar.
Even in early spring and late fall, this glacier-made lake is a pristine sight where the weather is fairly predictable. There are some twenty-five miles of trails near the lake that you can explore and enjoy. Some of them stay very close to the lakeshore, and others go deep into the backcountry. Many of these trails have public-use cabins. Cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are available from the Eklutna Lake Campground set here in the woods.
If you thought whale-watching was just for city slickers on posh cruise ships, think again. At Beluga Point, these small whales are visible in July and August. That’s when they come to the area to catch Cook Inlet salmon. Beluga whales are prey as well as predators. Keep a sharp lookout for the telltale black fins of Orca whales. This rocky outcropping along the Seward Highway has been a popular spot for centuries. Native hunters once came to Beluga Point in large numbers.
This mountain is one of the most distinctive sites in the entire Chugach Mountain Range. There is a very nice trail that leads up to the summit along the southern slopes. The summit is accessible, but it is not easy to reach. The trail is about six miles each way, and each stretch requires about 12 hours. The northern slopes are entirely undeveloped, and intrepid skiers may be able to try them when there is enough snow on the ground.
One of the most popular hiking trails in the Chugach Mountains follows the original Iditarod Trail. Some people take two days to hike the entire 21-mile trail. Others just do the first four miles because the scenery is incredible on this part of the trail. As hikers ascend, they pass some old mining spots before they reach a waterfall. At this point, you’re very likely to see a mountain goat or two. Crystal Lake, which is the source of the waterfall, is quite a sight as well.
The most frequently climbed mountain in Alaska is just east of Anchorage. The Glen Alps Trail leads to the mountain. It’s a very well-maintained trail that’s about 1.5 miles long. At the mountain, visitors enjoy climbing in the spring, berry-picking in the summer, and skiing in the fall. On a clear day, you cannot quite see forever, but you can see Anchorage and a number of other mountain peaks. We also recommend slopeside camping during the summer or winter solstice.
If the hardest spray you’ve ever felt is from a lawn sprinkler, you really need to visit Thunderbird Falls. This narrow roaring waterfall is some 200 feet high. The water runs freely all summer and freezes in the winter. So, winter visitors often see unique ice sculptures. The trail leading up to the falls is mostly flat and less than a mile long; the trailhead is adjacent to a parking area. The trail then winds through a stand of cottonwood and birch trees. It ends at a recently refurbished viewing area that sits at the edge of a canyon.