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, it’s also one of the more accessible ones, especially by Alaska standards. This part of the Last Frontier features long coastlines, rugged mountains, numerous clear lakes, very large glaciers, and sweeping ice fields. Plant and animal life varies greatly by elevation as well.
Governor Keith Miller created Chugach State Park in 1970. Hiking, fishing, and a number of other activities are quite popular at this Park. The Park is also important for drinking water purposes, so there are recreational opportunities here as well. Bear sightings are fairly common at this park, so be advised. Closer encounters are very rare so for the most part, Chugach State Park is a great family destination for your RV vacation.
RV Rentals in Chugach State Park
Transportation in Chugach State Park
To get to the southern parts of the Park, simply take the Seward Highway (Highway 1) south from Anchorage along the Turnagain Arm coastline. 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. We especially recommend 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 latrines.
The Glenn Highway connects very well to the northern reaches of this sprawling park. This area is a little closer to town and also a little more mountainous than the southern portions of this Park.
There is ample parking in the large campgrounds and in designated areas along the periphery of the Park. Chugach State Park has almost 500,000 acres, so lack of space is not a problem.
Campgrounds and parking in Chugach State Park
Campsites in Chugach State Park
Eagle River Campground
Half of this campground’s fifty-seven sites are reservation only. This is a nice campground that’s rather crowded on the weekends. There are several fire pits in this campground; drinking water is available as well. Other features include restrooms, very good fishing, short hiking trails, and a dump station. Guests can stay up to four nights.
Eklutna Lake Campground
All fifty sites at this campground have picnic tables. It’s also one of the few long-term RV parking areas in the Park. Guests can stay up to fifteen nights. 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.
Bird Creek Campground
This campground has twenty-four sites and allows RVs up to 35’. It’s also located across the street from a large gas station, which is a nice feature, and offers picnic tables, fire rings, latrines, and a water supply.
Bird Creek Campground (RV Overflow)
Located just up the road from Bird Creek, the RV Overflow has thirty paved, concrete sites that are very, very level. However, the parking area is a little compact, so larger vehicles may have issues if the camp is crowded. Fortunately, although Chugach State Park is very big and beautiful, it’s also not very crowded most of the time.
The Municipality of Anchorage runs this nearby 88-site campground. Twenty-one sites are RV only, and they have electricity hookups. Fourteen sites are reservation-only; the rest are first-come, first-served. Amenities include a very stable WiFi connection.
Depending on park conditions, RV camping may or may not be allowed at the backcountry sites, which include:
- Bold Airstrip
- Eklutna Alex
- 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.
Seasonal activities in Chugach State Park
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Arctic Valley Ski Area
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 in late summer. 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.
Eagle River Nature Center
The volunteer-run ERNC 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. 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.
With a name like that, how can you go wrong? 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 from the summit are very nice indeed.
We honestly have no idea how the highest peak in the Chugach Mountains got its name. That’s a good question for the Rangers. 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. It’s quite visible from some nearby, hikeable mountains.
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. 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.