Located only 15 miles outside of Anchorage in the Chugach State Park lies Alaska’s most quintessential day hike, the three-mile roundtrip hike from Glen Lake Trailhead to Flattop Mountain. Known as the most climbed mountain in Alaska, Flattop Mountain offers a little something special for all: A close connection with nature, an unexpected wildlife sighting, fantastic views, and a great workout from this relatively steep and somewhat challenging hike.
Welcome to Alaska!
This past August, we took a ten-day family trip to one of the United States’ most northwestern states, Alaska. Despite my love of mountainous terrain, I had never been to Alaska and was extremely excited to visit the wild, rugged, raw wilderness of this remote state. It did not disappoint. Alaska lives up to its reputation of harboring some of the US’ most pristine, untouched nature, and plenty of opportunities to explore it.
Flying to Anchorage from Minneapolis brought us over the vast plains of the northern United States, into Canada across the Canadian Rockies, Alberta, British Columbia, and finally into the upper reaches of Alaska, tucked away in the northwestern corner of North America. The thrilling views over the last hour of our five-hour flight inspired me to plan out our first hike of the trip. A short two-hour roundtrip hike to the top of Anchorage’s famed Flattop Mountain.
Anchorage: An urban city with one foot out the door into the wild
The best thing about Anchorage is how easy it is to quickly get out of the city and into the wilderness. With the breathtaking Chugach State Park less than a half hour away, there are countless opportunities to get outside in nature and see wildlife.
One of the most popular day hikes in Alaska to the summit of Flattop Mountain is only a 15-minute drive away. With its stunning 360 views of the Cook Inlet and Anchorage Bowl, this steep and challenging hike is a must-do for any visitors to Anchorage.
The hike is accessed along a long, windy road at the Glen Alps trailhead. The drive instantly gives you a strong sense of place as the city is surrounded by amazing, highly accessible nature right at your doorstep. As we were rounding the corner to turn onto Glen Alps road we spotted our very first moose grazing by the side of the road. Ironically the moose was not far from the “moose crossing” sign that we saw first which erupted us into spells of riotous laughter. There are also plenty of bears in the area which I was actually pleased to not come across.
Arriving at the trailhead reminded us that this was indeed Alaska’s most popular and accessible hike. It was packed with cars, vans, and campers with people of all ages and abilities heading towards the trailhead. I was a bit surprised to notice how many young children were hitting the hike as it is not easy and requires a bit of scrambling (i.e. using your hands to gingerly pull yourself up on the steepest parts) near the summit. But for Alaskans, a hike to the summit of Flattop Mountains seems to be a rite of passage for the little ones and it was no surprise how their tiny, agile shapes easily climbed up and down the hairy, rough terrain.
The trail ascends through a small grove of mountain hemlock coated with yellow, white, and purple wildflowers before reaching the timberline. As we climbed up, the views were expansive and even mystical given the low cover of fog drifting off the water and up over the low reaches of the mountainside. While I longed for a view of Denali (which you can see on a clear day), I was satisfied with the fog as it made the entire place have such a magical feel.
As you get higher, crooked old rail tiles act as makeshift stairs yet many are loose so be careful. It is extremely helpful to wear a good pair of hiking shoes with a good thread as the terrain becomes steep and slippery. Even better to have a set of hiking poles. The trail is very steep and rocky (gravel and dirt). We saw lots of people doing the hike in sneakers – it can be done but not recommended.
The trail traverses Blueberry Hill before reaching a saddle at the base of Flattop Mountain. Once there, the fun begins as you have to “scramble” to reach the top, using your hands to pull yourself up. It is a bit treacherous but worth the effort because once on top, you have an absolutely incredible view of the surrounding area.
It is also obvious to see where the name “Flattop Mountain” came from as the top is a giant plateau. Take some time to walk back along the plateau and you will be rewarded with incredible views.
All in all, it was an incredible hike and such a joy to find it after we first landed in Alaska. We liked it so much that we even did it the night before we returned home as a way to celebrate such a wonderful family trip. Little did we know, this would be the first of many incredible hikes we’d experience in our short ten days in amazing Alaska.