On a clear day, the payoff is prodigious from atop either of two peaks accessible courtesy of a relatively simple and only moderately taxing hike up Arctic Valley.
The view from atop Mount Gordon Lyon (elevation 4,134 feet) or Rendezvous Peak (4,101) delivers a 360-degree panorama of awesome. You can see the Anchorage Bowl, Eagle River and Knik, Cook Inlet and Turnagain Arm, Fire Island and Mount Susitna, and on the very clearest day, even Mount McKinley and Mount Foraker.
This is also a hike of convenience for Anchorage folks -- efficient for an after-work jaunt or for anyone who doesn't want to spend too much of a weekend day hiking. From Midtown, a drive will usually drop you in the parking lot at Arctic Valley Ski Area, the starting point of the hike, in well under an hour. Just be sure to bring a $5 bill for parking – Chugach State Park and military decals are not valid at Arctic Valley.
What also makes Arctic Valley appealing is the reasonable incline of the terrain. You don't have to be a hard-core hiker or part goat to negotiate the ascent, so the climb is negotiable for kids and for adults of almost all ages and abilities.
Also, Arctic Valley is prime berry-picking territory later in the summer.
From the parking lot, pass around the gate in front of the Alpenglow Lodge and head up the gravel road to the left of the lodge. The road soon narrows into a trail and the climb is on. Follow that trail to the right of Toklat Creek, or cross a footbridge and ascend the valley on that trail.
The trail left of the creek heads directly up a valley for about one mile, with an elevation gain of roughly 900 feet. That leads to an area known as the Saddle or Pass (3,460 feet). A steady walking pace will get you to the Saddle in 45 minutes or less. There, with Mount Gordon Lyon on the left (north) and Rendezvous Peak to the right (south), is a good place to take a break.
Turn around and take in Anchorage and Cook Inlet. You'll also see an old Nike-Hercules missile site on the mountain in front of you and slightly below. It's a remnant of the Cold War, but steer clear; it's off-limits except on organized tours. Bring binoculars if you want to check it out.
A short walk across the top of the Saddle will afford views of Eagle River and its surrounding mountains. In early June, wildflowers already were blooming on the Saddle. But be warned: The wind can really whip in this area, so an extra layer of clothing could come in handy if you stop for a snack or just to sight-see.
Hikers who want to extend their journey have myriad choices and obvious trails. To the north is Mount Gordon Lyon, to the south Rendezvous Peak. The terrain leading to both peaks is more technical than the climb to the Saddle, but not imposingly so.
From either peak, you can also look back toward Anchorage and view ridgelines to your left and right that offer alternate routes to return to the parking lot.
And that view will also allow you to scout out how to turn your next trip to Arctic Valley – provided you are more ambitious upon return – into a loop hike that takes you primarily along ridges.
There is virtually no chance of getting lost at Arctic Valley -- from atop the Saddle and either Rendezvous or Gordon Lyon, ridges and trails all over this area are as obvious as the gorgeous views.
?IF YOU GO
Length: About 1 mile to Saddle, and less than a mile from there to Rendezvous Peak or Mount Gordon Lyon; 3-5 miles round trip.
Elevation gain: About 900 feet to Saddle; another 600-700 feet to Rendezvous Peak and Mount Gordon Lyon.
Parking fee: $5. Chugach State Park and military decals not valid.
Directions: From Anchorage, north on Glenn Highway, take Arctic Valley Road exit and drive 7 miles to parking lot at Arctic Valley Ski Area. Caution: Dirt and gravel road can be washboard.