There's something about an alpine lake that just begs for swimming. Maybe it's the setting of being tucked into a mountain bowl. Or maybe it's the boulders lining the edges in a way as to make perfect jumping platforms. But above all else, it has to be the crystal-clear blue water that practically begs for swimming.
Alas, Alaska alpine lakes have one major thing going against them: extreme cold.
So I speak from experience that one should not try jumping into Gold Cord Lake, or really any alpine lake in Alaska. Just dip your toes in the lake, and you'll understand why as your toes go numb quickly.
But even if you can't swim, that doesn't mean you shouldn't make the hike to Gold Cord Lake, nestled in the Talkeetna Mountains next to Independence Mine. It's one of many trails in Hatcher Pass near Independence Mine, but it can't be beat for its easy access and stunning views.
From the Independence Mine parking lot at Mile 17 of the Hatcher Pass Road, there's everything from extreme jaunts into the backcountry to paved stroller-friendly switchbacks up and down the old mine face.
But Gold Cord offers something that instantly feels more remote, even if you can see your car for most of the trip. It's a trail that's a little bit off the beaten path but not too far away. A sturdy pair of shoes and a bottle of water is all you need for the 1.7 mile round-trip trek that can easily be done in under an hour. Babies in backpacks or tromping toddlers could easily come along for the mellow hike.
The trailhead starts just west of the Independence Mine parking lot near the park's visitor center. It's hard to miss, since a little footbridge over a small creek marks the start of the trail.
From there, the trail gently meanders through alpine meadows and near that same creek. About a third of a mile in, take a moment to explore an abandoned mining cabin that looks out over Independence Mine. It still has layers of sod exposed and parts of a rusting tin roof hanging on to the building.
From there, the trail gently traverses through moderate, narrow switchbacks that bring you 800 feet up to the lake bowl. It requires some attention to the footing – especially in inclement weather – but boulders have been stacked nicely along portions of the trail to create natural steps.
From the top you can look out over the bowl for a complete view of Independence Mine or gaze south toward Matanuska Valley.
Or look a little closer at the lake at your feet. Its shallow blue water fills the bottom of a mountain bowl flanked with tall, jagged peaks.
There are plenty of boulders to hop around on at the base of the lake if you head to the left or a patch of sloping tundra to the right. Or follow the worn trail that traverses the entire lake and see it all. Bring a picnic and camp out on a massive boulder. Or just take in all the sights.
But whatever you do, really don't try swimming.
If You Go
• Length: 1.7 miles, round-trip
• Elevation: 800 feet total gain
• Parking Fee: $5 day parking or Alaska State Parks pass
• Directions: Mile 17.3 Hatcher Pass Road, approximately 60 miles north of Anchorage