Anchorage loves Flattop Mountain.
Each summer, residents send their house guests, out-of-state visitors, family and friends out to experience the quintessential Anchorage hike. And plenty of locals hit the trail as well, making it as popular as any area hike.
And it’s easy to see why. There’s easy access and great views at the top of a moderately difficult hike — a well-earned reward.
But there’s a nearby alternative, a hike virtually equal in distance and elevation gain with views just as majestic: Little O’Malley Peak.
The trailhead is even accessed from same Glen Alps parking lot that most hikers use going up the front side of Flattop.
And now Little O’Malley Peak might just be Anchorage’s most accessible and egalitarian hike, equally as good for young, old, inexperienced and savvy mountain veterans.
The improvement in accessibility has been a relatively recent development, a cooperative effort between Alaska Trails, Chugach Park Fund and Chugach State Park.
Chugach State Park designated the reroute of the main hiking trail up to Little O’Malley Peak as a major improvement that could help mark the 50th anniversary of the park in 2020.
“Park staff identified it as a priority project, and that was enough for us to go raise funds,” said Claire Holland LeClair, co-chair of the Chugach Park Fund.
Over the course of the project, the Chugach Park Fund raised more than $100,000 in private donations including an early grant from the Rasmuson Foundation, and work started on June 1, 2020. Alaska Trails used a paid dedicated crew to do the work as volunteer efforts were halted during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was our first experience with a paid trail crew and a project we took from start to finish,” said Alaska Trails executive director Steve Cleary.
According to Cleary, the project provided a number of upgrades from the previous route, which was considered potentially treacherous.
“One of the big desires from the state park was to make a more sustainable trail, but also there are a fair amount of injuries happening from hiking the gully” between Little O’Malley and the ridge leading to False Peak nearby, he said.
Envisioned as a private/public partnership, the project got an infusion of public money from the CARES Act courtesy of the Municipality of Anchorage.
The second phase of the project in 2021 included more funding from a variety of areas, including grants from GCI, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. and the Atwood Foundation, along with significant individual donations, according to the Chugach Park Fund.
Starting from the Glen Alps parking lot, it’s a short jaunt to Powerline Pass. From there, hikers dip down into the valley following the Middle Fork Trail, then stay right once the trail soon splits off toward Little O’Malley Peak.
The route follows a slow incline through the tree line, then meanders through a number of switchbacks closer to the top. Recent trips along the trail have seen plenty of families and hikers of all ages enjoying the route.
“The way it’s designed is to keep people on the trail and showcase the views,” Cleary said.
For a serious hiker, all of the switchbacks might seem like an unnecessary annoyance as opposed to the older, more direct route to the top through the gully. People still use the traditional route but LeClair, who is the former deputy director of Alaska State Parks, said there has been a shift.
“What we’ve seen over time is that more people are using the new alignment,” she said.
But one place where Little O’Malley may be superior to Flattop is as a jumping-off point to other areas in the Chugach front range. Just behind the peak is the area known as the Ballfield or Ballpark. The open alpine area enables hikers to access Black Lake or Williwaw Lakes, O’Malley Peak proper and beyond.
“Over and over again, people said we’d rather have better access to alpine areas,” LeClair said. “This gets people into the alpine zone with relative ease and safety.”
For even moderately experienced hikers, the round-trip route up to Little O’Malley Peak can be done in three hours or less.
While the trail has been in use since late summer 2021, there is a dedication ceremony planned for the new route on July 8 at 4 p.m. hosted by Chugach Park Fund with the addition of an interpretive sign.