Of all the locations north of Anchorage, Hatcher Pass is high on our list for hiking. The area’s amazing topography (being in an active fault zone) and rich mining history provide for miles of interesting trails that will lead you through vast, winding valleys, over fields of boulders and along snaking mountain ridges, with plenty of interesting geologic features and old artifacts to scope out on the way.
Fall is the time to visit, when golden trees flank the creeks and streams and the mountain slopes become awash with dusky, umber hues of transitioning, brush-y, alpine vegetation. We see the beginnings of the autumn colors this weekend when we tackle the Reed Lakes trail.
Reed Lakes is a great day hike. Approximately 9 miles round-trip, the dramatic changes in landscape will keep you guessing all along the trail. The first 2 miles or so are flat, following bubbling Reed Creek into the valley. After a wet summer, dense foliage obscures much of the view and you could speed things up by riding this section before stashing your bike once the trail starts to head uphill. Do keep an eye out for the beautiful wild irises along the way.
Shortly after emerging into the open valley, the trail transitions into a series of switchbacks leading up and around a small peak. Plenty of spots to stop to enjoy a spectacular view of the whole valley below.
Once you reach the top, the trail becomes a bit more difficult to follow but you should be able to work your way over the rocky crest towards where a more defined path is visible on the other side of what is literally a river of boulders. The boulders are large and stable and provide multiple, safe crossing paths.
On the other side, an increasingly muddy trail leads uphill before disappearing into another field of boulders along and bridging the creek. Again, there’s are multiple ways to traverse this section so just take your time to find safe footholds – we had a lot of fun climbing over some impressively huge rocks.
Beyond the boulders is a beautiful alpine glen. Stay to the left of the creek and follow the trail over a crest to Lower Reed Lake, strikingly turquoise-colored and flanked by rugged, rocky escarpments disappearing into the clouds at an elevation of about 4000ft. As it begins to rain, this is where we turn around but you can continue on for another half mile or so to the Upper Lake.
There’s so much more left to see in Hatcher Pass … fall is short though, so some trails might have to wait until the next hiking season.