One of the most frequent questions I get on my social media posts is “Hey, is that a good trail for my kids?” The answer to that always depends on your kids, and just as importantly, on you. For some families, heading out to the McHugh Creek picnic area is a justifiable big deal; then there are folks like Hig and Erin of Ground Truth Trekking, who’ve pretty much raised their kids in the wilderness.
Most families will fall somewhere in the middle. With that in mind, here are five of my favorite kid-friendly trails in Southcentral Alaska. They’re relatively short, don’t have any major exposure, and pack plenty of spectacular bang for the distance.
1. Portage Pass
Portage Pass (in Whittier) is the most spectacular short trail I know of, bar none. It’s about .8 of a mile up to the 800′ pass, which gives you views of Portage Glacier (pictured above) in the distance, Passage Canal and Whittier behind you, and of course tons of lovely tundra in between. From there it’s another mile and a half down to the rocky beach of Portage Lake, now the only place you can see Portage Glacier from the land. If you’re really lucky, you might get to see the glacier calve into the lake.
2. Byron Glacier
The Byron Glacier trail (in Portage) travels about 1.25 miles along a wide, well-maintained trail. You get great views of the creek, good views of poor shrinking Byron Glacier, and lots of boulders to scramble on and shallow water to splash in at the end. If you hop boulders for almost another mile from the end of the maintained trail, you can get to a neat, isolated-feeling rocky “beach” at the foot of the slopes the glacier still clings to.
3. Thunderbird Falls
Thunderbird Falls (along the Glenn Highway, just before the Eklutna exit) is the quintessential family hike: About 1 mile one way on a broad, occasionally hilly trail to a boardwalk and an elevated viewing platform. Once upon a time you could follow a steep, crude footpath to the edge of the falls (pictured above), but now there’s a nicely maintained trail that takes you right down to the edge of the creek.
4. Reflections Lake
Reflections Lake (along the Glenn Highway, at the Knik River exit) used to be an isolated, beautiful and semi-sketchy destination. Lots of hard work from Alaskans for Palmer Hay Flats has turned it into a beautiful family-friendly destination, with a ~1.5-mile loop around the lake and a multi-level tower for viewing wildlife and birds.
5. Tonsina Point
At about 2 miles one way, Tonsina Point (near Seward) makes a great dayhiking or backpacking destination for families. The trail there is a mostly broad, easy ramble through forest, but you also have the option of taking a water taxi or even sea kayaking there, if you have the appropriate skill and gear.