Flattop Mountain: a favorite thing to do in Anchorage for the casual adventurer
Before the plane even lands I can tell that Anchorage is going to be a little surprising. From my window seat,I am struck by its remarkable resemblance to the SC low country.
As we descend from the low lying clouds, instead of snow capped mountains, a flat tidal plain becomes visible. Outcroppings of green dot barrier islands and sandbars with meandering rivulets of varying shapes and sizes that I know emerge with the comings and goings of the tide. And as beautiful as it is, it is not what I was expecting for a state known for mountains and hiking trails.
When several mountains of the jagged peak variety eventually do come into view, this Alaskan version of low country appears to run right up to them. My comparison to the South Carolina low country still stands, but is overshadowed quite literally by some of the highest mountains in North America. Where I grew up near the more ancient Blue Ridge, the rise and fall of the terrain is gradual and unthreatening. Here with geographical features pushing right up to each other, altitude changes speak of something both more recent and abrupt. Appearing to be part of what must be one geographical mountain range, they are part of several,including the Chugach, Alaska, Kenai, Tordrillo and Talkeetna and even the Aleutian range, known as the beginning of the Pacific ring of fire.
The waters surrounding Anchorage, Alaska, are home to the second highest tides in North America (the Bay of Fundy on the other side of this continent is number one.) Tides come in so quickly that they can produce something called a bore tidal wave. Bore wave riding, where adventurous types ride this wave out on a kayak or board is the local version of extreme surfing.
I got another high perspective of Anchorage’s tidal plane and the distant mountain ranges visible from Flattop Mountain on the last day of our visit. I’d already gotten in a couple of grizzly bear sightings from the safety of a car when visiting Denali a few days earlier. I’m no mountain climber or scaler of rugged peaks, but wanted to find the postcard view over Anchorage I’d seen so many times.
Flattop Mountain is named for its distinguishing flat area carved out by ancient glaciers. Giving views over Cook Inlet towards the mountains, it also happens to be the spot of one of Anchorage and Alaska’s most famous hikes.
The trailhead at Glen Alps in Chugach State has a parking lot with a $5 a day fee. With great access and two paths, the moderate to difficult, Flattop Mountain trail, and easy Blueberry Trail, Flattop is high on the must do Anchorage list. Although most popular for hikers of various levels, the iconic views over Anchorage and Cook Inlet are handicap accessible and adjacent to the parking lot.
For those visiting Anchorage without a car, a roundtrip shuttle, or one way shuttle with a bike rental is available to and from the Glen Allen trailhead from downtown Anchorage. For many hikes in Alaska it is recommended to go with a guide, but the Flattop Mountain Trail is considered safe to do on your own.
On the more challenging Flattop Trail, it takes an average of one hour to hike to the top. A ceremonial hike to the summit of Flattop for the summer solstice, with the sun setting close to midnight, is particularly popular with locals. People of all fitness levels will appreciate that even from the parking lot, on clear days you can see not just Anchorage, but beyond to these rugged mountain tops, some which are hundreds of miles away. The most famous of them is Denali (still known to many outside Alaska as Mount McKinley), the highest peak in North America and part of the Alaska Mountain Range. And here at Flattop, as in much of Alaska, you may even see a moose!
All photos property of and by the author, used with permission, Margo Millure ©
Thank you to Hilton Garden Inn Anchorage for sponsoring portions of this trip!