As the snows retreat and access to our local trail system increases, it’s good to know where to go and where to avoid when planning summer outings in and around Juneau.
The following is the Juneau Empire’s annual trail roundup with details on the status of the most popular trails in town.
The three-mile loop of East Glacier Trail is easily walkable at this point in the season. Black bears have been spotted around the trail, so be bear aware. It’s one of the trails tour groups and tourists most frequently use, so it’s one of the first to get any necessary work done at the beginning of the season.
The U.S. Forest Service, said Juneau Ranger District Recreation Program Manager Ed Grossman, is assessing how to deal with the lowest tier of the staircase that runs shortly past the overlook. This section of the trail has been smashed by trees over the course of several winters.
“On four different years we’ve had trees come down and then smash that staircase, and it’s really dangerous to deal with because the root wads are uphill,” he said.
The Forest Service may remove the steps in that location and go back to a bench cut trail, he said. Without a structure, they could spin the tree and not have to worry about damaging the staircase or risk injuring trail workers. They’ll assess the problem this summer and seek the money to deal with it during the next fiscal year.
Peterson Lake Trail, which eventually leads to the Peterson Lake Cabin, has rough-cut gravel (not yet a completed gravel path) laid for the first ¾ of a mile up to the waterfall overlook. The Trail Mix, Inc. crew working on the path also cleared a significant number of downed trees in that area, Grossman said.
After the waterfall, around a dozen downed trees — and, about a mile from the cabin, a patch of snow that as of last week will have you wading into devil’s club thickets you’d rather avoid — are still around. Grossman said Trail Mix crews will be clearing those fallen trees as time allows.
Also, as at least one sore Juneau Empire tailbone can attest, you should be careful hiking any trail with boards that can get a bit slick. That’s something the gravel trails will help address.
This summer, Trail Mix will continue its work there, with the hope of finishing the trail to Peterson Creek Falls overlook in early summer. They’re using gravel haulers for that first three quarters of a mile, but that’s as far as the haulers will go, said Trail Mix President Jack Kreinheder.
During the second phase of the project, in the second half of the summer, they’ll be flying in bags of gravel to fill in muddy spots. They’ll also be replacing the boardwalk with a gravel trail.
“We’ll continue to work on the additional phases as the Forest Service gets funding, but it will probably be a few years until the trail is rebuilt all the way to the cabin,” Kreinheder said.
The trail from the road to the cabin is 4.3 miles.
Herbert Glacier Trail:
Herbert Glacier Trail, a 4.9-mile-long popular trail with runners and bikers (as well, of course, as hikers and those who wish to wade see the plain of glacial silt Herbert Glacier has left before it), suffered from some of the same intense winter winds several other trails out the road and in the Juneau trail system did. Forest Service crews went out and cleared a significant amount of blowdown last week, Grossman said, so it’s now much more passable.
The trail is currently clear of snow and is located at Glacier Highway mile 28.
Flume Trail is a little more than a half mile long and about 100 feet above sea level. It’s flat, easily traversable and boardwalked. The main reason one has to stop running on this trail is to answer questions about directions or take pictures for tourists.
It’s clear and open for business, though, as always, be careful at the foot-wetting, steep areas where drainage runs off Mount Juneau.
Access the trailheads at either end of the pathway by parking at the Mount Roberts trailhead on Basin Road, or at the end of Evergreen Avenue.
Mount Roberts Trail:
The Mount Roberts Trail begins near the end of Basin Road in downtown Juneau. This year, it’s predictably muddy in some places, but clear for the most part until shortly before the tram, where you’ll encounter a little snow. The snowpack is walkable, however, and shouldn’t give anyone too much trouble. Now that the cruise ships are here, the tram is running and the snow is melting quickly. Trail users should expect trail traffic to be crowded with both with tourists and with local runners and hikers. From the base of the trail to the tram building is just over 1.5 miles.
Dubbed as “Alaska’s First Road,” the Perseverance Trail is open for business this spring as the snow has retreated completely.
This popular pathway begins at the end of Basin Road and winds into Silverbow Basin a bit more than three miles one way, where historic mining put Juneau on the map.
Typically, a landslide blocks the trail temporarily, but this year no such event prevented passage. Users should be aware, however, of the steep and rocky portion of the trail that leads hikers high above Gold Creek. It’s in these locations that users should never stop; falling rock is a regular occurrence.
Otherwise the trail is quite pleasant and clear of the heavy brush that grows up during the peak of summer.
Other trails accessible from Perseverance include the Mount Juneau Trail, the Granite Creek Trail, which is traditionally snow-covered until June, and the Red Mill
Trail, which has only recently cleared.
Mount Juneau Trail:
Located roughly one mile from the Perseverance trailhead, the Mount Juneau Trail is quickly drying out in this year’s warm spring weather. Dangerous snow drifts still exist, however, and become more frequent the closer one gets to the summit. The trail itself is quite steep and winds through thick alders, devils club and shrubbery before turning toward the summit with a series of winding switchbacks.
Recent users of this trail report heavy snowpack on the switchback portion. Average trail users should wait until June to attempt a hike; advanced users should only attempt the trail with proper gear and knowledge of self-arrest techniques.
No matter the experience level, all users should absolutely stay clear of the cornices that exist at the top of the mountain. As the snow continues to degrade at high elevations, these large outcroppings of snow will become more and more unstable.
Sheep Creek Trail:
One trail with a heart-pumping beginning is the Sheep Creek Trail, located south of downtown off of Thane Road. This three-mile-long trail is clear for the 2014 season and bursting with green. On a sunny day, one would be hard-pressed to find a better hike or jogging trail.
Do be wary of the nettles that reach out over the singletrack in early summer and tread carefully on portions of the pathway that seem to teter precariously close to the rapids of Sheep Creek. Erosion has taken its toll in this area of the trail and it’s likely the erosion problem will need attention in the coming years.
Tucked up behind Bartlett Regional Hospital, this trail starts as a wide dirt road that slowly narrows to a singletrack once past the powerhouse for Salmon Creek Dam. From there, a sign points to the trail as it disappears into the rainforest.
Despite a landslide that washed out a portion of the access road, the trail is open for the 2014 season. All snow has cleared all the way to Salmon Creek Reservoir and no hazards currently exist. Users should be aware of aging, slippery boardwalk and old rail ties that are exceptionally treacherous after heavy rain events.
What some may call Juneau’s longest “flat” trail in town is now ready for foot and bike traffic — at least until users get north of Blueberry Hill. From there, the trail passes onto U.S. Forest Service land and many improvements are in the works for this portion of the nearly 14-mile-long pathway that runs from Douglas to Eaglecrest Ski Area.
Once past Blueberry Hill and the turnoff to Dan Moller Trail, the pathway becomes increasingly challenging as multiple bridges are in disrepair and trail hazards become numerous. It’s still doable, however, for the intrepid hiker or runner. Be prepared for snow drifts in low light areas the closer users get to Eaglecrest.
Dan Moller Trail:
Branching off the Treadwell Trail is the Dan Moller Trail, which ultimately leads to the USFS public use Dan Moller cabin. As of mid-May, the trail was entirely clear until users leave the first large muskeg meadow. Then, the trail alternates between snow drifts and muddy travel until finally giving way to all snow in the second large muskeg meadow, about a half mile from the cabin. Here, degrading snow seems to make post-holing a required experience. In a month, the trail should be clear to the cabin.
Otherwise, the trail fared well through the winter. There’s a number of boardwalk surprises, however. Here and there loose boards bounce underfoot and can launch an unwary hiker into the muddy muskeg.
Next week: Windfall Lake Trail, Brotherhood Bridge Trail, West Glacier Trail, Thunder Mountain Trail, Airport Dike Trail, Dupont Beach Trail, Outer Point / Rainforest Trail and Mount Jumbo.