Pets allowed
Allowed
Elevation Gain
3,257.00 ft (992.73 m)
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
5.00 mi (8.05 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Driving along Alaska’s scenic Seward Highway from Anchorage to Seward is widely regarded as an Alaska Must-Do. One of the most delightful parts of this trip is the initial 50 mile stretch directly out of Anchorage along the Turnagain Arm—a tumultuous and silt-gray body of water fed by a number of glaciers in the surrounding Chugach and Kenai Mountains before becoming the Cook Inlet. The Turnagain Arm is one of the world’s most unique bodies of water, being one of two places in North America to see a true tidal wave (called the Bore Tide). Here you can watch for everything from bald eagles to beluga whales to surfers.

Even better than merely driving along the 'Arm,' however, is witnessing its glory in full from high above, and no hike provides a better opportunity for this than Bird Ridge located in Chugach State Park. To reach the trailhead, drive 26 miles from downtown Anchorage toward Girdwood. The trailhead is located on the left (north) side of the highway. If you see the turnoff to Bird Creek on the right, you’ve gone just slightly too far. Either a $5 day-use fee or a vehicle bearing an Alaska State Parks sticker ($35 annually) is required to park here.

For its proximity to the city, easy access off the highway, and stunning views, Bird Ridge is one of the most popular trails in the Anchorage area, due largely to the fact that it is hikeable pretty much year-round (though expect a LOT of snow in the winter months- so much snow that either snowshoes or skis with skins would be required). It’s also one of the most difficult hikes in the area, with a sustainable grade averaging 25% grade, but going as high at 60% in spots.

You’ll start to climb right away, though after a short bit, the trail flattens and you’ll come to a well-constructed picnic area and a fork in the trail. Continue straight to walk the relatively flat Turnagain Arm Trail or turn left toward Bird Ridge.  Immediately, the trail gets steeper, a trend that will continue pretty much until you hit the top of the ridge.

For the first mile, you’ll climb through lush coastal rainforest until you finally hit Alaska’s remarkably low treeline. From there, you’ll continue ascending through rocky slopes and finally into alpine terrain as you near the ridge. In summer, the ridge is intermittent rocky outcrops and soft alpine tundra covered in blueberries and salmonberries. But for most of the year, the rocky ridge is covered in snow.  Even in early summer, it is recommended to bring snow spikes and trekking poles just in case, especially given the fact that the sun can quickly turn the snow into ice. However, because the trail is so popular, you’ll never need to worry about route finding, and even when the snow is deep up top, hiker traffic usually wears a deep groove into the snow in place of the trail.

In true Alaska style, there are several false summits, including the most dramatic (but not highest) point on the ridge, a rocky outcrop rising just before the final summit. This outcrop is known as “The Beak” for its prominence. The Beak is a popular spot to climb for photos from the main summit with the Turnagain Arm in the background. It requires very mild scrambling to reach the top, which can be a lot more treacherous in snowy, icy conditions.

From the highest point of the ridge, stop to take in the stunning views on all sides. Farther north, you’ll see miles upon miles of the endless Chugach Mountains and Chugach State Park, a 495,000 acre mountainous swath that ranks this park among America’s four largest. To the southwest, you can see the silt-stained waters of Turnigan Arm framed by the Kenai mountains on the other side all the way until it bleeds into the Cook Inlet. On a clear day, you might even be able to see the permanently snow-capped Tordrillo Mountains (the southernmost part of the Alaska Range) appearing to float hazily in the middle of the Inlet.

On the hike back, take your time. If you thought the steepness on the way up would be the hardest part, your knees might tell you otherwise on the way down.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Summer
Fall

Congestion

High

Parking Pass

$5.00

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Stunning vistas. View of entire Turnagain Arm. Year round access. \

Cons

Potential bear danger. Fall risk on the ridge. Often snowy or muddy.

Trailhead Elevation

166.00 ft (50.60 m)

Highest point

3,423.00 ft (1,043.33 m)

Features

Glacier
Big vistas
Wildlife
Bird watching

Typically multi-day

No

Permit required

No

Location

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