The U.S. state of Alaska, positioned in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, is a place so majestic and breathtaking that mere words cannot possibly describe the totality of its beauty. The largest state in America by area, Alaska features tall, snow-capped mountains, rolling plains and picturesque coastlines, including a long strip of land along the frigid waters of the Arctic Ocean. The state has always been known as an outdoor paradise, a place where sports and fitness enthusiasts, including mountain bikers, are free to explore the vast wilderness laid out gorgeously within its borders.
Scenic and exciting mountain biking trails can be found throughout Alaska, including those in parks which have been specifically crafted for that purpose. Collectively, these courses have made the state one of the premier destinations for outdoor cycling. In the article below we will introduce you to five of the most popular trails in the massive state of Alaska, highlighting some of the features that consistently draw—and mesmerize—riders from across the country and around the world.
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Located in the city of Anchorage, the largest city in the state of Alaska, Kincaid Park is a popular local mountain biking destination, one that offers countless opportunities for enjoyment and skill enhancement. Laid out in a counter-clockwise direction, the system of trails at the park commences from the Raspberry Trailhead before connecting to a south-moving track with plenty of single track flow and an exciting downhill finish.
The Kincaid Park trail system, which was designed by project manager Lee Bolling, feels a bit more like a rollercoaster than it does a mountain biking course, as the track is narrow, slippery and features a series of dramatic dips and chunky climbs across the park’s bumpy terrain. Along the trail, riders will need to contend with a number of challenging obstacles, including roots, loose rocks, switchbacks and berms, as well as a hair-raising final descent that demands the utmost of care and attention.
The Kincaid Park course covers 45 miles of terrain (when ridden as a loop), and even though the course is located in a big city, riders are urged to be wary of bear and moose sightings and to always travel in a group.
East Pillar Mountain Loop
Situated in the breathtaking city of Kodiak, Alaska, the East Pillar Mountain Loop is a seven-mile course that was built by—and is intended for—advanced to expert mountain bikers looking to challenge themselves both below and above the tree line. Ridden in combination with a region known as Russian Ridge, this technical, single track course begins with a gritty, heart-pumping series of difficult climbs, after which riders are treated to some of the most beautiful views of the Kodiak Valley below. After taking in the scenery, bikers begin a wicked descent that is fraught with potential spill-causing obstacles—obstacles that reinforce the course’s “advanced riders only” tag posted prominently on the track’s colorful signage.
East Pillar Mountain Loop includes an elevation gain of just less than 1,200 feet, miles upon miles of technical downhills, and both manmade and naturally-occurring impediments, including many challenging rock gardens, roots, terrain undulation and unstable track. The loop is set up in a very remote region of Kodiak, and thus should always be ridden with a partner or as part of a group.
Lost Lake Trail
According to the local mountain biking club, if you have a mountain bike and plan to be in or around the beautiful town of Seward, Alaska, you should definitely make time to take a spin on the Lost Lake Trail. A seven-mile, intermediate-rated trail, the course at Lost Lake park offers some of the most glorious scenery ever witnessed, a mix of Alaskan tundra and forestland and a 360-degree view of the snow-capped mountains that frame the trail.
Ridden mostly as an out-and-back or as part of a big loop that includes the Primrose Trail, the Lost Lake fun commences at its namesake trailhead and, after a speedy downhill right out of the gate, begins a steady climb through the hardwood forest. Although single track by design, the Lost Lake Trail is rather wide, and features many technical sections that are punctuated by rocks, roots and other obstacles.
As the Lost Lake Trail transitions from forest to tundra, riders speed their way along the banks of a sparkling creek until they reach the course’s most anticipated bit of scenery: a gushing waterfall, which acts as a natural stopping point for rest and sightseeing. From this point, there is but one more section of track before riders reach the banks of Lost Lake—a location surrounded by mountains and by Resurrection Bay. After reaching the lake, most riders are eager to retrace their steps and enjoy the course in reverse.
The Lost Lake Trail and Park is managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS)—Chugach National Forest Office.
Crescent Lake Trail
Located in the town of Cooper’s Landing, near Bear Creek, Alaska, the Crescent Lake Trail is a jewel of a mountain biking destination, one described by one local rider as “single-track climbing bliss through postcard-perfect mountains to an alpine lake.” The trail spans roughly 6.5 miles in distance (13 miles when ridden as a loop), and is perfect for every level of rider.
Starting from the trailhead of the same name, the Crescent Lake Trail is initially carved through thick forestland before ascending steadily through a series of switchbacks. Once the initial—and quite moderate—climb flattens out and transitions to even ground, the trail begins to move across the toe of a slope and continues along a side hill high above a deep valley below—a section that presents both technical challenges and vivid, majestic scenery.
To keep riders on their toes, the Crescent Lake Trail alternates between long, mellow sections and punchy climbs and drop-offs, including a few segments in which the trail tip-toes along narrow single track below some formidable rock walls. Riders tempted to enjoy the scenery along the ride would be best served to do so at designated rest areas only, as the obstacles on the trail demand the utmost attention.
Hatcher Pass Trail
Situated in the quiet, peaceful town of Palmer, Alaska, the Hatcher Pass Trail is a 2-mile downhill course that accommodates riders of all ages and ability levels. Although best suited for longer travel bikes with good suspension, the trail is not so rough as to prevent hours of fun and excitement on a decent hard tail or trail bike, a good strategy for those looking to test their collective bike handling skills.
The Hatcher Pass Trail begins at the mile 16 marker of Hatcher’s Pass, and thus the course is alternately known as the “16-Mile Downhill.” It begins with a fun jump over a natural rock outcropping followed by a quick 90 degree turn that takes riders directly to the actual downhill trail. From here, riders are whisked down a descent that is as rapid as it is technical, with obstacles that include berms, rocks, roots, loose gravel and other impediments.
Hatcher Pass Trail is owned, managed and maintained by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and the Parks and Recreation division of the City of Palmer.
image credit: OkieInAlaska