I had the chance to visit Alaska again this June (inexpensive airline fares, only complicated by limited rental car availability). I took my partner and my sister’s family of five, for a total of 7 people! We started out in Anchorage and then headed south to Girdwood. I was trying to figure out something to do one day, and Juneau Creek Falls popped up as being not that far away.
We packed everyone up and headed to the Resurrection Pass Trail Head along AK-1. It was just under an hour drive from our AirBnB in Girdwood. We parked our van at the parking area, and started along our journey. There were four adult, two teenagers, and a 3 year old!
The hike isn’t terrible, it’s just much longer than advertised. Many websites report this hike as a 7-8 mile hike (round-trip), but it rings in at 9+ miles round-trip. There is some up and down portions, but it then levels off as you approach the falls. It isn’t extremely clear where the trail veers off toward the falls, but luckily, there are multiple paths that will get you to a viewpoint of the falls.
The falls are much larger than they appear. I’m guessing they are about 100′ tall, and maybe 20′ wide. Even standing rather far away, you can feel the spray from the falls. My nephew, who is extremely “brave”, did figure out a path down to the base, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s a very steep and rather large drop-off.
The return hike is somewhat easier because you tend to know how the hike is going to go, and it’s mostly downhill from there. The test was my 3 year old niece. I wondered how she would fare on what turned out to be a 9 mile hike, but she was a champ. That’s a relatively good indication that it isn’t extremely strenuous…maybe just moderate in difficulty due to the length of the hike.
AK-1 is a rather long road in Alaska, so you’re looking for the piece on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage and Girdwood. You can set your GPS to Cooper Landing or to Resurrection Pass Trailhead South Parking. The parking is further to the west.
Once you reach the parking area, you can start your journey. The path is very well kept, and is relatively quiet, though there were mountain bikers that passed us.
I would recommending downloading maps on your phone so that the phone GPS can guide you to where the falls are. There is a campground north of the falls, and so if you’ve reached the campground, you’ve passed the falls.
The falls will be to the right of the main trail. As I said, there are a few side-trails that lead to the falls, and they are all relatively equal in difficulty/safety.
I’ve visited Alaska three times, and the second time I visited I drove from Anchorage to Valdez. It’s an approximately 5 hour drive, and there is definitely beautiful scenery along the way. Along the way there, I stayed in Copper Center. Just over 45 minutes away from Copper Center is Liberty Falls State Recreation Area, which isn’t too bad of a drive, and provides beautiful views of Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve.
I was doing some research to find out the height of the falls, and I couldn’t exactly remember how far of a hike it was to see the falls. I didn’t really remember a hike at all, but some searches were showing longer-than-expected hikes. What I discovered it that there are hiking opportunities in the recreation area, but I confirmed my recollection that to see the falls, there isn’t any hike required. You can get out of your car and essentially see the falls. So, while it is an out-of-the-way drive, once you arrive, it is not difficult to view the falls.
From AK-1, you’ll want to head south on AK-4 N (which doesn’t indicate the direction in this case, from my understanding).
After driving south on AK-4 N, you’ll come to AK-10. You’ll want to turn left on AK-10 and drive just under 24 miles to the recreation area.
You’re looking for the parking area that leads to direct views to the falls, unless you’re interested in doing a hike.
Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Length of Hike: roadside
The lower portion of Crooked Creek Falls in August 2014
Crooked Creek Falls in Valdez is one of those waterfalls that isn’t advertised very well. A search doesn’t bring up any quick mention of this waterfall in Valdez, and yet it’s really tall. I should mention, this could be a different creek for all I know, but it’ definitely in Valdez.
I noticed a small cascade as I was driving by the Crooked Creek Information Center for the Chugach National Forest as I was approaching Valdez. It appeared to be 15′ tall or so, though I could tell that some of the waterfall was hidden behind the trees. Then as I was exploring Valdez when I had some time, I noticed that there was a much taller waterfall off in the distance. It was very foggy the day that I visited, so this waterfall could only be viewed when the cloud layers had cleared, but there was definitely a large waterfall, and its location would coincide with Crooked Creek. Looking at a topographic map, it seems that this whole waterfall drops about 1200′, which is quite impressive. So if you’re headed to Valdez, look for the tall waterfall that you might not expect.
There aren’t many ways to enter into Valdez. You could fly or drive or take a boat, but even then, it’s limited. If driving, you pretty much enter the city via AK-4.
Along AK-4, there’s an information center for Crooked Creek in the Chugach National Forest. It’s on your right if driving into Valdez. The smaller view of the waterfall is roadside near the information center.
I viewed the bigger drop from Valdez itself, looking northeast.
Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Length of Hike: roadside
The larger view of Crooked Creek Falls (or some creek dropping precipitously)
I was searching through photos from travels in past Augusts, and was reminded of a number of waterfalls I saw on a visit to Alaska. I’m always a bit surprised at how difficult it can be to find information about waterfalls in Alaska. There are some waterfalls that are very commonly advertised, but there are other impressive falls that are less so.
If you search for Anderson Falls, you’ll find a few hits, but sparse information. And yet Anderson Fall is one of the tallest (easily visited?) waterfalls in the state. Based on the terrain, there are many more that are just too inaccessible to visit. And in terms of “easily visited”, it does require a boat ride. Luckily, there are a number of fjord and glacier cruise tours that leave from Valdez and will pass right by this waterfall.
From my guesstimate, it seems that the falls are at least 600′ tall, possibly more. There are two portions to the falls, the top plunge drop, followed by the lower cascades. The falls continue even more as they meet the shoreline. It’s a really impressive sight, and one that I wasn’t particularly expecting!
In this case, the most “difficult” part is getting to Valdez. I flew into Anchorage, and it was 5 hour drive to Valdez. (There are flights on prop jets into Valdez.)
After arriving and seeing some of the other waterfalls in Valdez, I hopped on one of the boat cruises (Lu-Lu Belle or Stan Stephens, I don’t remember which), and took the cruise to see the falls, glaciers, and wildlife! It’s definitely worth it!
Accessibility: 10/10 (Easy)
Height: 600′ +
Length of Hike: Not applicable
Keystone Canyon is one of those places that is hard to describe. On the way in to Valdez, I had been driving for about an hour and a half. (It’s about 5 hours from Anchorage via road.) Even if I had been driving for longer, I think I would still have had my breath taken away as I entered Keystone Canyon. It was drizzling a bit, giving the canyon a special atmosphere. The road winds through the canyon, at times crossing over the Lowe River. Cliffs climb above you on both sides of the road.
And then the waterfalls start appearing. Bridal Veil and Horsetail Falls are the two named waterfalls. As I’m driving along, though, I see another waterfall. I don’t know if this one has a designated name, and I wasn’t sure what the name of the creek was, therefore it’s Keystone Canyon Falls to me.
The mountains above the gorge climb about 5500′ feet in the matter of about 4 miles. So while you’re probably seeing about 100′ of waterfall in this picture, there’s likely more waterfall hidden above.
I often mention whether you should go out of your way to see a waterfall…In this case, it’s taken to extremes. I was headed to Valdez to go on a day-long glacier/wildlife cruise. As I mentioned, the drive from Anchorage to Valdez is about five hours, and there are long stretches of beautiful nothingness. You could fly, but then you’ll miss these waterfalls. On the way, you’ll get some great views of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, and a “short” detour from the road to Valdez will lead to Liberty Falls. In addition to Bridal Veil Falls and Horsetail Falls, there’s also Crooked Creek Falls in Valdez. With all of the additional beautiful, it’s a good reason to drive, but you’ve got to set time aside just for this.
There isn’t any other way to enter Valdez via road than on Alaska Route 4. From Anchorage, you’d follow AK-1 for a really long time to the junction of AK-4.
Turn right and head south on AK-4, and then after an hour or so, you’ll enter Keystone Canyon. It’s clearly signed. It’s hard to miss the different waterfalls.
Length of Hike: roadside
Height: ~100′ (could be more or less, not the greatest judge of height)
The middle portion of Pioneer Falls (in August 2014)
Trying to find a somewhat comprehensive list of waterfalls in Alaska is not an easy endeavor. The sheer size and remoteness of much of the state leads me to believe there are far more waterfalls than listed. I even remember watching one of the reality shows about mining gold in Alaska, and they had found a waterfall in some remote area. Alaska’s tourism website (found here) does a fairly good job of identify 27 waterfalls, but it still is incomplete.
Exhibit A: Pioneer Falls. I was staying at cottages near Palmer and Wasilla, and I was looking at Google Maps to see if there was anything interesting to do in the area. And as I scanned the page, by pure chance (or what seemed like it), I noticed a marker for “Pioneer Falls Trailhead”. I had never heard of this before, and decided to search a little more. It seemed like Pioneer Falls existed, and after discovering it was on paved road, I decided to go and check it out.
Pioneer Falls does exist! It’s surprisingly easy to get to, and it’s a very short hike to view the falls up-close. One reason Pioneer Falls might not be widely visited: it’s a difficult waterfall to view in its entirety. As I’ve said before, I’m a terrible judge of heights, but I’d guess the total drop is greater than 100′. And yet from any portion along the trail, you’re only going to see one piece of the falls. From the gravel parking area, you’ll get a pretty good view of the uppermost drop. As you start hiking toward the falls, you’ll get a better view of the lower and middle portions, but even those are almost impossible to view together. So it’s rather hard to gain a full appreciation for the waterfall. So I don’t know if I would seek out just Pioneer Falls on its own, but if you’re headed from Anchorage to Palmer, you can see Pioneer Falls while also stopping at Thunderbird Falls and South Fork Eagle River Falls.
From AK-1 (Glenn Highway), take the exit onto Old Glenn Highway (just before you cross over the Knik River).
Head east along Old Glenn Highway until you get to E. Knik River Road. (Old Glenn Highway veers to the north and crosses over the Knik River), while E. Knik River Road continues east.
Continue along E. Knik River Road for 1.2 miles. On your right, you should see a sign for Pioneer Falls.
Continue for about 50 more feet to a gravel road on your right. There’s a mailbox there on the right, and when you turn onto this gravel road, it goes for a short distance to an oval parking area.
Park in this gravel lot, and you will be able to see the falls from here. It’s maybe a 0.2 mile hike to the falls, if that much.
Be careful. If you decide to hike further up, realize that the trail can be slippery in places. Exercise caution!
Accessibility: 10/10 (to get a view from the base of the lower portion), 6/10 (to go up a bit further)
Height: ~100′ (?)
Length of Hike: 0.4 miles round-trip
So I had written this assuming I had missed the main drop along Virgin Creek, only to discover that I had seen the main drop, but it I had posted two separate photos of different drops along the creek! I have seen the main drop of Virgin Creek Falls!
Even if you miss the main drop of Virgin Creek Falls, which is about 15′ tall, it’s still an amazing creek that produces beautiful photographs! I love how the moss has grown over the tree branches and the rocks, clinging to any stable surface. It definitely provides a clear sense that you’re standing in a temperate rain forest!
Drive along Highway 1 from Anchorage. About 35 miles south of Anchorage, you’ll come to the town of Girdwood. It could be rather easy to miss at first.
If you are heading southeast, turn left onto Alyeska Highway. Drive just over 2.5 miles to Timberline Drive.
Continue along Timberline Drive for 1 mile or so to the very end. The road does curve a bit with many offshoots, but continue along to the parking area (which I don’t clearly remember).
From the parking area, a sign should be right near a house, indicating you’re on the right path. (Again, I don’t seem to remember the sign.) It should be 0.1-0.2 miles from that area. (I’ve seen conflicting numbers, not that there’s a huge difference!)
Accessibility: 10/10 (very easy for the short portion I hiked)
Length of Hike: 0.4 miles round-trip
I guess the first thing I’ll say is that Thunderbird Falls is one cool name for a waterfall! And to go along with that, it’s also one cool waterfall. After taking a look at the falls I visited in my short time in Alaska, Thunderbird Falls has go down as my current favorite. There aren’t a whole lot of competitors, and that might just be because many of the waterfalls are unadvertised or unknown (by most people).
There’s something about the falls that is just right. It’s in a perfect forest setting. Coming in at a two-mile round trip hike, it doesn’t take a terribly long time to get to the falls, but you also get to explore the Alaskan scenery around you. When you get to the falls, there are two different options here…The first option is to go to the viewing platform near the crest of the falls. This is where the photograph shown was taken. It really reveals both segments of the falls and its height. There’s one portion that’s hidden from view. Now, if you don’t feel like you’re close enough to the falls, the second option is to descend down to the base. The hike down isn’t difficult until you get nearer the base. At that point, it’s actually flat ground, but in early June, there was still a significant amount of ice near the river, and the falls were flowing pretty well, so I did have to be extremely careful to ensure I didn’t slip on the ice. But once you get near the base, you’ll be impressed. It does require a little more work, though…
Exit Highway 1 (Glenn Highway) at mile marker 25 (which is north of Anchorage).
The signs clearly indicate the direction to the falls. There is a parking area, and a $5 entrance fee. (I feel that some people may have parked outside of the parking area to avoid that?)
Follow the trail to the falls!
Accessibility: 7/10 (easy/moderate, to full viewpoint)
Length of Hike: 2 miles round-trip
There are a number of interesting drops along the Alaska coastline that don’t get frequently mentioned. I understand that they are not always that large, but they are still very easy to visit, so why not do so.
One such example is Falls Creek Falls, which is right off of the Seward Highway south of Anchorage in Chugach State Park. I think I pulled off on a whim to see whether there was any significant waterfall, and there is something there. It would probably be better described as a cascade. There is a trail that climbs almost 3000′ feet in about 2.7 miles, and while I had no wish to do that, you will still get a great view of some idyllic cascades. Even with out the cascades, the area along the Alaska shoreline is intensely beautiful.
You’ll be driving along the Seward Highway, and inside the Chugach State Park boundaries, there is a small pulloff with room for about four cars. This is the trail for Falls Creek. It is somewhat more obvious when heading north along the highway.
Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Height: 15′ (could be much taller)
Length of Hike: Roadside (or 5.4 miles round-trip)
I was on the Kenai Fjords Cruise, and on the return journey, I looked to my left, and low and behold there was this pretty impressive waterfall off in the distance. Now, even after searching for information about waterfalls in Alaska on the internet, I really didn’t find any information about a waterfall in Alaska. That really isn’t surprising, as not many waterfalls of Alaska are listed online.
The lucky part about this waterfall is just how easy it is to get to, once you know where you’re headed. From the center of Seward, if you head south along the main road, you’ll come to a single road that leads further south. It doesn’t look like it leads anywhere impressive, but I think it does actually lead to some interesting spots. Just a short distance down this road, though, and you can find Lowell Creek Falls. In late May, it was pretty impressive. I thought that maybe it was a man-made waterfall due to its surroundings, but it appears that it is a true waterfall that has been altered slightly to ensure that road erosion hasn’t occurred.
From Seward, head south on AK-9.
At the end of AK-9, turn right onto Lowell Point Road. It’s really the only road you can turn onto.
After just a short distance, you should come to the falls!
Accessibility: 10/10 (Easy)
Length of Hike: Roadside