Thunderbird Falls in early June 2011
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
Where in the World is Thunderbird Falls?
Falls Creek Falls in June 2011
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)
Where in the World is Falls Creek Falls?
McHugh Falls in May 2011
I have to admit McHugh Falls doesn’t have a huge amount of appeal. It’s a rather small waterfall, and I don’t like to discriminate against waterfalls, but you really can’t get very close to it. With small waterfalls, they’re best enjoyed nearby, not behind a fenced area.
It’s one redeeming quality is that it is very easy to visit. I believe there are a number of unadvertised waterfalls in Alaska, but how many are actually accessible? This is one of the few that is accessible. As you driving south along the Seward Highway from Anchorage, you’ll enter Chugach State Park (which is very expansive), and pass the parking area for McHugh Falls. There’s a $5 daily fee to enter the park, which I always support paying, though the first time I visited, I just got out of the car and took a few photos, and then left. There is a trail that leads somewhere, though I’m not sure where.
- Head south on the Seward Highway from Anchorage.
- You’ll enter Chugach State Park, and after a ways, you’ll find the entrance/parking area for the falls on your left. It may be easy to miss, so pay attention. I’d say it’s about a 1/4 of the way from Anchorage to Seward…
Accessibility: 10/10 (Easy)
Length of Hike: Roadside
Where in the World is McHugh Falls?
There are at least two easy-to-visit waterfalls in the Anchorage area. This is the easier of the two to visit, South Fork Eagle River Falls (which shows up on Google Maps as Barbara Falls). There is some steepness, but the trail is short at 0.5 miles one-way, meaning you won’t exert yourself too much. (There is another trail that is longer that also leads to the falls.)
Now, one thing I want to mention about the falls is that the parking area is VERY near private property. Make sure you do NOT trespass on any property, and it seems to be all around the path… I even doubted that there was parking allowed, but it does seem to be. Once you get to the falls, there area a lot of barriers preventing further exploration, and I decided not to do that. It just doesn’t seem safe or appropriate. The fencing must be there for a reason. This did mean that I wasn’t able to get the greatest of photos, but that was more due to the angle of the sun. It actually brightened the trees up a lot, but didn’t really ruin the waterfall itself.
August 2014 “Update”: There’s not really a whole lot to update. I followed the same set of directions, with the same set of warnings about being careful about private property! This time, the sun wasn’t really out, so the view was much better. (My camera also wasn’t broken, which usually helps!)
- Head north of Anchorage along AK-1 to the exit for the Eagle River Loop.
- Drive only 0.2 miles to Hiland Dr., and turn right.
- Drive on Hiland Rd. for a little over 3 miles, and turn left onto River Park Drive.
- It gets very confusing, as River VIEW Drive then turns into Waterfall Drive suddenly.
- Head to the end of Waterfall Drive, and turn right onto River PARK Drive.
- Head to the end of River Park Drive, and take the LEFT fork onto Ken Logan Circle.
- The parking area is at the very end.
- From the parking lot, head to the blocked road, cross the bridge, and then turn right at the sign indicating the Falls.
- Head up the trail. Near the end, it splits again. Head right. (The left is marked as private property). Heading right, you should end up at the waterfall in a very short distance.
Accessibility: 8/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Length of Hike: 1 mile round-trip
South Fork Eagle River Falls in August 2014
South Fork Eagle River Falls in May 2011
Where in the World is South Fork Eagle River Falls?