After hiking Mt. Marathon in Seward, Alaska we visited the town’s library and I found 50 hikes in Alaska’s Chugach State Park by Shane Shepard. This is a great guide, especially as it gave us this gift of a hike.
The hike to Pioneer Ridge is a strenuous full day hike with incredible views of the Knik River and Knik Glacier. If you are ambitious you can continue to the scramble of South Pioneer Peak – 1.5 miles and 1,000 vertical feet further.
Only 45 minutes from Anchorage, this is a must-do hike if you’re in the area!
- Round Trip: 9 miles
- Start elevation: 100 feet
- End elevation: 5,300 feet
- Elevation gain: 5,200 feet
- Difficulty: moderate – established trail
Getting there: The trail head is located on Knik River Road. Drive 25 miles north from Anchorage on Glenn Highway. Take the Old Glenn Highway exit – right before the main highway crosses the Knik River. Drive for 9 miles until you reach a fork in the road – stay to the right for Knik River Road. Drive 4 miles and the trail head is on the right side of the road, marked by a large wooden sign (although it’s easy to miss!).
The hike to Pioneer Ridge begins climbing through a dense forest, in typical Alaskan jungle fashion. As Shepard describes, it “rarely relents from its steady uphill chug.” Cow Parsnip and Devil’s Club drape over the trail to gift you with a rash (the former) or spikes (the latter). Here are some interesting highlights about each plant!
Used to cure arthritis, mash stalks and leaves and make a poultice, apply to sore area over night. This poultice also could be used for sore backs, sore eyes, saddle sores and other sore areas. When first applied it would burn the skin, but it is said that it killed all kinds of germs and little worms that infect the head. It also can have a strong laxative effect on some people. Apache peoples of Arizona used it treat epilepsy. The roots are brewed to make a tea and it is drunk to cure colds, sore throats, mouth sores, flu, and tuberculosis. The volatile oils in the plant decrease thickness and increase fluidity of the mucus from the lungs and bronchial tubes. It has also been cited as being used as a nerve calmer, a sedative. It also decreases spasms of the smooth muscles or skeletal muscles.
This plant has long been used for medicinal purposes by various indigenous peoples. Several Native American tribes still use devil’s club to remedy respiratory and gastrointestinal ailments as well as inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatism and arthritis. The Haida and Tlingit purify themselves in preparation for the hunt by bathing and fasting with nothing more than devil’s club tea. The Skagit commonly drink the tea after childbirth for its restorative properties, while a poultice made from the root bark is later employed to cease milk production when the child is ready to be weaned.
After climbing for two miles, the trail emerges from the trees onto grassy slopes. Here you will find the first of three picnic tables that were carried up in pieces by a local high school’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.
Once you leave treeline there will likely not be any more water sources, so make sure you have enough!
At mile three the trail flattens out a bit as it gains the crest of Pioneer Ridge.
The top of Pioneer Ridge is the saddle – from here you can see Pioneer Peak to the west. Continue on the trail for the [loose and rocky] scramble or turn around here.
After returning to the car with jelly legs, we drove a few miles west back toward Old Glenn Highway and found some free camping in the Knik River Public Use Area. Most websites pointed to the north side of the river for camping, but we found a giant open area south of the river.