Ever since I was a child, for me and my family, a trip to Hatcher Pass always meant a three things:
- a beautiful drive
- seeing the historic Independence Mine
- finishing by playing around Summit Lake
At this point in my life I have taken friends, family, and clients up to Hatcher Pass so many times that I was utterly flabbergasted to hear there was another, apparently legendary hiking trail, right next to Summit Lake.
I was, naturally, intensely-curious about this amazing hike that had apparently eluded me my whole life. Additionally, I had been searching for the rare and difficult to photograph Pika in Hatcher Pass, and was told this area had many sightings over the years.
So my wife, a few friends, their younger kids and I, set out to see what it was all about, and how accessible it would be to hikers of different abilities/ages.
This is my second, in series of articles, highlighting some of the best and lesser know (or completely unknown) hiking trails in Hatcher pass. If you would like to see the first one that was written about the newly discovered Willow Paradise Trail, check out this link!
Where Is The April Bowl Trail?
This very simple question, is also exactly why this hike escaped me for so long.
The trailhead is not exceptionally well marked and is more or less located right next to the Summit Lake access area. I will explain as best I can exactly where to find it so your next hike will be smooth sailing.
Note: This trail is only accessible from around July 1st – September 15th depending on snow conditions. Check the Department of Natural Resources website to make sure it is open.
If you head North of Anchorage and take Palmer Fishhook Road (which turns into Hatcher Pass Road) you will eventually reach a fork in the road where if you went straight you would reach Independence Mine (which is very cool, but a topic for another day), instead go left towards Summit Lake.
Once you reach the highest point driving, there is a pull off parking area that is technically at mile 19 of Hatcher Pass Road (but there are no mile markers).
There is a small sign, but if even one vehicle parks in front of it, you’d never see it.
So the best way to know you are in the right spot, is to actually find the small parking area that is just before the Summit Lake parking area below you which is much larger and busier.
There is a monument in the correct parking area that says “Hatcher Pass Summit”, once you see the monument, turn around to your left and you’ll see the April Bowl Trail entrance going up the mountainside.
The above image shows a trail heading East towards Willow Alaska, which is right next to the parking area and goes down. I bring this up because you might mistake this for the correct trail and you may start hiking in the wrong direction.
Turn your sights due South, and you will see a trail heading up (not down), and your hike up the April Bowl Trail begins!
The Path To The Twin Lakes
The main path after the confusing trailhead situation, is fortunately, very well worn and you will definitely not get lost. It will take you up a short but slightly steep trail with a few switchbacks to make it easier.
After about a half hour you will be rewarded with an incredible scene showing off the beautiful, sapphire blue, Twin Lakes.
This area is one of two that I highly recommend you take your time and explore.
I recommend exploring this area, getting off the trail a bit, and taking your time for three primary reasons:
- There is a lot of alpine wildlife to enjoy if you get off the trail a little (Marmots, Arctic Ground Squirrels, Eagles, Falcons, and my favorite, the Pikas). Find a quiet little area near some boulders, talk in a low voice, and you will see some cool wildlife.
- Trying to do the entire hike without stopping can be exhausting, so this is a great place for a picnic, or to just stop for a moment and enjoy the rare views and spectacular color variations of the mountains surrounding you.
- This is the perfect place to plan the remainder of the hike, you can see the entire mountain ridge above you, so this way you can decide about how far you want to go (if heading all the way to the summit, knowing how far/close the summit is from this perspective is a relief later on, trust me).
After you have relaxed and enjoyed this area, it’s time to start hiking up. You will soon be gaining the most elevation of this hike, but its relatively short and once you get up high enough, it will level out quite a lot so don’t give up!
I will say that, funnily enough, at this point in the hike the younger kids (8 and 5 year old girls) were doing just fine; while all four adults needed to take breaks to keep up with them.
I would certainly say that the hike up to the Twin Lakes area is easy-moderate as long as you take it slow.
Heading Towards The Summit
Outside of trying to find the elusive Pikas, one of the reasons I went on this hike was to see some interesting landscapes. Then, about one third of the way up the trail, one of the little girls who was ahead of us, stopped dead in her tracks.
She put her hands up to her face and literally had her jaw drop, as she saw the view in this photo and, honestly, my jaw dropped too (mission success).
It was one of the rare times I have ever seen mountains endlessly fading into the distance, for miles and miles, without being on a plane. We all suddenly realized that this was going to be a really special experience, one we had never had in Hatcher Pass.
Every new corner, every new ridge… was calling out to us with something new to see.
The shear number of different colors and textures painting the surrounding mountain sides, and the fact that you did not require an aircraft to get here, was amazing.
Too boot, the hiking trail itself was never scary or sketchy, we never had to scramble up rocky areas (we did for fun a few times, but not required).
This was quickly shaping up to be one of the easiest hikes, with some of the best views, I had ever seen.
Reaching The Summit Of The April Bowl Trail
It took us around an hour to make it up to the summit area from the lake, but we were also taking lots of photos and not rushing ourselves. Once you start to see the mountain terrain level out, you will know that you are close to the top.
There are lots of resting places people have creatively cobbled together from rocks, so I definitely recommend taking advantage of them before the last push to the summit.
You will now have access to views that most people on planet earth will never be lucky enough to see. In absolutely every direction you will never have an obscured view, everything is wide open, epically vast, and breathtaking to say the least.
Before we reached the very top, we unfortunately had one member of our adult party who decided the remaining part of the hike was going to be too tough.
It was only maybe another 15 minutes of hiking to the summit, hiking that was significantly easier than what we had just done, but we had no idea at the time that that would be the case.
The rest of us finally made our way to the highest point on the trail and we took some (well deserved) time to take it all in. We saw one other group of a few people while we enjoyed exploring the summit, but otherwise, we had this vast expanse of incredible beauty all to ourselves.
About 400 feet below us there were probably 15 people enjoying the large Twin Lakes area, and about 1000 feet below us there were probably 200+ people flooding the small Summit Lake area.
To be able to have this kind of experience, with hardly anyone around, on an amazingly sunny day no less, is something everyone should do once in their lives. Its just that good.Phillip Flippo
The Return Trip & Final Thoughts On The April Bowl Trail
After we took our fill of photographs and filled our lungs with one last breath of the crisp cool alpine air, we began our decent. The younger girl (5 years old) was tired enough that she needed her dad to carry her for the first 15 minutes of the decent. Otherwise, the hike back down the 856ft elevation trail, was a total breeze for everyone.
We stopped once at the Twin Lakes area again, not because we were particularly tired, but because I really wanted one more try to find the Pikas.
I was sadly unsuccessful and after a while everyone was fully exercised and ready to go home. We packed up and headed back down the switchbacks to our car.
I think that anyone from ages of 5 and up, who are in good health, can make this hike all the way to the summit and back in about 3-4 hours. This being if you take a lot of time to stop and enjoy yourself fully.
Although AllTrails says you can complete this hike in 1 hour and 31 minutes (but that might be pushing it if you are not an avid hiker).
All in all, I would highly recommend this lesser known hike up the April Bowl Trail! Especially for those who want to see world class views of Alaska’s incredible summer/fall mountain scenery without great expense or tremendous effort.
Although I may not have seen the Pikas on this hike, I was not going to give up and decided to contact some experts. I reached out to Alaska’s Bureau of Land Management and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to maximize my chances to find them.
In fact if you ever need a resource to help you understand more about great Alaskan wildlife, they are eager to help and couldn’t recommend them enough.
Alaska Department of Fish & Game: Habitat Information: (907) 267-2342
Alaska Bureau of Land Management: (907) 271-5960
They were extremely helpful in educating me in the “typical places” I might find them. However, unlike this hike, based on what they told me, I knew I was once again going to have to set out and find a whole new undiscovered great Alaskan hike.
Read my next article on how I finally found the Pika Township and Marmot Village, and the amazing hikes that I discovered in doing so.