Bird Ridge is one of the most iconic hikes around Anchorage. It’s about a 25 minute drive down the Seward Highway from Anchorage, and hikable year around. It’s fun to run or hike up to the ridge different times of the year since the conditions change with the seasons. When the front range gets too snowy to hike without skis, you can pretty much always get up Bird. If you don’t want to try it alone, there’s a group of folks that meet in the parking lot and hike it at noon every Sunday, no matter the conditions.
The trail goes from sea level along the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet to just over 3500 feet. The first part is pretty protected from any of the notorious winds that shoot down the Turnagain Arm, the second part, above tree line, not so much. One of the first times I hiked up Bird, already drenched with cold spring rain, my buddy and I crested the final ridge before the last half mile to the point, and were hit with horizontal sleet pelting us in the face. I have a hard time turning around before the top, but we make the call and came down as quick as we could. The next time I came more prepared and brought warmer clothes.
Some days the trail is an icy mess that microspikes don’t even help with, some days it’s slick, steep mud. If you’re lucky it’s a mix of both! Sometimes it’s hot and dry with an unrelenting sun, sometimes it’s post holing in knee deep snow. The secret is to wait a day after a storm until some other foolish person breaks trail first! No matter what the conditions, it’s always a great workout and worth the effort.
Usually there’s a bit of wind, but sometimes you’re fortunate enough to hit a calm day. Always bring an extra layer for unpredictable conditions. And having a good cew makes the cold, windy days easier.
The tundra colors light up in the fall. The ridge turns bright red, yellow and orange, along with all of the deciduous trees lower down along the arm. Plus, if you time it right, you can watch the bore tide roll in.
If you’re feeling spicy, there’s a race to the top every June. It’s a good tune up for the impending Mount Marathon a few weeks later. The race up Bird Ridge has become so popular, it’s now a lottery to get in. https://skinnyraven.com/event/robert-spurr-memorial-hill-climb-bird-ridge/
If the hiking to Bird Ridge Point is not quite enough, the trail extends a few more miles to the Bird Ridge Overlook. It adds a couple hours of running, but has 360 degree views of the inlet and Chugach the whole way.
My favorite time to hike the trail is an inverted winter day. It’s always a gamble leaving town in the thick low clouds, wondering if you’ll get above them, and what will be up there waiting. Sometimes you don’t poke out…
But when you get lucky and pop out of the fog half way up with the sun reflecting off the crisp white snow and sea of clouds, framed by the brilliant bluebird sky, the view is beyond stunning.
Aside from the teaser snowfall in October, the weirdly warm weather has left the trail in great condition. Normally I run in shoes with screws in the bottom this time of year (something Skinny Raven will do for $10 to any pair of shoes – and well worth it when it’s icy), but running shoes worked just fine since the trail was dry until the final ridge to the point. Yesterday we weren’t as lucky to be greeted by a bluebird sky above the clouds, but we got above the fog and it was warm and calm at the top.
Remember to bring bear spray in the spring, summer and fall. Plan on the summit and the way down to be much colder than the way up. And bring your phone, since you’ll probably want to take a photo or two.