This climb is excerpted from 55 Ways to the Wilderness in Southcentral Alaska, by Helen D. Nienhueser and John Wolfe Jr., published by The Mountaineers, Seattle. ©1996 by Helen D. Nienhueser and John Wolfe Jr. All rights reserved.
A turquoise beauty, Ptarmigan Lake reflects the mountains that surround it. Two trails with magnificent views lead from the highway to join shortly before the lake; a 4-mile extension of the trail continues around the lake to its east end.
Entering by one trailhead and leaving by the other makes a nice loop trip; the trailheads are only a mile apart. High grasses may obscure the turnoff to the northern trail when you return from Ptarmigan Lake, so the loop is best hiked beginning at the northern trailhead. Anglers will find grayling, salmon, Dolly Varden, and rainbow trout in Ptarmigan Creek and grayling in Ptarmigan Lake.
To reach the northern trailhead, drive to mile 24.2 of the Seward Highway (103 miles south of Anchorage). Just north of the Trail River Campground entrance, and on the opposite side of the highway, turn onto a gravel road with a stop sign and yellow mailbox. Proceed east across a set of rail road tracks, and park near the tracks (elevation 450 feet).
On foot, continue east a short distance. The road passes a house and an old log cabin. Respect private property. Near the old cabin, the main road turns right to another house. Instead of turning right, pass around a Forest Service gate straight ahead, and start up the trail. A sign may mark the trailhead: "Falls Creek 3; Ptarmigan Lake Access Trail 1." The trail is not well maintained, however, so signs may be down. Ptarmigan Lake is about 3 miles away. The first mile follows an old mining road.
Just uphill beyond a creek crossing and the remains of a burned cabin in a clearing, the trail turns right, leaving the old road. The trail climbs a low timbered ridge and then contours along the mountainside at about 900 feet elevation, well above the valley floor. Look for glimpses of Ptarmigan and Kenai lakes. Soon this trail intersects Ptarmigan Creek Trail, which originates at Ptarmigan Creek Campground. Continue straight ahead to Ptarmigan Lake (elevation 755 feet).
This can be destination enough for a picnic or overnight camping, or continue around the north shore of the lake about 4 miles to the eastern end, which also offers good campsites.
The southern trailhead, for Ptarmigan Creek Trail, leaves from Ptarmigan Creek Campground (elevation 450 feet) at mile 23.2 of the Seward Highway. The scenic trail, 3.5 miles long, follows the tumbling clear creek upstream and then turns away to climb through a quiet conifer forest to meet the northern trail.
The route originally continued beyond Ptarmigan Lake into Paradise Valley. It is now badly overgrown, but those with an exploring bent might want to tackle the old path.
Avalanche hazard precludes winter use of either trail beyond the first 1.5 miles. Hikers traveling via light planes can land on the Lawing airstrip between the trailheads. Ptarmigan Creek Trail is closed to horses from April 1 through June 30 and to motorized vehicles May 1 through November 30. Mountain bikers may use the northern trailhead and follow the mining road 3 miles to Falls Creek, although the route is not easy. The routes to Ptarmigan Lake are not suitable for bikes.ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Helen Nienhueser, originally from Pennsylvania, has lived and hiked in Alaska since 1959. An honorary lifetime member of the Mountaineering Club of Alaska, she lives in Anchorage, where she is a land planner for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. She spends her spare time exploring Alaska's backcountry.
John Wolfe Jr. has been scrambling in the peaks of southcentral Alaska since he was a small child. He has guided on Denali (Mount McKinley) and has been a children's environmental education instructor. He is now an editor and environmental planner for an Anchorage consulting firm.