Are you visiting the Anchorage area and want to see some of the waterfalls it has to offer, or are you local and looking for some easy yet stunning hikes? Here are three great options!
Thunderbird Falls seems to be the most popular of these three waterfalls. My only explanation for this is because Thunderbird Falls has its own exit off of the Glen Hwy. Despite it being one of the most visited waterfalls in Alaska, this is my least favorite of the three on this list.
Though it is the tallest, at 200 ft it is also the least bang for your buck. When viewing Thunderbird Falls from the observation deck, the falls are far away and seem very thin. When you hike to the bottom of the falls, unless the water is very low, you are visiting during winter, or you are willing to get wet, you won’t easily be able to get a good view of the bottom of the falls.
This is a highly trafficked trail. Often, during the summer months the parking area will be full. In addition, this parking area requires a $5 parking fee or a state park pass. be aware that there are steep drop-offs at this location. During the winter I highly recommend wearing spikes. Otherwise, you will have a lot of trouble navigating the hills along the trail.
From Anchorage, take the Glenn Hwy to the Thunderbird Falls exit. The trailhead parking will be on the right side of the road, less than a mile after exiting the hwy.
Barbara Falls (South Fork Falls)
To reach Barbara Falls you need to drive back into a residential area off of Highland Rd in Eagle River. If you are looking for a BIG waterfall, this is the one you want to visit. While it isn’t as tall as Thunderbird Falls, Barbara Falls is wide.
Just like with Thunderbird Falls, you can hike to the overlook for Barbara Falls and you can hike to the base of the falls. To hike to overlook, follow the trail over the bridge and look for signs telling you which way to go. We almost never hike to the overlook. While you get a good view of the falls from there, it is still pretty far away. In addition, if you have small children, the barrier at the top of the overlook does not provide good protection from toddlers launching themselves off of the overlook.
We usually hike to the bottom of Barbara Falls a few times a year. It is beautiful during any season! To hike to the base of Barbara Falls, take the trail down to the bridge. Just before the bridge, there is a small trail the goes down to the right. Follow this trail to the base of the falls. During warmer months, when the water isn’t too high you can get right up and close to the falls. In addition, there are reports of an additional trail that will take you to the top of the falls where I have been told there is a bench. However, I have also been told it is pretty much impossible to complete this trail with a child strapped to your back, so we have yet to explore this area. During the winter, the waterfalls freezes most of the way and you can get even closer to it. Please be warned that this area can be dangerous during the winter. While there on Christmas day a couple years ago, a young girl fell into a hole at the base of the falls. Luckily the hole didn’t lead to water and she was able to climb out (then my child climbed in). However, always be aware of the dangers that are involved with frozen water when exploring areas during the winter months.
While this is a short and easy trail, you will need to climb over/up fallen trees and up a steep bank or two. In addition, this trail runs rights along the fast-flowing river and is surrounded by devils club on all sides.
There is no parking fee for Barbara Falls and no public restrooms. In addition, please note the numerous No Parking and Private Property signs at the trailhead. First, this is where people live and we should always be courteous of others homes. Second, this is a firetruck fill sight and if you park incorrectly, you may prevent firefighters from doing their jobs. Third, the property owners will come out and yell at you, even if you aren’t doing anything wrong. (It’s happened to us.)
From Anchorage take the Glenn Hwy to the Eagle River Loop/Hiland Dr. Exit. Turn right onto Hiland Dr. Drive 3+ miles and turn left onto River View Dr. This will turn into Waterfall Dr. In less than a mile turn right onto River Park Rd. The Road will split at the end. Turn left onto Ken Logan Circle.
Virgin Creek Falls
This waterfall is located on the opposite side of Anchorage from the other two. Virgin Creek Falls trail can be found in a residential area of Girdwood. Though not as wide as Barbara falls and not a tall as Thunderbird falls, Virgin Creek Falls is probably the most beautiful of the three.
This is the shortest of these three hikes. I would say it is less than a 10-minute walk from the road to reach this waterfall. You step onto the trail and into what appears to be one of Alaska’s rainforests. Combine the dappled light and ancient looking trees and it appears that you have stepped out of present day and into a fairytale.
Again, please be aware of the Slow driving signs and the private property surrounding this trailhead. There are no parking fees are this location. However, there are also no restrooms.
From Anchorage take the Seward Hwy down to Girdwood. Turn left onto the Alyeska Hwy and drive just under 3 miles. Turn right onto Timberline Dr. Follow this road for a little over a mile and it will end at the trailhead.
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