Mount Baldy & Blacktail hike above Eagle River, Anchorage

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When Anchorageites want to climb a mountain, they have their choice of several great trails, all of which lead to amazing views of the city and the Mat-Su valley.  You can make a good argument for Flat Top or Rendezvous Peak, but I’d also suggest adding Mount Baldy to your list.  Despite a slightly treacherous scramble up a steep, muddy slope, this moderate trail quickly rewards you with great views, and once you’re at the top, you can hike the ridges for many more miles.

Location

The Mount Baldy Trail begins at the end of Skyline Drive, near Eagle River.  From Anchorage, take the Glenn Highway to Eagle River Loop Road. Then, turn right on Skyline Drive.  The name of the road changes as you go uphill — don’t worry about that, just continue to climb towards the radio broadcast tower.  You’ll see the trailhead at the end of the road.  Park at the side of the road.

If you’re hiking to Black Tail Rocks, Roundtop, or Vista Peak, you’ll follow the same path up to Mount Baldy, then continue from there.

My Visit

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You don’t have to hike to enjoy a nice view.  Just drive up to the Mount Baldy trailhead and take a look around.  I thought this view was so nice, I returned here a few nights later to watch the sunset.

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Once you’ve parked by the side of the road, at the end of Skyline Drive, you’ll have two options.  Both roads are gated, and there are no signs here.  I was really hoping the low road would be the right option, but no, I was here to climb a mountain, and that meant going uphill, right from the start.

So, take the road on the right…

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… and before long, the path narrows into a trail.  You’ll pass this vandalized trailhead sign that reassures you that you’re on the right path.

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The trail is unrelenting as it heads uphill.  This part of the path looks pretty nice, but it gets much steeper and less defined.

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About halfway up, there’s a brief break from the climb at this wide spot.  It’s a good place to rest for a moment…

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… and enjoy a view that continues to get better, the further up you go.

Between this spot and the top, I didn’t take any pictures.  I put the camera away and focused entirely on climbing the hill.  This is the steepest, most slippery part, and you’ll probably have a few close calls.  Use a hiking stick.  Watch for mud and loose rocks.  Ponder which one is more dangerous as you continue to climb.

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When you get to the top, turn around and check out the view of Eagle river in the foreground, and Anchorage just beyond it.

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Then turn around again, and you’ll see that the fun is only beginning.  From the top of Baldy, the trail continues.  Those peaks in the distance, just to the left of the trail, are the Black Tail Rocks, at the end of Ptarmigan Valley.

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Start walking towards the Black Tail Rocks, and you’ll dip and climb slightly as you follow the ridge.

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It can be windy up here, which is probably why someone built a makeshift shelter.

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At times, the path stays below the ridge, which provides some protection from the wind.

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Before long, you’ll turn around and realize that you can’t even see Baldy anymore!  The gentle dips in the landscape have hidden it from view.

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Before you reach the foot of Black Tail Rocks, there are some cliffs on the right side of the trail.

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I found a friendly Ptarmigan nesting in the rocks.  She kept an eye on me…

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… but allowed me to take a few pictures.  She has quite a view!

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The first valley below your feet is where you’ll find Meadow Creek.  Hop over the next ridge, and you’re in the more populated Eagle River Valley, which is home to the Eagle River Nature Center.  Just out of view, the next valley to the south is home to Eagle and Symphony Lakes, which is where I hiked on the final day of this trip.  It’s also where you’ll find Rendezvous Peak.

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Here’s another view, looking southeast.

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I decided to hike a bit closer to the Black Tail Rocks…

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… all the way to the point where, at first glance, the trail seems to end.  Look closer, and you can see that it continues, downhill at first, then up the slopes of Black Tail.

The hike up to Black Tail can be just the beginning of a long day of hiking. The trail continues, hooking around to the left, to the top of Roundtop (I think you can probably see it in the picture above). About halfway to Roundtop, another trail breaks off to the right, leading to Vista Peak. I’ve read that Roundtop is a reasonably short extension of your hike, while Vista is further, and makes for a much longer day. Of course, the views from either peak will be outstanding!

I’m sure that the hike up to Black Tail would have been very rewarding, and it didn’t look terribly difficult.  But, I decided I had hiked far enough for this day, and I still had the long drive south to Seward ahead of me.

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So, after chilling out for a while on the edge of a cliff, I turned around and headed back towards Baldy.

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The view towards Anchorage is great, all the way!

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Looking to the north, the view is partially blocked by another long, flat ridge.  There’s a shallow valley in between the trail and that ridge.  I’d be very surprised if there isn’t a way to hike over there — but I didn’t find one.

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Continuing towards Baldy, there are a couple of small hills to climb, but nothing too challenging.

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I stopped one more time at the peak of Baldy for a final look back at Black Tail and the surrounding valleys.

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And then, it was time to carefully climb down the cliff.  Mud or loose rock?  I still can’t decide.

The Bottom Line

Mount Baldy is a tough hike at the beginning and the end, as you go up and down the slippery face of the mountain.  After that brief inconvenience, though, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world, and you can hike as far as you desire. The trail is especially convenient for anyone on the north side of Anchorage or in Eagle River, and it’s not far from the Palmer/Wasilla area.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a time-lapse look at the drive up to the Mount Baldy trailhead:

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