Thunderbird Falls

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Alaska Guide

Thunderbird Falls
Popular ForDay hiking
TypeOut-and-back
DifficultyEasy
Length1.98 mile (3.2 km) roundtrip (hiking overlook and creek trails)
Minimum Elevation124 ft (38 m)
Maximum Elevation406 ft (124 m)
Total Elevation Gain700 ft (218 m)
SeasonYear-Round – Expect snow in winter
NavigationEasy
Estimated Time1/2 hour hiking time (about 1 hour to explore/enjoy views)
RegionChugiak – Southcentral (30 minutes north of Anchorage)
LocationOld Glen Highway
ParkingMedium lot (pay lot Alaska State Park)

Overview – Thunderbird Falls

Thunderbird Falls is a highly trafficked out-and-back hike in Chugiak, Alaska (near Eklutna Village), about a 1/2-hour drive from Anchorage, Alaska. The trails take you to two viewing areas of Thunderbird Falls, a multi-stepped waterfall that is about 100 feet tall. For the distances here, I have included both the hike to the overlook platform and down to the falls at the creek. I didn’t find the view from the platform all that stunning, although you can see some of the upper falls that you can’t from below. The steep and narrow canyon with lots of big trees makes it difficult to get a good view of the falls. The best view, in my opinion, requires walking up the creek a little way, which may get your feet wet when the water is high.

Directions

From Anchorage, head north on the Glenn Highway (AK-1). After 24.9 miles, take the Old Glenn Highway Exit to Thunderbird Falls trailhead (0.8 miles past the exit). There is a big parking lot, but because of the popularity of this trail parking may not be available in the summer. This is a fee-use area, the Alaska State Park fee is $5 and the machine takes cash or credit card.

The Trail

The trail is well-marked and very easy to follow. There are a few steep sections, but they don’t last long. The trail distance markers at the start of the trail are overestimated. Hiking the entire trail, to the overlook platform and down to the creek (and a little extra exploring up the creek) only amounts to a 2-mile round-trip. I recommend going to both the overlook and the creek.

The trail follows the Eklutna River and then Thunderbird Creek. You pass an overlook of the canyon at about 0.4-miles. At 0.6-miles there is a junction. A short wooden walkway continues straight to the viewing platform. Another trail turns sharply downhill to the creek. You can’t see much of the waterfall from the creek trail, but if the water is low, or you are ok getting a little wet, a short walk can get you to a very nice view of the lower falls. The creek trail can be muddy and slick, so shoes or boots with good traction are recommended.

The steep canyon overlooking the Eklutna River
Wooden walkway on the Thunderbird Falls Trail
The walkway to the Thunderbird Falls viewing platform (at the trail junction)
View of the upper falls of Thunderbird Falls from the viewing platform
Thunderbird Falls from the viewing platformthese upper falls are not visible from the creek below
View of Thunderbird Falls from the creek
Thunderbird Falls from the creekyou may have to get your feet wet to get to this view

Cautions and Considerations

The entirety of the hike is bordered by a neighborhood to the south, although you can only see homes for about the first half of the hike. There are steep cliffs near the trail, so be cautious and stay on the trail. Please do not cut switchbacks (there is one, cutting the switchback will save you all of 30 seconds, destroying vegetation and creating erosion problems). Like almost all of Alaska, this is still bear country, so be aware, talk or make noise (but not obnoxiously, you are in a neighborhood), and consider carrying bear spray. Depending on water levels, be cautious of fast-moving water in the creek.

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