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|Popular For||Day hiking|
|Length||1.98 mile (3.2 km) roundtrip (hiking overlook and creek trails)|
|Minimum Elevation||124 ft (38 m)|
|Maximum Elevation||406 ft (124 m)|
|Total Elevation Gain||700 ft (218 m)|
|Season||Year-Round – Expect snow in winter|
|Estimated Time||1/2 hour hiking time (about 1 hour to explore/enjoy views)|
|Region||Chugiak – Southcentral (30 minutes north of Anchorage)|
|Location||Old Glen Highway|
|Parking||Medium 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.
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 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.
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.