McHugh Trail / Rabbit Lake

Chugach State Park

Difficulty
Somewhat Difficult; from the Seward Highway trailhead, somewhat difficult - half the hike is uphill with some pretty steep sections. One small part of the trail is confusing on which direction to go. Plan on at least 6 hours to complete this hike.
From the DeArmoun Rd. trailhead - relatively easy.
Connects With
Miles One Way
7
Miles from Anchorage
10; off the Seward Highway
Season
Via Seward Highway - May to September (lots of snow past mile 2 in early season).
Via DeArmoun Rd - All year but may need snowshoes or skis in winter depending on amount of snow.
Ratings
Hike rating
This trail was rated 4 moose hooves for hiking.

Description

This is probably one of Alaska’s most stunning glacially carved valleys. The elevation lines of changing ecosystems is quite clear on this trail. Once you get above the spruce forest, there are great views of Turnagain Arm. You’ll then wind through willow and scrub. As you head south, up the chute, there is less and less vegetation and eventually it is just rocky tundra scrub. The McHugh Creek runs down the middle and is quite dramatic in some sections. At the end is Rabbit Lake as your final reward. There is a good chance of seeing eagles, hawks, moose, and ptarmigan on this trail.

The trail heads steeply up for the first 3 miles and it seems like forever just to get to this point but the views are so worth the effort, especially Turnagain Arm. It’s a tough hike, but I would put it on my top 10 of possible day hikes if you are visiting.

A shorter alternative is the loop hike just a ways from the trailhead that circles around a huge rock outcrop, a perfect spot for a nice lunch.

The DeArmoun route is much easier with very little elevation changes. The road there is rough, especially towards the end. The route follows the south side of the Flat Top peaks, and goes past Ptarmigan Peak.

The following was added March 20, 2005:

Breakup came very early this year and thought I’d take a chance and do this hike from the DeArmoun Road access. I don’t have 4 wheel drive and my truck definitely wouldn’t handle the steep mountain road in the deep snow to get there. However the roads were clear and I got there with no problem for a gorgeous 40 degree day with not a cloud in the sky. The trail was mostly packed wind blown snow and I got to the lake with no problem. It was a great way to get into some much needed tundra after being in wooded areas all these gray months. I couldn’t believe how many people were trudging up the passes and skiing down as well as snow-shoers, cross-country skiers, and hikers like me. If you live in Anchorage and the cabin fever is hitting you, this makes a great preseason area. However, beware of potential avalanche conditions!

Rabbit Lake is the ultimate base camp. There are so many trails nearby as well as off trail exploring. Especially if you’re a resident, you should get to know this wonderful area.

The following was added June 3, 2007:

Finally camped overnight about 2 weeks ago (sorry! been busy at work). While I’m sure it’s much clearer now, the ratio of snow to dry land was about 2 to 1 and the lake was still completely frozen. I used meltwater puddles for my drinking and cooking supply. However, it was warm and sunny and I was the only one there, which was real surprising considering how many people use this trail. I camped up at the foothills of McHugh, giving me great views of the Rabbit Lake, Suicide Peaks McHugh Lake, McHugh Valley, Turnagain Arm and in the far off distance, the Alaska Range. All in all, it was a good time and I was psyched to be out on tundra so early in the season, and you know how much I love my tundra.

Important Information

There are 2 places of confusion on the trail if you come by way of McHugh. The first happens just as you leave the spruce. The trail splits straight and up. It seems more obvious to head straight but you should head up. If you do head straight, the trail will peter out shortly and then you’ll know where you made your mistake.

The second is to be aware when you go through the last grove of willow trees before the valley opens into tundra (just before the river), it looks very different on your return trip and many people get lost. When you’re coming back, the trail looks like it’s wrong as it goes into a small grove of willow. It isn’t wrong; plug away to the other end and you’ll see the trail.

Don’t let the two above hazards sway you. This is open land and if you screw up, you may have to bushwhack but you won’t be lost. You will be able to pick up the trail again.

I’m always surprised how late it is when I get back to the parking lot. Give yourself a good 6-8 hours for this hike.

Be extremely careful coming down as sometimes gravity can almost force you into a run. Be careful so that you don’t sprain or break a leg.

The following was added August 16, 2004:

Rabbit Lake is a great place to camp overnight but hauling a backpack would be a real chore up McHugh. One solution is to reach Rabbit Lake by taking Canyon Road off DeArmoun but you have to trespass private property. From what I know, the owner is OK if you stay on the road. You can also get to the trail by way of Powerline Pass to Ptarmigan Pass. It seems you can avoid the real steep part either way.

The following was added September 2, 2007:

The DeArmoun Road access is now legal. The private property to get there is now part of Chugach State Park. However, lots of changes are coming along with this purchase. Go to this Anchorage Daily News article link for more info.

Etc.

There is a picnic area at the McHugh trailhead that is really nice with bathrooms, grills, a really nice view of Turnagain Arm, an interpretive trail and a waterfall.

The McHugh Recreation Area requires a $5 parking fee (bring exact change). The price for an annual parking pass is $40. You can purchase a pass at the Federal Building at 4th and F or the Atwood Building on 7th and E, 12th Floor.

  1. Jim Bruckman said:

    My golden retriever’s favorite hike. Lots of parka squirrels sounds for her to chase. At a easy steady pace, it will take you about two hours to get to the lake from upper canyon road. The first half of the trip going out is uphill [about 2.1 miles] and then you are in open country and it can be windy. Lots of color and berries in the fall. Have seen bear and moose, sometimes sheep by the lake. Bring a camera and hike light. It’s a great hike.

  2. Christine said:

    Hiked via canyon road trailhead to Rabbit Lake today. Beautiful, trail in good condition. There were people out hiking but never did we feel crowded like some of the more popular spots in Anchorage.

  3. Angel said:

    August 25, 2013 (Sunday) – I wanted to do the 7 mile hike to rabbit lake, but I stopped at about 3 miles. The trail is not well maintained and it started getting very grassy that almost covered me at 5’2”. It’s a little bit scary at times due to the sharp corners and turns because you can’t see far ahead of you so you never know what you will run into. Based on my quick chat with locals, a guy saw a mama bear with a cub. Be on a look out and talk loudly. Also, bring bear spray or ride with a local who is carrying a gun or is with a dog.

  4. AUTiger23 said:

    A friend and I do this hike at least once a year from the Canyon Rd (DeArmoun) side. I took my pedometer with me today and to the lake from that side is just over nine miles total. It’s a fair amount of uphill and rocky on the way in, so I’d classify it as a bit higher than easy. Maybe light moderate? I find it harder than Hidden Lake.

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