Rainbow Peak

Chugach State Park

Submitted By
Martin Olsen (The Olsen's Home Page)
Somewhat Easy; pretty straightforward with some steep scrambling, but lots of route options and fairly solid rock (well, as solid as Chugach Crud can be, anyways).
Connects With
Miles One Way
Miles from Anchorage
15; on Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm
All year (be avalanche aware!)
Hike rating
This trail was rated 3 moose hooves for hiking.


Rainbow Parking area is between McHugh and Falls Creek. Trail starts at north end of parking lot. You will walk along the Turnagain Trail for a while (maybe a mile) until you get to its highest point. At this point you will be on the crest of the ridge and you should see a faint trail leading up the ridge on your right. There are actually two of these trails — either one gets you on the ridge. It is a little steep, especially at first — so don’t be shy about using the cottonwood trees for leverage! Once on the ridge, the trail is pretty well marked and at the top of the ridge you pretty much get cliffed out — but the trail veers off to the right, along the base of some pretty steep walls. Be aware that there are a lot of game trails so it can be easy to get off the right trail if you aren’t paying attention. Once you go a few hundred yards, the steep cliff gives way to a broad bowl, which is pretty much loose scree with a few outcrops of solid rock. I prefer walking on solid rock over scree (at least uphill…) so I kind of hopscotch from rock exposure to rock exposure. Stay towards the middle of the bowl and keep going until you gain the ridge at the head of the bowl. Just a little scrambling gets you there. From there, it is a delightful ridge walk (the peak is to your left) with a nice view of South Suicide and Turnagain Arm. You’ll know you reached the summit when you can’t go any higher!

A challenging alternative is to climb Rainbow, then backtrack along the ridge but instead of dropping back into the bowl, keep following the ridge to South Suicide. It gets a little steep going to the summit of South Suicide, so be prepared for some route picking. (I wouldn’t advise this option in the winter!) Then you can return via Falls Creek, with a bit of a hike along the road back to your car.

It is my favorite “after work” hike because the trailhead is easy to get to, and the hike only takes a few hours round trip. It is about 3500′ of elevation gain and about 5.5 miles round trip. What I like most about it is the variety — you get a little serene woodsy walking in, some steep scrambling that can be as challenging as you want it to be, and my favorite, a good ridge walk for about a quarter mile.

Important Information

Dogs can go on this hike as long as they are okay with a little exposure.

It can be a little windy up there so bring an extra dry shirt (if you are like me and sweat like a wildebeest, you’ll need it!)

I have climbed Rainbow in every month of the year — it is one of the first to be free of snow in the spring. During the winter, it is best advised to wait for a snow-free period and give the snow a chance to blow clear. Even in January it is possible to reach the summit with little to no snow travel.

Bears are known to frequent the area along the Turnagain Trail. It is not an especially brushy or concealed trail, but be aware of their presence.

Moose are also regular inhabitants and I would argue that they can pose just as much of a hazard. So just make a bit of noise and keep an eye on your dog.

Lastly, stay on the trail in the first part of the hike — there is, I believe, private property that you go near.


A Chugach State Park parking permit is good at the trailhead. I have heard reports of cars getting broken into there, so don’t leave any tempting treasures for the little rapscallions. I would recommend that you park near the entrance off of the Seward Hwy because the car will be most visible to traffic along the road.

  1. The following was submitted by Jennifer D.:

    You have a GREAT website. I climbed Rainbow Peak last night, and my co-workers (who live vicariously through me) were curious about the hike. I found your website googling hiking+Anchorage+Rainbow Peak. I take issue with the site’s rating of easy, especially given Flattop’s rating of moderate (which my daughter has been summiting since she was 6 years old), and Bird Ridge’s rating of difficult. Rainbow Peak is steeper & higher than Bird Ridge. I was hiking with the Alaska Mountaineering Clubs past president–an engineer who was born & raised in Anchorage and has summited all 169 peaks in the front range of the Chugach Mountains (knowing the names and elevations of each peak by memory)–he concurs with Rainbow Peak being a similar to advanced level of Bird Ridge.

  2. The following was submitted by Dan Couture:

    Hey there! You might want to think about updating the rainbow difficulty to equal or greater than flattop. No way it is easier!

  3. Tyler Platt said:

    I did this hike on 8/29/15, and it was fantastic! Like the previous posters before me, I definitely take issue with the rating of “somewhat easy”. While I am in pretty good shape (this being probably my 10th or 11th separate peak hike for the year, perhaps not as prolific as some, but still…), and never did I feel like the hike kicked my butt royally, but some of the exposure, and the overall steepness is definitely not to be considered “easy”. Anyway…

    The hike along the Turnagain Arm trail was pleasant, and easy travel. We started the hike where you stated here on this site, and yes, we used the trees to pull ourselves up the initial section. Afterwards, aside from some steep exposed rock to crawl over on the trail, it wasn’t too bad up to the shoulder of the hike, before the hike up to the summit. However, this section is where I also feel this should have a more difficult rating. We started following a well established trail that veered off to the right, leading to a pretty steep scree slope and gully. One of our group members opted to go for it and hiked up said slope, while the rest of us, initially not picking up on where the ACTUAL trail went, started straight boulder climbing, until we came upon the trail again. Not easy to spot in other words (at least at this point in time it’s not).

    After that section, we ended up on the upper shoulder before taking the (again) well established trail under the south face of the peak, which was cool, but a couple of spots were very loose scree that made you move your feet quick to get across, as it was not a mellow slope down! When we got to the bowl, a couple of our folks ended up going straight up, while I opted to go all the way to the far slope of the bowl, then found a slight trail that weaves its way up among the rocks and vegetation. And yes, the ridge walk to the slope was VERY cool. It looked more daunting than it actually was!

    The VIEWS up there were just OUTSTANDING. We saw sheep across the valley towards the McHugh Peak area. The Seward Highway looked like a single track mountain bike trail below us. We got good pictures, and noticed storm clouds moving in from the McHugh Lake valley, and when we saw the first couple snow flakes, it was time to move!

    Coming down wasn’t too bad…until after crossing back across the south face, and started the descent down the rocky trail, we found (once again) the more established looking trail took us to a steep descent…into the scree slope mentioned earlier. We slid and powered our way down as the weather was moving in, and ended up cutting back across to the same trail that led us there on the ascent (convenient!). Afterwards, after stopping to take pictures of a double rainbow that seemed to end in the Rainbow parking lot, we powered our way down as the rain moved in and became very heavy. Luckily, the footing is pretty solid the entire way, and when we got back to tree line, the vegetation along side the trail made for good reassurance as we headed down the steeper sections. We finally made it back out to the Turnagain Arm trail and ended up jogging most of the way back to the trail head. The rain was dumping by now, and we were soaked when we got back to our vehicles. Beer and pizza at Moose’s Tooth afterwards was very much welcomed!

    All in all, FANTASTIC hike that engages you in different ways, between the types of hiking you end up doing (scrambling, climbing, ridge walking, etc.) and the scenery that seemed to improve every so many feet up just takes your breath away, especially with the sunshine we had most of the way up. We were on the trail for approximately 4 1/2 hours (little longer, actually). The trip up probably could have been done in less than 2 1/2 hours, but the route finding we ended up having to do after losing the trail definitely impeded our progress…and our progress coming off the peak initially come to think of it. But all in all, despite the steep grade that makes up most of this trail, it can be done pretty quick if you’re hiking at a moderate pace. Perhaps this is the reason why Mr. Olsen considers this an “easy” hike. :-)

  4. Tyler Platt said:

    I meant to say McHugh CREEK area, not McHugh PEAK area that I actually put down, when talking about the sheep we spotted.

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