THIS IS A GREAT HIKE!
What was once part of the historic Iditarod Trail, this ranks as some of the best scenery in the area. Some of the incredible and varied sights that await you on this hike include mine ruins from long ago, a rock chasm waterfall, Crystal Lake, Raven Gorge, and awesome Raven Glacier and its massive cascades. This is truly an Alaskan hike and if your main objective coming up here is the hiking, definitely put this on your list!
The area around Raven, as well as the glacier itself, is amazing, dramatic and awe inspiring. Your conception of glaciers and what they can do to a landscape will never be the same.
Most people hike right through to Eagle River with a dropped off car waiting at the Eagle River Nature Center. But I think it would be better to hike as far as the gorge and use the time to explore the Crow Pass area as it is the most scenic part of the hike. There are lots of ridges, waterfalls, and other glaciers for the viewing.
If you want to go to the end to the river ford, this is a great alternative as well, as there are nice flat campsites with plenty of wood and a great view of Eagle Glacier. Camp at the lake for added privacy. You can even add a day to explore this glacier as well.
Bears! It's almost a guarantee that you will see them here. An acquaintance of mine once saw 12. I saw 3 one time I was there. While you should always practice bear safety wherever you go in Alaska, it is especially imperative here. From the gorge to Eagle River, 1/2 of the trail is either underneath canopy or chest high foliage. It is important to be noisy as possible to avoid surprising them. I shout "Hello!" every few seconds.
Even in summer, there is still snow in many areas of the trail, especially after Crystal Lake. Add to the mix some really steep parts to the trail, you may want to consider a walking stick.
Near the mine ruins, you have 2 choices to continue to Crystal Lake. The ridge trail will save you some elevation exertion but the trail that comes near the chasm offers better views. Either way is fine.
There is a public cabin for rent near Crystal Lake. You are only allowed to use it if you have a paid reservation. Be aware that's it's right on the trail and you will have very little privacy. Visit this website for more information.
Feel free to drop your bag and hike down the moraine to Raven Glacier. But unless you know what you're doing, do not travel on the glacier. Snow could be hiding a deep crevasse and if you fall in, it was nice knowing you.
As you descend down to the river, after Raven Glacier, look left and you will see the trail going up the bank (see pic on photo page). It's hard to spot if you're not looking at it. The map implies that you follow the riverbed. Be prepared that you may have to wade shin deep if it's been raining a lot.
There are no water sources from the the second bridge to Eagle River. Make sure you have an adequate supply before leaving the bridge.
A great place to camp is just before you head down to the river. You get a great view of the Raven Glacier as well as the stark terrain gouged by it.
If you do the traverse with Eagle River, the smart move is to start at the Crow Pass side, as the elevation would be mostly downhill if you do. Be aware that midway you will have to ford the river where it may be waist high and chilly (it may be lower or higher depending on when you do the hike and the previous rainfall).
The following was added June, 18, 2008:
There is a new shuttle service for transportation to and from the trailheads: Girdwood Shuttle, Tours and Transportation.
Hold onto your bladders! The two roads to get to the trailhead are very rough and are more pothole than actual road.
If you're going to do the traverse to Eagle River, parking at the Nature Center is $5 a day. Your Chugach State Park pass is not valid there. They usually consider overnight one day.
If you'd like to educate yourself about glaciers and their awesome power, please visit All About Glaciers, a great introductory website.