I've always wanted to do this trail but I never wanted to deal with the 10.5 miles on the Lakeside Trail to get there. Last week (July, 2008) I was finally motivated. I left right after work and camped out on the riverbed just before the bridge where the trailhead is.
The next morning I headed out full of anticipation. My plan was to head to the lake with a nice break on the way to view Tulchina Falls. I would spend the next day exploring the valley above the lake, perhaps viewing glaciers. However, it didn't go as planned.
The trail to Tulchina Falls is reasonable enough as you meander through the forest. Intermittent views of the river and mountains peak out but most of the time you're under canopy. I imagine that parts of this trail can get really overgrown by late August. When you do get a view, it's pretty nice.
The Falls were pretty cool. At one point, they are crashing down so hard, they sweep up causing a spray that juts out over the side.
Once you pass the Falls, the trail gets real primitive. I lost the trail many times and had to skirt over fallen trees and do my best not to scrape against devil's club. About 2 miles past the Falls, and just before the hill, I lost the trail completely. The area was so thick with shrubs I couldn't go forward. My allergies started kicking in and it started to rain, and the dog wasn't doing too well either, so I decided to head down to the riverbed and make camp.
The spot I camped on was real nice with a huge waterfall across the way and a great view of Bold Peak and the Mitre, so it wasn't a total loss. Later that night, I went up the riverbed to see if I could use it to go around the hill and get to the lake but the water skirted right up to the trees and I decided it just wasn't worth it. The next morning I headed out but not before seriously losing the trail and getting real scratched up trying to get back on it.
So my verdict is that the best way to enjoy this trail is to bike to it (or if you're camping at the hut or the campsites at the end) and just go as far as the Falls. I did see some saws and pruning shears laying on the trail so maybe there are people working on the trail and one day hopefully my verdict will change and it will be worth going beyond the Falls.
There are definitely bears in the area as you can tell by the numerous scat on the trail. I saw a black bear across the river from me poking around while I was packing up. Since your visibility to see ahead is limited on this trail, make sure you are making a lot of noise so you don't take one by surprise.
When you get to the falls, you'll have to do a bit of bushwhacking the last 50 feet. You'll see the fluorescent ribbons off to the side. You definitely want to go this way as there is a mess load of devil's club in the middle.
There is a $5 parking fee (bring exact amount). The price for an annual parking pass is $60. You can purchase a pass at the Federal Building at 4th and F or the Atwood Building on 7th and E, 13th Floor.
If you're heading back to Anchorage, take a quick side trip and visit the Native Russian Church and Cemetery. Continue straight after the bridge for a few miles instead of taking the left turn onto the Glenn Highway. Stay outside the fenced area and be respectful of the premises.