You won’t find this in any guidebook as this whole section is mainly ATV/Snowmobile trails but there is no reason why they should get exclusive right to all this great scenery.
The first part of this hike sucks (although the views help). You hike through a marshy and boggy valley to get to the base of the Chugach Mountains. Not only are there places on the trail where you unknowingly sink shin deep into mud, the trail is mainly for ATV-using hunters. Based on this, the only trail I have ever shared with these people, my impression is that they don’t have a lot of class, as evidenced by the litter they leave on the trail.
But get past this (it’s only a couple of miles) and you will be richly rewarded. The trail will dry out and firm up as you head up into the mountains. In my opinion, this is the most beautiful section of the Chugach Mountains. Hang a left and work your way down to the braided riverbed to Nelchina Glacier.
I am serious! These mountains are gorgeous and the bushwhacking is minor and won’t inhibit you for off trail exploring. I can’t wait to explore the riverbed someday.
Here’s where the bummer part for me was. I had finally got up to the mountain and was about to head down into the valley when I suffered one huge allergy attack! Unfortunately, when this happens to me, I have no choice but to find the first good campsite I can since my breathing is severely restricted. I found a nice site by a lake (Goober) with a beautiful view of the gray steel mountains in front of me and the valley lying below. To the north, you can see the Talkeetna Mountains. But it was a bummer not to see the glacier. I know I will make it the next time.
If you don’t mind ATV trails, consider this area. According to my coworker who snowmobiles these trails in the winter, the other side of the valley (where the radio tower is) has some real nice sights when you get way back in there.
You may want to consider getting a cheap pair of high rubber boots for the first part of the trip. At the least, bring thick socks and sandals for camp. You’ll definitely want to wash and air your boots out as some of the mud is pretty skanky.
You definitely need to bring a water filter. Most of the water is very still and there are beaver dens everywhere. I’m assuming the Nelchina river is very silty being so close to the glacier.
The topo map is pretty straightforward (You’ll definitely need Anchorage D-1 and C-1). Someone who seemed to know the area told me the eastern trail is non-existent. Besides that, trust the topo map and use the lakes as landmarks as you head up the mountains. After passing through Long and Shallow Lakes, be careful. I started heading east on a trail that I assumed was new and quicker. I was very wrong and wasted 2 hours. Always take the trail that heads south until you get to the mountains (please go to the map page for visual examples).
The Glenn Highway has been designated one of the most scenic highways in the USA. Get The Milepost for more details. This highway is a great road trip.