Reed Lakes

Matanuska Valley
This hike was rated 3 stars.
Submitted By
Dan Couture
Difficulty
Somewhat Easy; first half is real easy. After that it climbs pretty good. Anyone in reasonable shape should be able to make it.
Miles One Way
4.5
Miles from Anchorage
56; near Hatcher's Pass
Season
All year (ski or snowshoe in winter)

Description

The first part of the hike is very easy (flat, wide trail), then after a couple of miles or so it goes up pretty steeply (there are switchbacks). Next you have “the boulder scramble”. It is a filled with healthy sized boulders that you have to navigate. Not too hard, but not recommended for dogs or kids. Then, after a brief period of flatness, it climbs once more and you see Lower Reed Lake for the first time. There are more campsites here than Upper Reed Lake, but if you’re feeling motivated, it’s worth the climb.

There are lots of crazy marmots running around!

Important Information

Once you reach Upper Reed Lake there is only one place that we found that is suitable for a tent. Follow the shoreline to see what I mean.

Saw a lady coming back down with her dog from the boulder scramble. The dog couldn’t make it through.

Webmaster’s note: Archangel Road may be closed in the spring during breakup to keep the ruts in the road from getting worse. It’s usually opened back up the same day Independence Mine opens (June 20). Call (907) 745-3975 to confirm.

Topo Map

Reed Lakes topo map

Comments on hiking Reed Lakes

  1. Hatcher Pass Hike - Wandering Mounts — February 18, 2017

    […] so, Heather picked this hike out before we even landed in Alaska. Yes, the choice was based on instagram images from other […]

  2. Karl — November 20, 2016

    In the winter time this hike is not easy/moderate at all. Especially with a pack on.

    The road to the trailhead is generally closed in the winter, so that adds on about 2 ish miles of additional hiking, its all easy going but it adds up. The entire trail in the winter was really easy until the boulder scramble. The scramble is no joke at all, it might be doable in the summer time, but in winter its very treacherous. One miss step through the snow and you could break your leg easy. We had to crawl on our hands and knees at times over some of the hops.

    After the Boulder scramble the trail opens up a little more, but there is still a lot of stepping around rocks and loose footings through the snow. The best pads for camping are just prior to the lower lake.

  3. Nick — August 27, 2016

    We found that there was nothing to help find the trail head on this site so we thought we could make it a little easier to find. The trail head is 2.4 miles from the beginning of Archangel road. It is a parking lot off to the right. If you don’t see any sign that is clearly marked reed lake then you are definitely not in the right place. If you continue down archangel you will end up at a trail head for another glacier that is more strenuous and unmarked.

  4. Rose — July 10, 2014

    Beautiful hike. Only made it to upper Reed lake. I am not sure how many yards of boulders there are to scramble but its a long seemingly endless (though beautiful) stretch. The boulder field is all that bumps the difficulty up but its enough to limit the hike to those with sure footing, no knee or ankle problems and no dogs. A good rain when your on the boulders and slip, slide, crack…ouch. As for kids I will take my 5 year old when he is 10.

  5. […] Hiking Reed Lake […]

  6. The following was submitted anonymously:

    A word of caution about glacier travel. I’ve been on Bomber Glacier a couple of times now. Both times we were able to travel in snow cover without the need for traction devices. However, when on snow cover you may be unaware of what is under it. I’ve never read a report of anyone finding crevasses on bomber glacier, but my dog found one yesterday. It was narrow and not too deep but dangerous for the unprepared just the same. We were able to get him out, as he became pinned between the ice walls about 6 feet down and did not go to the bottom. It was a very scary moment. This crevasse is within 50 yards of the crash site and slightly uphill from a direct line between the bomber and the entrance to the glacier. PROCEED WITH CAUTION! On the way back out we leashed our dogs and walked low on the glacier where it was void of snow and not too steep – then took a straight shot up to where we entered it.

  7. The following was submitted by Sharay Hiker With Kids:

    Rating: 4 moose hooves
    Difficulty: Somewhat Difficult; the climbing over so many rocks with kids is ok, just one step at a time for them and stop when they ask you to.

    Description: this hike was wonderful. I did the hike in July and it was just great. The trail has so much to offer from hiking to rock climbing, and lots of camping areas. Swimming is fun to do if you have a change of clothes.

    I saw lots of kids doing this hike and I can’t wait to take mine. Some of the books say no kids but I saw many kids under 10. The lakes are just amazing. It was my best hike so far and I will return for backpacking as I just did not want to leave the upper lakes. Next time I will go to the crash site.

    Warnings: call ahead for weather. I would not do this hike in rain nor on a cold day. When you hike up the falls, stay to the right of the creek. It has less rocks to climb over. Kids may find the left side too hard.

  8. The following was submitted by Randy (from Oregon):

    Rating: 4 moose hooves

    A note on distance and difficulty: if you add the Bomber to the hike it’s about 1.75 more miles and 1300′ in elevation over bolders and scree. Then the first 20′ down to the glacier is a little steep.

    We did this hike in one day (Nine hours). About 15 miles round trip and 3300′ elevation change. The weather was nice so the trail was dry (until the glacier). Once you reach the crest of the ridge to the Bomber the wreckage is still a little over a half a mile over the snow. Our main goal was the Bomber, but the trail to the lakes and the water falls were beautiful. Everything in Alaska is so big it just puts me in awe.

    Take gloves for the rocks and the climb back to the top of the ridge through the snow, and gaiters would keep your feet dry also.

    The long./lat. for the Bomber are:

    (61*51.515N)

    (149*07.188W)

    I hope this helps.

  9. The following was submitted by Greg:

    Here’s one looking down on the Reed Lake Trail; the section between the initial zigzag climb and the boulder field (boulder field to the left, and so north, side of the picture). I took it from the accessible ridge just to the north of the Snowbird Mine by following the bench up from the old mine power (or steam?) plant. I wanted an overhead of the Lower Reed Lake but my legs are too old to go that high. I took this yesterday (6/15/07). It’s a shame the tram tower there between the first step and the mine has finally fallen, it made a great picture at one time.

  10. The following was submitted by BLD Light Painting:

    Rating: 4 moose hooves
    Difficulty: Somewhat Difficult; some rock scrambling and steep hill climbs.

    Description:

    I love this hiking trail. I have taken this route several times myself and guided other people on our way to Bomber Glacier which is just over the pass after upper Reed Lakes at the end of the official Reed Lakes Trail. Watch out for slippery trail conditions when wet on the granite rocks, clay soil parts as well. I took my brother from Florida up this trail 3 years ago and he took a nasty fall while descending a steep spot in the trail because of some wet clay. Good camp sights at both lower and upper Reed Lakes. For Lower Reed Lakes you’ll want to pitch your tent on the south side of the Lake and at upper Reed Lake, you can camp by the south side of its shore as well or on one of two small hills south-east of the lakeshore, some 200-400 feet away.

    Warnings:

    This is not your “teach grandma about trekking” kinda hike, but that said, most anyone in reasonably good physical shape should be just fine. Even my out of shape flat-land brother from Florida made it to the 4,500 foot mark past Upper Reed Lakes. I’ve walked up the trail to Upper Reed Lakes and back in 4 hours but a much more enjoyable time for most people would be more like 6-8 hours or even stay overnight. Just above Lower Reed Lakes you will find a series of beautiful waterfalls, so if you’re a photographer like me don’t forget the tripod for some wonderful timed exposures.

    Etc:

    If you don’t want to drive to the trail head (a very rough road) you can park at the entrance to Archangel road, pay $5.00 and walk about 1 1/2 miles.

  11. The following was submitted by Frank Baker regarding Bomber Glacier:

    Just a note about Bomber Glacier, which is just over the ridge from Upper Reed Lake. If you’ve come this far, why not go a little farther to see the remains of a B-29 US Air Force bomber that crashed in 1957? It’s about two more miles, about 2,000 vertical climb, through the small low gap in the ridge directly above Upper Reed Lake. Scramble up the gullies toward that low point and you’ll crest out, only about 30 feet above the glacier, that ramps gently down to where the bomber lies. Earlier in the summer there is snow on the glacier and walking is safe.

    Otherwise, if it’s icy, crampons will be required.

    I’ve been there three times and never needed crampons. I’ve done this trip in one day but an overnight at Upper Reed, especially if weather is nice, would make the trip really enjoyable. There is a beautiful MCA hut at the bottom of the valley. We overnighted there, took Royale Glacier up and over to Mint Glacier Hut, and back out.

    Webmaster’s Note: go here for a traverse over this glacier starting from Mint Valley.

    Etc:

    this is a story I wrote for my weekly Anchorage radio program, Conversation Continued (Thurs., 5:30 p.m., KLEF 98.1 FM):

    Conversation Continued 14 – Sept. 14, 2000

    Heroism High in the Talkeetnas

    Good evening. Here’s a compelling story from yesteryear about bravery and heroism high in the Talkeetna Mountains, near Hatcher’s Pass.

    On November 15, 1957, about 6:30 p.m., a B-29 bomber from Elmendorf Air Force Base with a crew of 10 was returning to base after a radar-calibrating mission farther north. Weather had deteriorated and the ceiling had dropped to below 4,000 feet as they made their way south past Talkeetna. A routine radio report from the aircraft reported no problems. The plane was scheduled to arrive at Elmendorf at 7 p.m.

    Staff Sergeant Calvin Campbell, then 34, was assigned to the right scanner position, about mid-point in the aircraft behind the engines. One of his tasks was to monitor the two engines on the right side. Staff Sergeant Robert McMurray had similar duties on the left side. In the pilot seat was Major Robert Butler.

    In a recent telephone interview Campbell, now 77, described what happened next

    “We were descending toward Elmendorf at good speed, when we hit real hard with no warning. Everything went black…I mean real black. Then we hit again and it felt so cold. It felt like the wings tore off and when I crawled out, I saw that the fuselage was broken into two. We were on a snowy field—I didn’t know at the time it was a glacier. It was so quiet.

    “McMurray was right below me, pinned between the fuselage and the observation post. I pulled him out of there. Navigator Lt. Claire Johnson had dragged himself out of the plane and collapsed in the snow nearby. I wrapped them both in parachutes and put Johnson in a sleeping bag that I found in the cargo hold.

    “I could hear Sgt. Garza, the flight engineer, yelling from farther up the slope. He was still inside the nose section. It had sheared off and gone up the hill about 500 feet.”

    “When I got up to Garza I soon realized he was the only other survivor—it was just the four of us. The pilot, Major Robert A. Butler and the five other officers had all perished. Garza weighed about 140 lbs…it was hard pulling him out. I placed him on a piece of canvas and dragged him down to the others. He had a broken arm and broken leg. I went back to the cargo hold and got more sleeping bags and then got us into the wreckage out of the wind—it felt very cold, but I had extra flight clothing to help cover us up.”

    Air Rescue at Elmendorf began its helicopter search at daybreak the following morning, zeroing in on the B-29’s last known position. By 9:30 they found the crash site—on a broad glacial slope at fifty three hundred feet —about a mile northeast of upper Reed Lake. Thanks to Campbell’s decisive actions, the injured men survived the night. They were taken to the hospital at Elmendorf.

    “I think we were about 17 degrees off course.” Campbell says. “Too far to the east—put us right into those high mountains.”

    Campbell said that except for a scratch over his eye, he was unharmed. He later would suffer complications from frostbitten feet, however, and lose the use of several toes.

    Calvin K. Campbell received a special commendation from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Soldier’s Medal, a decoration for valor in a non-combat situation. He retired from the Air Force in 1968.

    “I didn’t feel like a hero or anything,” says Campbell. “I just did what I had to do. “The other guys would have done the same thing for me.”

    Today, the broken bomber sits on the glacier as a quiet memorial to the six men who died there 43 years ago.

    I hiked there with a friend earlier this summer—via upper Reed Lake trail and then over the pass. The wreckage looked surreal, out of place. Here was 50 tons of torn and twisted metal, once with wings stretching about half the length of football field. The pride of the U.S. Air Force in World War II now lay in ruins on a glacier, bent and buckled, wrenched apart, scattered… exposed to the whims of nature.

    We walked around the site awhile, took a few photos, afraid to touch anything. Six men had died here. It was unearthly quiet, as Calvin Campbell described it. A cool gust of wind blew up from the valley below. I felt like it was telling us to move on.

    After that visit I vowed to find out more about the incident, and eventually located Calvin K. Campbell, who though not in the best of health, was more than willing to talk about the experience. My special thanks to Calvin and Elmendorf’s Historian for help in researching this unique piece of Alaska history.

  12. The following was submitted by Dan F. (AKTrailhead):

    Hiked Reed Lakes with some friends about a week ago. Quite a nice trail, you ought to try it sometime if you haven’t already. I thought I’d mention that while whomever posted the trail before said it was all year, the best season would likely be July through September. We hiked there June 19th, and while it was doable and completely worthwhile, there were still a few spots here and there on the last mile that involved crossing patches of snow (and a bit of post holing). Not much, but it might give readers a rough estimate on when the trail can be expected to be snow-free.

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