Moderate - from Indian Valley, the bushwhacking and/or post holing in certain areas can be frustrating. From Hidden Valley, a very steep mountain to get back up on your return. Otherwise, very easy.
Miles from Anchorage
20; Via Hidden Valley: 20 minute drive from downtown.
Via Indian Valley: 40 miles down the Seward Highway.
One of my all time favorite places to backpack!, a perfect example of a glacial valley. It looks like a giant dipped its finger down the valley as if it were licking the frosting off a birthday cake. I'm so into this place! Space does not allow me to praise all the great things I love about this place.
The best way to get to Ship Lake is via Hidden Valley. As you head up the slope, the peak on the left is known as The Ramp for obvious reasons. The left peak is known as the Wedge. When you get to the top, get out your windbreaker and camera because you're going to be snapping pics like there's no tomorrow. Take your time and explore the ridge. Don't say you'll do it on the way back because your a** will be too whupped from climbing back up and you won't be as motivated.
If you only have the day, the hike to The Ramp is a fine trip in its own right but make sure you have the whole day.
Carefully descend down and easily ford Ship Creek to get to the panhandle part of the Lake. This is the best place to set up your tent as the scrub is like a mattress. Make sure the opening of your tent faces down the valley so you can get a great view of the distant peaks as you drift off to sleep.
Then explore, explore, explore! After dinner, I like to take a hike around the lake. The rock slide shelters rock ptarmigan and at the upper part of the bowl can usually be found a herd of dall sheep as well as an incredible view of the entire valley. If it's a wet season, you can camp up there and use the small creek (which usually dries out toward the end of the season). Look very carefully and you can get a glimpse of the last remnants of the glacier.
In the valley where the willow and shrub start, especially by the creek, can be found many small mammals including voles, martens, ermines and mink. Recently, beavers have moved in from Indian Valley and you may see them splashing around the main lake. Their dam and shelter are at the smaller tarn below.
The following was added July 29, 2007:
I just got back from an overnighter. The weather was incredible! I finally had a chance to camp on the knob at the top of the valley, above the lake. The view was amazing. The small creek was not flowing, but luckily, there were small pools that I was able to use to fill my canteens. There are plenty of flat places up there to set up your tent, so it is definitely worth your time to check it out as a possible site. However, if there's no water, it would be quite a schlep to get it!
Be aware that via Indian Valley you will encounter many sections that will require you to bushwhack. Try to stay on the upper sections of the mountain ridges till you get halfway up Ship Lake Valley where the terrain turns to scrub. Be warned: Indian Valley can be clogged with snow right up to mid June. I usually pack snowshoes just to be sure.
If you are with a group, an option is to leave a car at the Indian Valley Trailhead and start the hike at the Glen Alps Trailhead.
The huge boulder in the middle of the valley has a deep crevice that is perfect for putting your food away for the night.
If the prospect of climbing back up that mountain via Hidden Valley is daunting to you, break it down into small increments and only concentrate on the section you are climbing. You should give yourself an hour. Bottom line; it's a bitch but pace yourself and you'll succeed.
If you come in late August and/or September, have a big bowl or Ziploc bag when you descend the mountain as there are a messload of blueberries for the picking.
The Glen Alps Parking Lot requires a $5 parking fee (bring exact amount). The price for an annual parking pass is $40. You can purchase a pass at the Federal Building at 4th and F or the Atwood Building on 7th and E, 12th Floor.
Here are the directions for getting there: take the Seward Highway to the O'Malley exit and head east. After a few miles, follow the signs to Glen Alps. Make a right on Hillside Drive then a left on Upper Huffman. Turn right on Toilsome Hill. This road will twist and wind up the hills for about two miles.