U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

Chugach National Forest


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Forest Information

The Chugach National Forest is located east and southeast of Anchorage, Alaska. It is comprised of 5,361,803 acres. There are 14 developed campgrounds, 12 of which meet the selection criteria.

The Chugach National Forest (NF) is located south of Anchorage, Alaska's largest community, in the mountains surrounding Prince William Sound from eastern Kenai Peninsula and beyond the delta of Copper River. It is the second largest forest in the U.S. national forest inventory, and is the northernmost national forest. The vast and beautiful Chugach NF, with only 90 miles of Forest Service roads, is largely a little explored wilderness. With a tapestry of ancient ice, carved rock, blue water, arid tundra, lush forest, deep fjords, and rushing rivers, the Chugach NF offers visitors a wide and diverse range of recreational activities. Whether seen as a "backyard" playground to the majority of Alaska's residents or a once-in-a-lifetime destination, Chugach NF's many developed campgrounds provide a base camp for enjoying all this forest has to offer or a picture- perfect place to just sit and relax.

The majority of Chugach's developed campgrounds are located on the eastern side of the Kenai Peninsula. Take the Seward Highway, State Route 1, south from Anchorage, past Girdwood, following the north shore of Turnagain Arm, to the 1964 Earthquake-caused ruins of Portage. Then, take the turn-off to Portage Valley, Whittier and Black Bear and Williwaw campgrounds. These two campgrounds are snug up against the Chugach Mountains in the shadow of Explorer and Middle glaciers in the Portage Valley. A visit to the nearby and outstanding Begich, Boggs Visitor Center will provide a better appreciation of all that is the Chugach NF (be sure to ask about the Ice Worms). And, maybe hike to Byron Glacier or take a short cruise to Portage glacier . Although Black Bear and Williwaw campgrounds are located in the same valley, and within walking distance of each other, their differences illustrate the many options campers have in the Chugach.

Black Bear campground is tucked into a dense stand of conifer trees so views and sunlight are limited. This small campground has a rustic, undeveloped feel and is great for tent and car campers. Just down the road, Williwaw (means "big wind" so be warned) campground is a more RV-friendly place. Williwaw has fewer tall trees with stubby willows and other shrubs providing excellent privacy between sites. The lack of overhead means outstanding views of Middle Glacier. Both campgrounds are linked to the Visitor Center by the paved, wheelchair friendly Trail of Blue Ice.

One thing both campgrounds have in common is they are great base camps for exploring the area's wonders. From them you can visit Girdwood and enjoy the miles of hiking trails, including Crow Pass and the historic Iditarod National Historic trails. Or, discover a newly added attraction - the Glacier Discovery Train's Whistle Stop Service. The train runs from Anchorage to Grandview with stops in Girdwood, Portage, Whittier, Portage, and the Spencer Glacier and is great to discover parts of Chugach few experience.

Continue south on State Rt. 1 over Turnagain Pass, a mecca for snowmobiles and cross-country ski enthusiasts, to Bertha Creek and Granite Creek campgrounds. Not big campgrounds or very fancy, these two campgrounds offer campers a pleasant camping experience not far off the main road.

A little further down State Rt. 1 is the turn-off for Porcupine campground and Hope, Alaska. Located on a bluff above Turnagain Arm, the Porcupine campsites are tucked in among birch trees and wild roses. Getting to Porcupine campground means passing the former mining community of Hope. Said to be the best preserved Gold Rush Era town in Southeast Alaska, Hope has a lot to offer. Campers can enjoy what Hope has to offer or Gull Rock or Resurrection Pass trails. Both are super trails. Gull Rocks takes hikers along Turnagain Arm while Resurrection Pass trail lets hiker explore as much of the interior as they want of this 40-mile trail. Resurrection Pass trail has eight rental cabins along the trail which can reserve for a multi-day hike.

About halfway between the turn-off to Porcupine campground and "Y" to Seward, AK is Tenderfoot Creek campground on Summit Lake. This is great location for tent, car, or rv campers and a perfect place to introduce new campers to the wonders of the Chugach NF. Experienced or new anglers will find Summit Lake a rewarding fishing experience.

A few miles south of Tenderfoot campground, at Tern Lake (outstanding birdwatching location), State Rt. 1 bears to the west, heading for Cooper Landing and, eventually, Homer, AK. Continuing straight on to State Rt. 9 and seclude Ptarmigan campground soon appears on the left and the larger bustling Trail River campground is on the right. Both campgrounds are good base camps for exploring the area. Besides hiking, nearby Kenai Lake offers good fishing but visits to Exit Glacier and the busy port of Seward are also good destinations from these campgrounds.

Quartz Creek, Cooper Creek and Russian River campgrounds stretch out along State Rt. 1 and offer wonderfully diverse camping experiences. The most rustic, least developed camping will be found at Cooper Creek. With dirt and gravel parking aprons, a handpump, and a vault toilet, Cooper Creek campground has retained its original wilderness character. Russian River campground has five loops, lots of campsites, and super busy especially when the salmon are running. Campers and anglers come from all over 24/7 to experience the "Combat Fishing" in the adjacent Russian River.

What is "Combat Fishing"? When you have hundreds of anglers standing in the river and maybe a bear or two looking on and competing for a choice salmon, you have "Combat Fishing."

Quartz Creek campground is well away from the other campgrounds, and although some regard it as an "overflow" to Russian River campground, it has a tranquil charm that makes it feel worlds away from the crowds. On Kenai Lake, it has a boat ramp, RV waste station, flush toilets, a pressure water system, and is close to hiking trails as well as Cooper Landing for a cook's night out. Not as crowded mid-week, it isn't unusual for moose to walk through the campground just checking on the Quartz Creek campers.

On the east side of Prince William Sound, up the Copper River Delta, is maybe the Chugach's most unique campground. Childs Glacier campground was recently expanded to 16 campsites and is located at the edge of Childs Glacier. How close? It is suggested ear plugs be used so the sound of the glacier calving won't keep you awake. Getting to Childs Glacier campground isn't as easy as accessing the Chugach's other campgrounds. Take a plane from Anchorage to Cordova or a ferry from Valdez or Whittier to the port of Cordova. It's a long ferry ride but what a great trip through Prince William Sound with possible sightings of sea life along the way. Equally as exciting is traveling by car or RV through Cordova the 49 miles up the picturesque Copper River Highway to the Childs Glacier campground, the spectacular Childs Glacier and the historic Million Dollar Bridge. This is a very cool place to camp and visit! Give it a try. Oh, try and make time to spend a couple days exploring the town of Cordova and maybe taking one of the varied rafting trips.

The Chugach National Forest is full of "cool" experiences. Imagine taking a floatplane, boat, or hiking into a remote cabin and spending a week digging for razor clams, hunting for sea glass, picking bowls of wild berries or fishing a snow melt-fed stream. Or what the impact of a week of birdwatching would have on your lifetime list. What about kayaking in Prince William Sound with the possibility of seeing the world's largest mammal, a Humpback whale, gliding by to say "hello." Or maybe take advantage of the many commercial enterprises in the Chugach and raft the Kenia River, take a tour boat and explore the adjoining Kenai Fjord National Park, or do some "flightseeing" from a bush/floatplane. You can learn more about the Native People at the K'Beq Interpretive Site or explore Alyeska Resort's Interpretive Hut in Girdwood. Maybe you'll get to see a Bore Tide (like the one in Fundy Bay, Canada) on Turnagain Arm or observe the "Jokulhlaup," when the natural ice dam breaks and the Snow River floods.

The Chugach National Forest, with well-placed campgrounds and many recreational opportunities, has a lot to offer visitors. Alaska may be called "a-once-in-a-lifetime-destination" but it is a destination that will call you back again and again.

SUPERVISOR ADDRESS 3301 C Street Suite 300 Anchorage, Alaska 99503-3998 907-743-9500 RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES Cordova P.O.B. 280 Cordova, Alaska 99574 907-424-7661 Glacier P.O.B. 129 Girdwood, Alaska 99587 907-783-3242 Seward P.O.B. 390 Seward, Alaska 99664 907-224-3374

Fred and Suzi Dow