OverviewMcHugh Peak anchors the southern terminus of the “front range” of Chugach Mountains that form the backdrop for Anchorage, Alaska. Beyond McHugh, Turnagain Arm slices through the mountains and the margin of the range turns eastward along the water’s edge. Though it is not among the higher Chugach peaks, the unbroken 4300-foot rise from tidewater gives it a dramatic summit that is well worth seeking out.
The popular hiking guides for the Chugach Mountains either ignore McHugh or contain a good deal of outdated and wrong information about it. This page is an attempt to get some better information out there.
Getting ThereThere are three main trailheads for climbing McHugh that have completely independent approaches by road. They’ll be describes separately with their respective routes below.
North Ridge—the McHugh Peak Trail: This trail offers the easiest ascent of McHugh. It is mostly a ridge walk, with fantastic views of the Suicide Peaks on one side and across Cook Inlet to the Aleutian Range on the other.
Because parking is extremely limited, you'd better have a backup plan whenever you set out to do this route. If the weather is decent and it's a weekend day, your chances of scoring a parking place are slim to none.
To reach the trailhead, drive east on Rabbit Creek Road (this road is the last exit from the Seward Highway as it leaves the south end of Anchorage). When the road bends left after three miles, turn right onto Clarks Road and immediately right again, still following Clarks Road. Follow this road into Bear Valley, continuing past where it turns to dirt and crosses a stream. Turn left on Snowbear, right on Black Bear, and left on Honey Bear. Follow Honey Bear all the way to the T junction at its end, passing through a large, always open gate with “no outlet” and “no trespassing” signs (don’t worry about the signs—there is a legal right of way for trail users). At the T junction, turn right and drive 100 yards to a turnaround circle. The trailhead is here.
Be very careful parking in the circle. Legal parking is marked, with room for six vehicles. Do not park anywhere else; your car will be ticketed, towed, or vandalized, or maybe all three. Because parking is so limited, try to park carefully so that none of the legal space is wasted. The first person to park should park right at the end, few inches inside the legal area.
A well marked and constructed trail leaves from the circle and climbs 1100 feet on switchbacks to the crest of McHugh’s north ridge, at 3200 feet. Continue southward along the ridge crest, always heading for the prominent rock tor, shaped like a cockscomb, on the summit of McHugh. The tor itself requires a very short class 2-3 scramble on its north side.
The net climb from the trailhead to the summit is 2300 feet. With the ups and downs of the ridge, however, you will have climbed about 2600 feet to gain the summit and 2900 feet by the time you complete a round trip. The six mile round trip requires three to five hours of hiking time.
Northwest Ridge: The northwest ridge (the ridge north of Potter Creek, anchored by Point 2379) provides an excellent 3100-foot ascent that doesn’t get much traffic. The trailhead is reached by going east on Rabbit Creek Road; right onto Goldenview Drive; left on Bluebell; left on Ashland; left on Rosemont; continue onto Steamboat. Follow Steamboat about 100 yards to the hairpin turn onto Mountainside Village Drive, elevation 1200 feet, and park here. Steamboat itself continues a very short way to a gated, abandoned road (known as Stewart Homestead Road) that contours along the ridge above Potter Creek. Walk this pretty road two miles to its end. About 100 yards before it dead ends, on the left, a trail (actually an abandoned jeep road) switchbacks up through alders to the little pass between Point 2379 and McHugh Peak. From the pass, follow a path on the northwest ridge crest to escape the last of the brush, and then make your own way along the crest from there (class 2 as far as the tor). The total mileage to the top is just over four, requiring two or three hours one way in summer. The "primary image" for this page (the little picture at top right) shows the early part of this route, about a mile beyond the gate on Steamboat. Click on it for a larger view.
The northwest ridge makes a fun and relatively safe winter route. In good conditions you can snowshoe the whole route in about 3 hours.
South Flank: This is the most arduous of the three main routes up McHugh, involving a 4300-foot elevation gain. Park at McHugh Creek wayside at Mile 112 on the Seward Highway south of Anchorage. Follow the Turnagain Arm Trail half a mile west (toward Potter Marsh) and turn right at the marked junction onto the McHugh Lake Trail. Follow this pleasant trail on switchbacks through the woods for just short of one mile (if you reach the first milepost, you’ve gone a few yards too far). At this point, you’ll see a large rock outcrop just above the trail, with a good path climbing the slopes to its right. Follow the path to the top of the outcrop (about 100 vertical feet). After enjoying the view from this fine perch, follow the trail that leads off its back side and climb the slopes ahead northward to the crest of McHugh's southwest ridge. Turn right on the ridge and walk it nearly two miles, passing over Point 3491, until you can go no higher.
Red TapeThere is a $5 fee to park at McHugh Creek trailhead (the trailhead for the South Flank route), unless you have an annual pass. You will need exact change. There’s no fee at the other trailheads.
Overnight parking at the Honey Bear/North Ridge trailhead is forbidden.
Though not significantly restricted, camping is not very practical on this mountain.
BearsTwo people have been killed in surprise grizzly bear encounters on McHugh Peak. Take full bear precautions until clear of the brush, particulary on the south flank and northwest ridge routes. The north ridge route doesn't have much brush, so surprise bear encounters are less of a concern.
WeatherA recurring weather pattern in Anchorage is “high winds along the hillside” that tear around the corner between Turnagain Arm and the upper slopes of the Anchorage bowl. McHugh Peak is the corner that seems to bring these winds to their maximum ferocity, and it is not uncommon to encounter winds strong enough to blow you off your feet and pelt you with gravel. Pick a calm day for this one!
LinksChugach State Park
McHugh Creek webcam (sea level, south side of the mountain)
Bear Valley weather conditions (north side of the mountain, near north ridge trailhead)
Steamboat Drive weather conditions (west side of the mountain, near northwest ridge trailhead)