Approaching Flattop Mountain from Anchorage
Flattop Mountain is one of the most popular hikes for Anchorage residents and even for Anchorage visitors. In fact, it is one of the most popular hikes in all of Alaska.
There are several reasons for this.
1) The mountain is located within the limits of the Municipality of Anchorage, so it is easy to get to from anywhere in town.
2) Because the trailhead starts at around 2,300', a fair chunk of the climb gets knocked out by your vehicle.
3) It is a short hike, requiring forty minutes to an hour to reach the summit.
4) Because of the high latitude of Anchorage, the summit of the mountain is located above tree line.
5) This is quite a beautiful mountain. While is doesn't necessarily stand out in the brilliant Anchorage skyline, once you get there, you enter another world. Sunsets over the Cook Inlet, and views to the Chugach Mountains are your reward for not too much effort. Scrambling up to the summit is very fun and for more dogged mountain hikers, you can drop down and continue along the class III ridge to the southeast to the next two peaks at elevations of 3658' (Peak Two) and 4111' (Peak Three).
Peak Two and Peak Three from just east of the summit of Flattop
The only deterrent to hiking Flattop is the crowds. On a good, clear summer day, you may have to share the summit with dozens of others. I know people in Anchorage who routinely use the trail as a workout after work. My hike up this gorgeous little mountain was completed on a particularly beautiful evening in late-August at sunset.
Getting to Flattop is easy. You take either Minnesota Drive or Seward Highway heading South and exit at O'malley Road.
Take O'Malley Road for several miles to the east until you reach Hillside Drive on your right. There is a sign at the turn to Hillside Drive that says "Chugach State Park".
Take Hillside Drive for about a mile until you get to Upper Huffman Road on your left, heading towards the mountains. Take Upper Huffman to near its terminus where you take Toilsome Hill Drive. Toilsome Hill winds around the hillside (and turns seamlessly into Glen Alps). After a few miles you will see signs for the parking area and the Glen Alps trailhead on the left side of the road. The start of the trail itself is well marked.
Overall the trail is pretty straightforward. There are usually crowds, but if not, make sure to head in the most obvious direction. There are lots of little side trails, but you need to stay on the main trail. Early on you descend a long ridge to the start of the uphill climb. After about 1 mile you get to a sitting area with a bench. From here, a use trail goes some of the way up, but the last 200 feet or so is all class II scrambling. The rock quality is good, without much rock fall and excellent footholds and handholds at the tricky spots. Yellow targets on the rocks guide you in the right direction all the way to the top. At the summit you will see a couple wind shelters. The true summit is obvious when you get there.
View from the trail of the north edge of Flattop
The summit is only 1.5 miles one-way from the parking area, with an elevation gain of 1252 feet. You gain roughly 1,000 feet in the last mile.
Below are some gorgeous sunset views taken from Flattop on August 26th, 2007 between the hours of 8:45 and 9:15pm.
Sunset over the summit
Orange Sun (center)
Orange Sun (right)
Sunset over Susitna
Storm in pink
View to the South
There is a parking fee for day use ($5) if you choose to park in the parking lot. The lot has about 40 or so spaces, and these can fill up fast during the summer. I parked on the road just before reaching the fee area where several other cars were parked. At that time (2007) you could be ticketed for this, but it wasn't necessarily enforced. More recently, however, ticketing has become far more vigorous for people overflowing onto the road outside the parking lot. The tickets are huge, because it is designated as a "fire lane".
More recently another lot has been opened, by taking a ramp to the right of the ranger's cottage at the back of the main/old parking lot. Between the two lots, there are perhaps 200 spaces now; much better than it used to be.
Another option is a shuttle service to the trailhead. Details are found in the External Links section.
REI Anchorage page
Local Hikes Trail Description
Flattop Mountain shuttle