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As I pulled into the parking lot for the Flattop Mountain Trail in Anchorage, a coyote darted in front of my car and into the brush. I wondered to myself whether bear spray works on coyotes as I headed out on this solo hike with my senses on high alert.
Flattop is said to be the most climbed mountain in Alaska, and for good reason. Just 30 minutes from downtown Anchorage, you can enjoy wraparound views of the Chugach Mountains, Cook Inlet, Anchorage skyline and Mt McKinley.
But, like any incredible view, you’ve got to put in some work. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your hike on Flattop Mountain in Anchorage.
Where is the Flattop Mountain Trail?
The Flattop Mountain Trail is just 15 miles (about 30 minutes) east of downtown Anchorage in Chugach State Park. Parking is located at the Glen Alps trailhead.
Pro Tip: The last two miles of the drive is on steep switchbacks. Take your time approaching the turns.
Overview of the Flattop Mountain Trail
The trail is just over three miles, but don’t let the shorter distance fool you. The trail is steep and often covered in snow or ice even in the warmer months. There are also a number of unmarked side trails that can make the Flattop Mountain Trail difficult to navigate.
- Distance: 3.3 miles
- Difficulty level: Challenging
- Style: Loop
- Grade: Steep
- Elevation gain: 1430 feet
- Navigation: Challenging, missing trail markers
- Time: 1-2 hours
If you want to enjoy the view without the strenuous hike, there is a short path from the Flattop Mountain Trail parking lot to an overlook. Just follow the signs!
Pro Tip: Download a trail map from All Trails before you head out!
Transportation to the Flattop Mountain Trail
There are two transportation options to get to the Flattop Mountain Trailhead from Anchorage: by rental car and by shuttle.
Rental Car (Recommended)
As I drove towards the base of the mountain, I was mesmerized by the vibrant autumn colors lining the long hilly stretch of O’Malley Road. I absolutely love the freedom of exploring a new place by car.
Find rental cars at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport or downtown Anchorage. The most centrally located car rental downtown is Avis, shown on the Google map above.
There is a parking lot at the trailhead with a $5 fee (credit card or cash). I imagine during the warmer months the lot fills up quickly due to the popularity of this trail.
Pro Tip: If the parking lot is full, do not park on the road just outside of the lot unless you want an expensive parking ticket! Continue back down the road to where the “No Parking” signs end.
Flattop Mountain Shuttle
The alternative to driving yourself to the Flattop Mountain Trail is to take the Flattop Mountain Shuttle, which is located at Downtown Bicycle Rental in Anchorage. The shuttle departs once daily at 12:30pm, returning at 4:30pm, and costs $23 per person. There is a discount for groups of four or more.
It’s important to note that the hike is unguided, so you will be on your own once you arrive at the trailhead. The shuttle will wait for passengers in the lot at the trailhead.
Pro Tip: The Flattop Mountain Shuttle only runs from May 15 through September 15th.
Tips for Hiking the Flattop Mountain Trail
This trail is deceiving. The combination of its shorter distance, proximity to the city, and incredible views make it tempting for anyone visiting Anchorage. But, it’s not an easy trail. Here are some tips to help you plan your hike.
The very first trail marker is missing, making it difficult to even tell where the trail starts. Find the trailhead directly to the left of the fee station in the parking lot.
Pro Tip: There are pit toilets available at the trailhead.
After a short walk, the trail splits off with a sharp right turn. Here you have a choice. If you continue straight, this is the less strenuous gradual climb to the summit. If you prefer more of a challenge, take the sharp right for a steep climb!
After an initial climb, you’ll reach the Blueberry Loop. Either direction will take you to Flattop Trail.
Pro Tip: If you go to the right (towards the water) on the Blueberry Loop, you’ll get great views of the Anchorage skyline.
After a short relatively flat section, you’ll hit a steep section made almost entirely of stairs.
Just before you do the final scramble to the summit, there is a clearing with a bench where you can view the Cook Inlet on one side and the Chugach Mountains on the other. Take a break here to enjoy this incredible view!
In early October, this section was already covered in snow and ice. If you didn’t bring proper hiking shoes and microspikes (or forgot them in your rental car like I did), this is a good place to turnaround and head back down!
How to Hike the Flattop Mountain Trail Safely
As I mentioned, this hike is challenging for several reasons. The final ascent to the summit is incredibly windy, steep and often covered in snow or ice. Also, the trail is not well marked and there are many misleading side trails. I started chatting with others on the trail who appeared to be from the area so that I wouldn’t get lost.
- Do not approach wildlife
- Bring bear spray, have it accessible and know how to use it
- Bring microspikes and hiking poles to navigate the icy conditions and steep final ascent to the summit
- Bring plenty of water
- Wear layers and bring cold weather gear such as gloves and a wool hat
- Download a trail map beforehand
How About a Hike and a Bike?
You know what pairs well with this hike? A 22 mile bike ride along the coast of Anchorage! Since the Flattop hike only takes about two hours, you can easily bike the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in Anchorage in the morning and then hit the hiking trail after lunch. Go on, you know you want to!