Editor's Note: This column was updated on Sept. 1 to reflect changes in recommended routes to the trail described.
Alaska is filled with great trips that people rarely take. Near the top of that list, I would add the ridge walk connecting Mount Significant, Mile Hi, Vista Peak, and potentially more summits near the Baldy and Mile Hi trailheads. This “Significant” traverse is as scenic as it is easy, a perfect day trip to ramble along sheep super-highways and be home in time for dinner.
There aren’t many ridgelines that make for better walking than the Significant traverse. Sheep trails, informal human trails, and a gently rolling skyline mean you can take your eyes off your feet and enjoy the scenery. There is essentially no scrambling or exposure necessary to connect the peaks between Ram Valley and the Baldy trailhead.
There are several options for routes with this traverse. A logical eastern starting point is the Ram Valley trailhead, which has extremely limited parking at the end of Mariah Road. Read the sign neighbors have put out, following a well-established informal trail up the powerline easement, right on a gravel road driveway, then left again on an easement trail to access Chugach State Park. I certainly hope the state and city can establish better parking and trailhead access here in the near future, considering how important this trailhead is to access a significant area within Chugach State Park.
Once you’re in the park, it’s an easy climb up the ridgeline toward Significant, first passing through tall grass and broken trees before getting to tundra. Significant is shaped like a whale’s back, and the “true” summit is a tiny nubbin of rock large enough for one person to sit on and eat lunch. The ridgeline and summit have panoramic views of Fallingwater Valley, the Organ/Eagle/Polar Bear complex of peaks, and Peters Creek valley. Significant’s descent is as gentle as the climb, and you can either climb over or traverse around a small prominence on the way to Mile Hi peak. Note that if you want to climb up and over Mount Magnificent on the way out to Mile Hi trailhead, you’ll hang a left on the gentle ridgeline that breaks off to the right before the main ridge climbs to Mile Hi peak.
The next summit in the traverse is Vista Peak, which like Mile Hi is in the headwaters of the Meadow Creek drainage. From Vista, you can either continue on the ridge to Round Top and/or Black Tail Rocks and the Baldy Trailhead, or descend and aim for the Mile Hi trailhead. Starting from Ram Valley, it’s approximately 11 miles to Mile Hi trailhead with three summits, or approximately 13.5 miles to Baldy if you add in Round Top. There is a delightful trail in Meadow Creek valley that leads to the saddle above Mile Hi trailhead, so either route option is easy walking. Most of the summits near Baldy and Mile Hi trailheads are gentle, so you can link trailheads and summits in whatever direction and configuration you prefer. Linking Ram Valley with Baldy could include up to five peaks (Significant, Mile Hi, Vista, Round Top, Black Tail Rocks), which is as many easy summits in a day as you can climb anywhere around Anchorage.
The “Significant Traverse” should be one of the most popular day hikes around Anchorage, but it’s not a common walk at all. Few hikes have so many summits-per-mile, or summits-per-unit-of-suffering. It’s pure Type 1 fun, and a great place to revel in Alaska’s incredible public lands.