It is infinitely harder, but not impossible, to get outside with a baby or toddler. Counterintuitively, however, it’s harder to plan a short trip than a long one. I can think of dozens of long trips I’d like to take in Alaska, but it’s hard to think of a one-to-three-hour walk within a short drive of town that I haven’t done over and over. Fortunately, with a little creativity you can plan interesting short hikes that are suitable for taking babies and toddlers. These are all within a short drive of most Anchorage neighborhoods.
Rendezvous Ridge: This long, mostly mellow ridgeline connects Gordon Lyon (near Arctic Valley) with Triangle Peak about Symphony tarns. Without babies, many people day hike it miles out into the Western Chugach. With babies, a couple of shorter hikes still provide great views from open ridgelines. Park at the South Fork Eagle River trailhead near the end of Hiland Road, and then hike up to Hunter Pass, a short climb of nearly 1,000 feet. For a short loop, hang a left at the pass, hiking up and over North Bowl. At the next pass, turn left again on a well-used social/game trail and return to the developed trail. Plan on a half-day for doing this hike with babies, if you’re allowing for plenty of time to romp and hang out on the tundra atop North Bowl. Alternatively, you can do a similar length out-and-back by turning right (west) at Hunter Pass, climbing to a prominence in the ridgeline between Rendezvous Peak and North Bowl. Regardless of which way you go, the ridgeline provides panoramic views including Calliope and Cantata Peaks in the South Fork valley, Denali and Foraker to the north, and the Chugach Front Range to the south.
Gordon Lyon: This peak near Arctic Valley is one of my favorite easy ridgeline rambles. Park at the Arctic Valley trailhead, then head up the valley on the developed trail to the pass between Rendezvous (to the east) and Gordon Lyon (to the west). Head up the gentle ridgeline to Gordon Lyon, which has sweeping Alaska Range views. Follow the ridgeline southwest in the general direction of the old Nike missile site, but take one of the several social trails back down to the valley trail before passing one of the No Trespassing signs that surround the missile site itself. This is about an hour and a half walk without stopping, or a half day at a baby-carrying, break-taking pace.
Peak 2: Behind and higher than Flattop, Peak 2 is a great place for a mini-ridge walk away from crowds nearby. Head up the popular, well-graded Flattop Back Side trail from Canyon Road. At the saddle (plan on an hour climb) between Flattop and Peak 2, turn right (east) and follow the ridgeline to Peak 2. Continue over this modest summit, generally following the ridgeline to the saddle and bowl between Peak 2 and Peak 3. This tundra zone has some great areas for babies and toddlers to ramble around. You can continue up to Peak 3, or just head down the obvious social trail that leads back down to Canyon Road. This hike has approximately 2,000 feet of elevation gain in a little less than four miles, a good distance to hike for an hour or so between baby breaks.
McHugh/Bear Valley: A relatively new trailhead in Bear Valley provides access to McHugh Peak’s long ridgelines without driving down to Turnagain Arm, and without climbing from sea level. Take Clark’s Road off of Rabbit Lakes, then follow the Bear Valley switchbacks up to the trailhead. It takes about an hour to climb to the ridgeline, which has a wide tundra plateau to play and change diapers. The ridgeline continues on for a couple miles to McHugh’s summit, so you can hike as much farther as you want, all with a front-porch view of Turnagain Arm and the Kenai Mountains. Unfortunately, the Municipality of Anchorage Traffic Department recently eliminated two-thirds of the parking spaces at this lot, so it is very hard to find parking on weekends and even weekdays after work.
Kincaid: If you’ve only got an hour, my favorite very short baby hike is the series of Kincaid bluff trails that overlooks Turnagain Arm. The easiest way to hike (or mountain bike, the more common mode of access) to the bluff trails is to park at the chalet and start walking out the Mighty Bike trail, watching for mountain bikers, of course. Continue straight (right) at the first and second signed intersections, so that you end up on C$ Express, which gains the bluff on above Turnagain Arm. It is only a ten to fifteen minute walk to the bluff from the chalet parking lot. While C$ Express turns to the left after a quarter mile or so, the bluff trail continues all the way to the sandpit near Jodhpur Road, becoming steadily less bikeable as it progresses. It is easy hiking, though, with lovely views and some forested glades along the way.
Pepper Peak: With stunning views of Eklutna Lake just a short climb away, and generally well-graded trails, Pepper Peak is a great baby and toddler friendly hike. Patient parents may even make it up to the ridgeline, where an expansive and broad ridgeline provides extensive tundra for a toddler to stumble around.
In my albeit limited experience, babies and toddlers love hiking. Babies sleep, and toddlers alternate between sleeping, looking around, babbling, and complaining, all of which are among their favorite activities. Since young children haven’t lost the ability to see the world in a grain of sand, they love picking up the rocks, twigs, leaves, berries, and encounter other small wonders in the backcountry. While you may not be used to having such a short radius for hikes, you can take solace in getting far more exercise per mile by lugging increasingly heavy children around in baby slings and backpacks. Most importantly: If you have a child and still manage to leave the house, it’s a victory.