Best Hikes in Tongass National Forest (AK)

Tongass National Forest Overview

The Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska is the nation’s largest national forest and the largest contiguous temperate rainforest in the world. The forest surrounds the famous Inside Passage and offers unique chances to view eagles, bears, spawning salmon, and the breath-taking vistas of “wild” Alaska. In addition to the best hikes in Tongass National Forest described below, there are 450+ miles of hiking trails available.

Nearest Metro AreaJuneau, AK
Area Size16,572,447 acres
EstablishedSeptember 10, 1907
Hiking Trails450 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in Tongass National Forest

(*** = Best hikes in Tongass National Forest)

Deer Mountain Trail*** – 5.6 miles out and back
Foggy Deer Mountain Traverse-Tongass-AMB-008
Foggy Deer Mountain Traverse, Photo by Forest Service Alaska Region, USDA

Shortly after leaving the parking area, the trail begins to climb steeply, with many switchbacks, to the Deer Mountain summit. While there are brief sections of gravel, boardwalk or wooden stairs, most of the trail is narrow with natural tread. At the first and second mile points along the trail, scenic overlooks provide vast views of the surrounding waterways and islands. After 2.5 miles, the trail forks, with the right fork continuing 0.25 miles to the Deer Mountain summit. The left fork continues 0.25 miles to the Deer Mountain shelter and then continues 10.5 miles along the Deer Mountain to Silvis Lakes traverse. Depending on your abilities and how much snow is at the top, hikers can continue on to Upper Silvis Lake. From the Deer Mtn. shelter to Blue Lake shelter, the trail route is marked and some tread does exist. The trail beyond Blue Lake to John Mtn. and Upper Silvis Lake has some markers but very little tread is present. Hikers venturing beyond Blue Lake should be experienced with the use of maps, compass and/or GPS as well as having knowledge of the trail route.

Dude Mountain Trail*** – 3.0 miles out and back
Scenic. Honorable Mention
Orchids on Foggy Morning on Dude Mountain, Photo by Forest Service Alaska Region, USDA

The trail offers an exhilarating alpine hiking experience that can be accessed quickly from the road system. Hikers are rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding peaks including Brown Mountain and Diana Mountain as well as the Tongass Narrows. During the summer season, the muskegs and alpine meadows bloom with a variety of wildflowers. There are blueberry, salmonberry, and huckleberry bushes present in the lower section of trail during the summer months. Scan the surrounding ridges and peaks for mountain goats once you have reached the summit.

East Glacier Loop*** – 3.0 mile loop
Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier, Photo by Allan Hack

This trail loops out and back from the Trail of Time near the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. The East Glacier Trail provides excellent views of Mendenhall Glacier from a safe distance. The lower portion of the trail is below the glacier trim-line and vegetation consists of very dense pioneering vegetation such as willow, alder and cottonwood. A short side trail leads to the A-J waterfall 1.3 miles from the trailhead.

Lunch Creek Trail – 9.6 miles out and back
Woods in the Lunch Creek area, Photo by NOAA Photo Library

Scenic views abound as the trail winds through dense, rolling forest along Lunch Creek. Lunch Creek provides several pools great for fishing and swimming, as well as rapids and waterfalls.

Nugget Falls Trail*** – 2.0 miles out and back
Nugget Falls-Tongass-AB-015
Nugget Falls, Photo by Forest Service Alaska Region, USDA

The Nugget Falls Trail is 0.8 miles long. It begins half way down Photo Point Trail and ends at Nugget Falls, skirting the flats at the edge of Mendenhall Lake. It is a low gradient trail that was completed in 2010. The new construction realigned the trail so the tread is above high water on the lake. There are wonderful views of the lake, glacier, falls, and surrounding mountains.

Perseverance Trail – 4.8 miles out and back
View from the Perseverance Trail
View from Perseverance Trail, Photo by Andrew Russell

The trail begins near Ward Lake and winds through dense forest, providing brief views of Ward Creek before climbing to Perseverance Lake. Just before Perseverance Lake, the trail reaches a junction. The trail to the left provides access to the outlet of the lake. The trail to the right provides access to the Minerva Mountain Trail as well as a tent platform for overnight camping. The trail consists of gravel and natural tread with brief sections of boardwalk.

West Glacier Trail + Mount McGinnis*** – 11.2 mile out and back
Recreation - Honorable Mention
Hikers on the Mt. McGinnis and West Glacier Trail, Photo by Forest Service Alaska Region, USDA

The West Glacier Trail is 3.5 miles long. It begins at the end of Skater’s Cabin Road and ends at the junction of the Mt. McGinnis Route. Most of this walk is below the glacier trim line amid many willow, cottonwood, and alder trees. The trim line is a distinct change in vegetation type from mature forest to newly established vegetation. It seems to end at a scenic overlook and then curves back towards the glacier. The trail ends at the top of a rock outcrop overlooking Mendenhall Glacier. A primitive route continues to the summit of Mt. McGinnis. Avalanche danger may continue until early summer. The route is steep and sparsely marked. It is not maintained and should be attempted only by hikers in excellent physical condition with a good sense of direction and a map and compass. This would make a good overnight hike. The first part of the route goes through thick brush and hikers should watch for small rock cairns. The route ascends through dense forest and then seems to end in a small basin. Follow the stream up the steep slope and then continue to the summit above timberline to the summit.

Featured Image: Tongass National Forest, Photo by Carey Case

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