Blacktail Rocks hike worth the extra effort from Baldy
Baldy might be beautiful, but Blacktail rocks.
The popular Mt. Baldy trail atop Skyline Drive in Eagle River draws thousands of hikers each summer, but few venture much farther down the trail then the vantage point overlooking Chugiak-Eagle River and the Knik Arm. Those who do will find a wide-open alpine trail leading to Blacktail Rocks and a vantage point as good as any in the Front Range.
With its jagged sawtooth peaks rising nearly 4,500 feet above Eagle River, the climb to Blacktail Rocks appears to be an intimidating trip for anyone who has already scrambled up 3,281-foot Mt. Baldy. But for anyone with an extra couple hours on their feet, the ridgeline route is a wide-open and relatively unchallenging way to get into the Chugach backcountry.
Most folks will be familiar with the peaks from driving the Glenn Highway. As drivers approach the state weigh station driving north toward Eagle River, the rocks appear as the tallest peaks looming over the community.
It was during one of these drives I decided to check out the peaks. I’d summited Baldy many times over the years, but hadn’t made the hike all the way to Blacktail and had always assumed the views wouldn’t be much better than at Baldy. I was wrong. The views along the ridgeline only continue to get better as you hike deeper into the Chugach.
And the hike is relatively easy for the payoff. In fact, the roughly one-mile hike to the top of Baldy may be the trickiest part of the trip. Although there are now switchbacks cut into the mountain’s steep face, many people take the direct route from the small parking area straight up the slippery face. After reaching the rocky top of Baldy, however, hikers will find themselves above the treeline and at the beginning of a long, gradual ridge leading toward Blacktail Rocks about two miles beyond.
A gently rolling one-mile walk will bring hikers through high tundra, berry patches and along a wide gravel trail with sweeping, majestic views of the Meadow Creek Valley along with the numerous peaks that dot the northern end of the “Front Range” that comprises the edge of the Chugach seen from Anchorage and Chugiak-Eagle River.
I found a good vantage point just before the trail takes a sharp turn downward to the base of the Blacktail Rocks peak. For less adventurous hikers, this would be an ideal spot for a photo or picnic before heading back toward Baldy.
Onward and upward from a small saddle, the trail follows a well-defined path along the side of the ridge leading to the rocky peaks. Though steep, the terrain is relatively easy to follow with little exposure or scrambling. However, unaware hikers may find themselves shocked by the hike’s most diabolical feature — its succession of false peaks. Each of the “rocks” that make up the peak appear to the uphill hiker to be the actual peak, but only until several false alarm does the highest point become evident.
From there, hikers will be rewarded with an epic 360-degree view of the Chugach, Knik Arm, Baldy’s distinctive pyramid summit and — on clear days — Denali. The ridgeline continues another mile or so to a higher peak called Roundtop, which can also be accessed via the Ptarmigain Valley Trailhead in Chugiak.
Total hiking distance to the Blacktail Rocks summit from the base of Mt. Baldy is about three miles, with an elevation gain of about 2,700 feet from the parking area at the top of Skyline Drive in Eagle River. It took me about four hours total with a few short stops to take photos.
The trail is ideal for both hikers and mountain runners (one passed me like I was standing still) and would be appropriate for children or teens capable of strenuous hikes. Hikers should plan at least two hours each way if they’re going all the way to the peak, though the flat ridgeline hike can be shortened by stopping before the final push to the summit. There’s little to no water on the trail and few places along the route hold snow into late summer so plan accordingly.
Getting there: The Blacktail Rocks hike is located off Eagle River Loop Road atop Skyline Drive. Driving from Anchorage, take the Hiland Road Exit, then drive approximately 3.5 miles and take a right on Skyline Drive. Stay on Skyline until the road ends at a small overlook; parking is alongside the road and can be crowded during weekends. There is no fee to park or access the trail.