Hiking the Thunderbird Falls Trail near Anchorage
Last Updated on February 8, 2023
If you’re looking for a mellow hike near Anchorage, or place to stretch your legs on an Alaskan road trip, the Thunderbird Falls trail is an excellent option for you! A great beginner family friendly hike through the forest leading to a beautiful 200 foot waterfall is hard to beat, and that’s what you have here in Thunderbird Falls.
The trail to Thunderbird Falls starts right next to the Glenn Highway in Chugiak, about 30 miles from Anchorage. The hike is 2 miles round trip with about 200 feet of elevation gain. Those looking for more can add another half mile to a mile and a bit more steepness by taking the side trail down to the river near the falls, which is well signed.
Thunderbird Falls is the land of the Dena’ina Ełnena People.
Parking Pass: Alaska State Parks Pass
Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash. There are some significant drop offs near this trail that may be challenging depending on your dog.
Cell phone coverage: Mostly good.
Restrooms: There is a pit toilet in the parking lot
Accessibility and Mobility: Overall, the main one mile trail to the waterfall is wide with few rocks and roots to trip you up. The first steep part of the trail is steeper than the rest of the trail with a few more rocks. The side trail down to the creek is short, steep and has rocks, roots and mud. There are some areas with steep drop offs near the trail. In wet weather the whole trail can be very muddy.
Where is Thunderbird Falls?
Thunderbird Falls is near Anchorage just off the Glenn Highway near the town of Chugiak.
From Anchorage, head out of town on the Glenn Highway past the town of Eagle River. After you pass Mirror Lake, it’s the next exit and has a sign for Thunderbird Falls. This will take you onto the Old Glenn Highway a very short distance to the parking area. You will need to pay for parking.
When is the best time to hike the Thunderbird Falls trail?
The best time to hike the Thunderbird Falls trail is spring through fall. In spring and early summer when snow melts as well as after periods of rain the falls are really roaring with water, although there is plenty of water flowing all summer.
Once there is ice on the trail it becomes extremely treacherous and I don’t recommend a winter visit. If you do visit in winter, make sure you have ice grippers and other traction devices.
One of my favorite things about the Thunderbird Falls trail is that it’s just as enjoyable on a rainy day. Rain makes waterfalls even better!
The trail to Thunderbird Falls starts at the trailhead just off the Glenn Highway. The parking lot is fairly small and fills up on summer weekends. I’ve had good luck finding parking in the late afternoon for a late in the day hike. The trail goes along the side of a canyon with private property on the other side (on your right as you’re heading towards the falls). Make sure to stay on the trail and off private property.
The trail immediately climbs steeply for a short distance before settling into a mellow grade for most of the hike. There are gentle ups and downs on the wide graveled trail that goes through the mostly birch forest along the edge of the Eklutna River canyon. There are several viewpoints across the canyon through this middle section of the trail.
When you are almost to the falls, there is a trail junction just before a bridge. I recommend continuing straight first, which takes you onto the viewing platform where you can see Thunderbird Falls.
After you cross the bridge, you’ll head out onto the viewing platform with a gorgeous view of the falls. The sound of the roaring waterfall is just as good or better than the view.
If you’re up for a bit more hiking, as well as a steeper trail with more rocks and roots, take the trail down when you return across the bridge. This trail takes you steeply through the forest for a short distance to the edge of the river.
You can also get a different viewpoint on the falls from below.
When you’re ready to return, head back up the trail to the main trail and turn right to return to your car. If you don’t take the side trail, then just follow the trail back to the parking lot.
Other things to do close to Thunderbird Falls
If you’re going out to Thunderbird Falls, there are lots of other wonderful things to do close by.
Head over to Eklutna Village to see the Spirit Houses or up to Eklutna Lake to rent a kayak or go for a hike. The trails at the Eagle River Nature Center are also excellent for year round explorations.
Hatcher Pass is not too far away and is another location full of year round outdoor adventure of hiking (summer) or snowshoeing or skiing (winter).
Palmer is home to a big helicopter tour operation as well as the Musk Ox Farm and the Alaska State Fair.
Any of these are an excellent pairing with a hike to Thunderbird Falls!