Photo Credit: Austin Love

The Trans-Alaska Trail

What if Alaska had a world-class destination trail? What if we could draw hikers, mountain bikers, and cross-country skiers from around the world to travel across the tundra, taiga, and temperate rainforest of Alaska, and traverse the mountains and glaciers of the Brooks Range, Alaska Range, and Chugach Mountains?

The poetry of the idea? This trail already exists.

The Trans-Alaska Trail — Alaska’s version of the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails — is an ocean-to-ocean multi-use trail spanning 800 miles across Alaska, from Arctic Ocean to Pacific tidewater, from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. It may not be well known or advertised, but a gravel path already traverses Alaska from the Arctic to the Pacific Ocean.

A basic 4x4 track, or “service pad,” follows the route of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and is used by Alyeska Pipeline Service Company to maintain its infrastructure.

The vast majority of the route is public land. Of the 800-mile route, 375 miles are federal (mostly Bureau of Land Management, or BLM), 344 State of Alaska (managed by Department of Natural Resources, or DNR), 51 Alaska Native, and 30 private. The right-of-way leases issued for the pipeline by BLM and DNR do not preclude recreational use of the right-of-way, and presently the route is already available for recreational use on a case-by-case basis through a “Letter of Non-Objection” from Alyeska.

While the route is often isolated and feels remote, it always runs in proximity to the Richardson Highway. The proposed 66-mile pilot segment runs from Valdez to the Little Tonsina River near milepost 63 on the Richardson. Lodges along the way provide hot showers, good food, and warm beds, offering potential for a modern-day “lodge-to-lodge” version of the roadhouse system that once sheltered pioneers traveling the Richardson Trail. The vision for the Trans-Alaska Trail will spark excitement across Alaska and the nation, serving as a world-class outdoor recreation destination and high-octane additive for Alaska’s rapidly developing adventure tourism economy.