Hope. What a great name for a place, right?
It is the perfect place to go for a forest bathing during this difficult time.
Hope, Alaska is a historic town established during the gold rush, originally called “Hope City”. Post-gold rush, Hope was never abandoned and now it has an almost cult-like following as a recreation area. In Summer, this small town rocks with live music and festivities. It’s one of Anchorage’s favorite spots to welcome the long-waited Summer season.
You can see the village on the other side of the Turnagain Arm from the Seward Highway when leaving Anchorage. As the crow flies, it’s only a short distance to Hope. But by road, it’s about 90 miles. Don’t worry, the drive is so beautiful that you won’t mind the extra time driving.
What there is to do in Hope?
Think about an outdoor activity that you want to do in Alaska and you’ll find it in Hope. Fishing, gold panning, white water rafting, camping, hiking, kayaking… The list is long. But since it was our first time visiting, we planned a simple camping and hiking trip.
We picked two hiking trails that showcase the surrounding area of Hope and settled at Porcupine Campground. It was fairly busy, more than I expected for a Wednesday night, but we were able to find a campsite with a gorgeous view of the Turnagain Arm. What a perfect place to start the summer outdoor season! As soon as we arrived, I understood why it’s beloved by so many Alaskans. Perhaps because of the chill vibe, amazing views, mountains, ocean, wildlife, and sort-of ‘middle of nowhere’ feeling.
Gull Rock Trail
As soon as we picked our campsite, we started hiking the Gull Rock Trail. There’s a trailhead with parking down the road but it’s also accessible from the campground. This is a five-mile hike (one-way) that offers scenic views along the Turnagain Arm. We couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather. The sky was blue, the temperature was warm (in the high 60s Fahrenheit), and thanks to Alaska’s long daylight, a 10:30 pm sunset. We didn’t have to worry about a late return.
The trail led us through a mix of forest and bush. Fiddlehead ferns were peeking their heads out of the ground. Devil’s Club buds had grown into spiky leaves already. Fireweed, watermelon berries, spruce tips, all were very green and fresh. I love this time of year in Alaska, everything is blooming and growing. The fresh light green color feels especially relieving after the long winter we had.
We made a few stops to enjoy the view. The tide was moving out, exposing the glacial silt mudflats. We could see tiny cars running on the Seward Highway, far away on the other side of the Turnagain Arm.
Spring is also a great time to spot wildlife. Since our forests still aren’t fully bloomed with leaves, it’s easier to see wildlife. And thankfully so, because we ran into a black bear, just a mile after we started. It seemed like a junior bear, probably enjoying this beautiful spring day and some yummy snacks. The bear and we recognized each other almost at the same time. We made a lot of noise and the bear jumped back into the bush. After a while, we continued and saw a lot of birds and even a vole! But thankfully no more bear encounters. (Just FYI, ‘play dead’ isn’t an appropriate way to handle a bear encounter in Alaska. Bears generally hate/scared of human so when you hear or see a bear, make lots of noise. They will most likely move away on their own.)
We didn’t intend to go all the way. We said ‘Let’s check it out and turn around whenever.’ But with the views, pleasant temperature, and being outdoors after a long winter/spring of quarantine life, it felt so good. So we walked all the way to the end. And I’m glad we did. The end of Gull Rock Trail had such a great reward. It is one of those places that I knew I’d be back again.
The trail ends at Gull Rock, which is an appropriate name since there are so many gulls hanging around. They were enjoying gliding in the wind. We looked almost directly into Anchorage and Sleeping Lady. This is what I like so much about Alaska; I can find the ‘middle of nowhere’ feeling although I’m just two hours away from the biggest city.
The end of Gull Rock Trail is where you can camp overnight (no facilities). We scoped out some good spots and promised to come back soon.
After eating a snack while hanging out with all the gulls and very friendly Steller’s Jay couple, we turned around. The sun was slowly coming down, making the forest shine like gold. On the hike back we saw a spruce grouse for the first time! Many other birds were enjoying the evening as well.
The trail was in good condition, and a few mountain bikers passed us. There was more elevation gain than I expected; my Strava calculated 1940 ft. of elevation gain, but it wasn’t too strenuous. I harvested a handful of fiddlehead ferns and devil’s club buds. It’s certainly a rewarding hike with lots of nature and wildlife.
In Korean, we have this expression ‘forest bathing 산림욕’. It means quite literally bathing with fresh air and energy in forests. It’s a place to recharge mentally and physically. And that’s how I felt after hiking in Gull Rock Trail. Unlike many hiking trails in Southcentral Alaska, Hope has lots of big trees, probably due to the high precipitation. It’s amazing to see the diverse environment within two hours’ drive from home. What a great start to the summer season!
Gull Rock Trail Tips:
- It’s a shared trail with mountain bikes. If you’re thinking of biking the trail, the terrain isn’t suitable for beginners.
- Bring bear bells and bear spray! It’s best if you can hike with a small group (at least two people). Try to make noise regularly to notify wildlife like bears.
- There is a freshwater fountain at Porcupine Campground and toilets at the trailhead. But there are no facilities beyond that point.
- If you’re hiking to and camping at the end of Gull Rock, make sure to completely pack out all you brought and properly bury human waste. There are some signs explaining at the end of the trail.
- There is an abundance of wildlife here! Make sure to keep your eyes on birds, small mammals, as well as flora and fauna.