Hiking Cordova’s Iconic Mt. Eyak
If you visit Cordova for the Copper River Salmon Jam, you will be conveniently close to the popular Ski Hill hiking area with a trail that leads up an iconic Cordova peak—Mt. Eyak. When hiking on Ski Hill and the surrounding trails, you will be treated to magnificent views making it a hike worth doing if you plan to make a day trip, camp overnight at the Ski Hill Cabin, or if you only have a short 15 minutes. Centrally located, less than five minutes (driving) from downtown, it is a favorite among locals getting out for a lunch break excursion and for families with kids. Despite its popularity, Ski Hill never feels like a crowded hike due to its multiple routes and ample space to spread out. Boasting a stunning 360-degree view of Prince William Sound, Eyak Lake, the town of Cordova, Heney Ridge, and even the Copper River Delta; hiking the Ski Hill trails and the trail that leads up Mt. Eyak is a great “bang-for-your-buck” hike when it comes to time and effort invested.
Starting at the base of the Ski Hill will lead you alongside a 1939 American steal and wire single-seat chair lift. Originating in Sun Valley, Idaho to serve Bald Mountain, the historic ski lift was one of the first three chairlifts built in the world! In 1974, the city of Cordova bought the lift for $20,000 and transported the lift by train to Seattle and then by ferry to Cordova where it was installed on Mount Eyak by the local townspeople. Every time I hike Ski Hill with my best friend she points to the lift and exclaims with pride, “my dad helped weld that!” The chairlift now gives the skiers of Cordova a dramatic view of the Gulf of Alaska as it transports them 900 vertical feet up Mt. Eyak. It is currently the oldest working chairlift in North America and one of only two single chairlifts still in operation.
For a more off-the-beaten-path experience, intrepid hikers can hike to the Ski Hill via the Eyak Mountain Trail that begins on Fifth Street. Recently revitalized, the Eyak Mountain Trail has quickly become a favorite in the neighborhood. Kristin Carpenter, writing for the Cordova Times said, “I had lived on Fourth Street in Cordova for seven years, and never knew about a historic trail that takes off from Fifth Street, one hundred yards from my home.” The Cordova Trails Committee raised the idea of restoring the trail and with that support the Copper River Watershed Project applied for funding and completed the trail restoration in 2014.
The Eyak Mountain Trail was originally constructed in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and runs east along the southern side of Mt. Eyak. Taking off in town, the trail gains elevation quickly as it takes you through a boreal rainforest and up into the muskeg meadows where you can see views of Eyak Lake. My favorite part of the trail is an old cabin site with a still standing chimney made of bricks and rocks. The cabin was also constructed by the CCC in the 1930s for local skiers. Upon reaching the chimney my friends and I always take a break to sit atop the mantle and bask in the sunshine while drinking a refreshing beverage and enjoying a snack.
Looking behind the chimney you will find the connection from the Eyak Mountain trail to the Ski Hill. Once on Ski Hill trail, you can hike up to Midway Point where you will find a ski hut and a picnic table with a spectacular view. Continuing on, you will reach Top Station and the termination point of the lift. With a big deck for the lift, it is a great place to rest in the sun while saving your bum from sitting in soggy muskeg. From there, adventurous hikers can continue on another hour or so to Eyak Peak where they will find a steep climb. A hefty rope is available to assist in the final scramble to the summit where you will be rewarded with a stunning 360-degree view of Prince William Sound and the Chugach Mountain Ranges stretching out in every direction! (2.4 miles from the base of Ski Hill to the summit)