There’s a lot of great hikes in Girdwood, but one of the best is the Crow Pass Trail. This trail is 23 miles long and runs from the town of Girdwood to Eagle River Nature Center. I’ve never done the full trail, but I’ve heard from many people that the first 4 miles from Girdwood up to Raven Glacier is the best part, so I’ve done that as a day hike (8 miles round trip) and really enjoyed it! You start in the trees but after about a mile and a half you’re above the tree line and into a gorgeous valley. The trail is steep but not sketchy, and there’s a few flat spots to catch your breath. About a mile of the the trail is on loose rocks which can be tricky, and there are two small waterfall crossings with well placed boulders to help you get to the other side. At the top of the pass is a gorgeous view of Raven Glacier. But there’s another special thing hidden around mile 3 of the trail: a small A-frame cabin that can be rented in the summer months through the Chugach National Forest. It’s located on the banks of a gorgeous blue-green lake and surrounded by tall mountain peaks. Because of its amazing location this cabin is literally impossible to book. I’ve been checking for years and have never seen an opening. So last Monday when I was casually checking recreation.gov for cabin cancelations on a few prime cabins and I saw that the Crow Pass Cabin was free on Wednesday and Thursday night I immediately snatched them up! I had plans to go backpacking with a few of my mom friends anyways, and the weather looked pefect for a multi-day trip up to the top of Crow Pass. We were going to be camping with four kids under four, and I knew it was going to be a wild and sleepless time. But I was so excited to finally make my Crow Pass Cabin dreams come true and have Elliott join me up there for the first time ever!
On Tuesday I sat down and made a list of all the things I needed to pack for Elliott and I. I’ll definitely make a post with a list of things I brought with me in case anyone is interested in what gear I used to camp with a toddler. After I gathered everything, I removed anything that was unnecessesary and added a few more things to the food pile before packing everything up and weighing it. Without my water and a rain layer my gear weighed in at 22 pounds. When I put my backpack on I was surprised by how light it felt compared to the 40ish pounds that I usually carry on day hikes (the weight of Elliott, the Osprey Poco carrier, and our food/gear/water). It made me feel a little better about how carrying all of that weight was going to go once we got on the trail. I was nervous about doing so much uphill with all that gear on my back and a toddler on my front, but I knew it would be worth it.
Wednesday morning we packed up the car and headed down to Girdwood. We grabbed lunch together and made some last minute adjustments to what we were bringing (I chose not to bring a down jacket for myself but threw a rain jacket in there at the last minute because it looked pretty cloudy up in the pass). After finalizing our packing choices we loaded up with our gear and kids and headed up the trail. I was trying out my new Trail Magik carrier for the first time – it attaches to your backpacking pack so it eliminates the uncomfortable layering of straps that happens when you wear a backpack and a regular carrier at the same time.
The trail began with some gradual switchbacks uphill through the trees with the occasional overlook down into Girdwood. Eventually we started heading up a valley towards Crow Pass, and after about 1.5 miles we were out of the tree line and could see some absolutely gorgeous views up to the top of the trail. We were able to stop for a snack break and enjoy the breeze after getting warm hiking up hill. It was also the perfect time for me to adjust the Trail Magik carrier because it was starting to feel really uncomfortable. It was really pulling on my shoulders, so my friends tried a few different configurations to try to find a more comfortable way to attach it to the carrier. After readjusting it the carrier felt a lot better on my shoulders and I was able to hike up another mile before needing another break. This mile consisted of loose rocks covering the entire trail, which was hard to walk on because I couldn’t see my feet. I was very glad I had hiking poles with me on this portion of the trail! Eventually I started crashing hard and needed another break. Unfortunately the only spot to stop was in the middle of a scree field, so we all sat down as far from the edge of the trail as we could and I ate some much needed calories. I was apologizing to my friends for needing one final break before getting to the cabin when we looked up and saw a small group of mountain goats approaching the trail in front of us! We got to watch two sets of mommy and baby goats cross the trail. After that we were super glad that we stopped where we did!
After the goats left the trail we continued on. We had to cross two waterfalls using some boulders, and then did one final uphill push before reaching Crystal Lake and our home for the next two days! It took us 4 hours with breaks to hike the three miles and 2,000 feet in elevation gain up there. I was exhausted but seeing the cabin gave me a huge adreneline rush and I finished the hike on a high note. I was so proud of us all for making it up there and was excited to spend the next few days in such a gorgeous cabin!
The Crow Pass cabin was honestly the nicest public use cabin I’ve ever stayed in. There were two large platforms big enough for a double pad, one single “bunk bed” over one of the platforms, and a loft upstairs that probably could have slept four more people. There was a big table with two benches, a cooking area, and a kerosene stove (that we did not need to use). There was a large front porch with a bench that was perfect for relaxing and eating. There was also an outhouse which was surprisingly clean and nice. Even though there were three adults and four children, we had plenty of room in the cabin for all of us and our gear. Elliott and I slept upstairs in the loft and I liked being able to keep that wild child away from distractions when it was time to nap and sleep.
We had arrived at the cabin around dinner so after filtering some water we made our dehydrated meals, set up our beds, and covered the windows with the “blackout curtain” black trash bags that I’d carried up there before realizing that the kids were ready for bed. When all four kids start crying at the same time you know it’s time to shut it down! I was tired from hiking so I was definitley ready for bed too. At first Elliott fell asleep instantly and as I snuggled him on my chest I was thinking “Wow this was a lot easier than every other trip to get him to fall asleep!”. Unfortunatly he woke up soon after that and cried and screamed for a while because he was so tired and couldn’t fall back asleep. It was really stressful knowing that his cries were keeping everyone else up but eventually he passed out and I was able to get some sleep too. He seemed to wake up every hour or so and change positions (and cry a bit sometimes) so by the time morning rolled around I was exhausted. Elliott sleeps so good when we’re at home so it’s a huge adjustment sleeping together and waking each other up all night long.
Day two was a lot sunnier and windier than the day before. And we were excited to look outside and find that we had a mountain goat visiting us right by our front porch! We had breakfast and then packed the kids up to hike the remaining mile or so to the actual top of Crow Pass and Raven Glacier. The hike over was pretty flat and easy and we were there before we knew it. We let the kids out for a while to run around, and Elliott kept asking me to walk around with him which was a new and exciting thing for his development! We spent a while taking in the views before heading back for lunch and a nap (I napped too!). After our nap we went on a little bushwhacking adventure. We saw a small ridgeline across Crystal Lake that we wanted to climb to get better views of our cabin. The views from over there were gorgeous and we got to see a huge waterfall and some more mountain goats. After the hike we had dinner, hung out for a bit, and then went to bed. Luckily Elliott slept a lot better the second night and I did too!
On day three we woke up sad to be leaving this amazing cabin. But also all of the moms were feeling exhausted and we were ready for a real meal and some ice cream! It was a hot and sunny day and we worried about how much the hike down was going to hurt. We ate our final breakfast, packed up, and then finally put all that gear back on our sore bodies for the hike down. My shoulders were hurting immediately but I was hoping that going downhill would mean that we would be faster on the way down. Things started out well but we immediately were swarmed with mosquitos. This luckily hadn’t been an issue on the way up, but now we found ourselves going as fast as we could to try to outrun them. We were getting bit everywhere and poor Elliott refused to wear a head net so he got a lot of bites on his face despite all my desperate swatting. We eventually stopped at the halfway point to break and readjust, which was a welcome relief to my shoulders. We were making great time and I was feeling good about the hike until the last half mile. We were back in the trees and there was nowhere to stop, and my shoulders were in a new level of pain. I started feeling like they were going numb which made me feel nauseous and shaky, so I tried to hold Elliott up a bit with my hands to try to relieve the pain. It helped a bit but it was so bad that I was basically doing labor breathing to get myself down the trail! I was also so distracted that I kept tripping over rocks and twisted my ankle a bit at one point. I have never ever felt so relieved to see a trailhead in my life! After taking him off me I immediately felt better and was able to calm my body down. We all threw our gear in the car, did some diaper/clothing changes, and then drove over to Chair 5 for lunch and the the ice cream shop for dessert. Elliott slept in the car on the way home, and then when he got home he kept napping until 7 PM! I went to bed early after a lovely shower and a yummy burger.
Overall, this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done with Elliott. I was nervous about the uphill hike and even though I crashed at one point and dealt with a lot of shoulder pain I was actually surprised by how much easier it was than I thought it would be. I think that I’ve done a lot of longer hikes to condition me for this one and the lack of sketchy/super steep parts was a welcome change to some mountains that I’ve been doing this summer. The hike down however was just brutal on my already tired and sore body and I wish I’d stopped for one final break when I started to feel all that pain at the end. Finishing the hike shaking with pain was not how I wanted to finish such an amazing adventure! The other tough parts of this trip were doing camp chores with a crying toddler hanging off of me, dealing with a cabin of overly tired kids twice a day, and getting Elliott to sleep. He did better than he has on other trips and I think the trash bag curtains helped a lot, but it’s just hard when you’re not the only one listening to him scream from exhaustion. Also, I had an issue with my water filter and it made my water taste awful so I’m definitley deep cleaning that before our next trip.
Even though it was the most difficult thing I’ve done with Elliott, it was also the most amazing thing we’ve done together! Snagging that perfect cabin for two nights in such amazing weather is basically unheard of and I feel like this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I loved having a day between the backpacking sections of the trip to relax, nap, and explore the area. This trip definitely didn’t feel rushed and I loved getting to hike around to areas that you don’t get to explore on a day hike. We saw so many mountain goats up close and personal which Elliott loved! He was constantly telling me about all the cool stuff he saw, and he kept asking to walk around everywhere which is huge for him. Seeing his cute little excited face was so worth carrying him up there. And even though having a giant toddler sleep on top of your sore body all night wasn’t very comfortable, it was so sweet snuggling him all night and seeing his big happy smile when he woke up and saw me there with him. These are the things I’ll remember forever (and hopefully I’ll forget how much pain my shoulders were in!). I’d 100% do this trip again, and hopefully in a few years we’ll get a similar lucky opportunity and Elliott can walk up there on his own two feet!
Have you ever gone backpacking with kids? Share your favorite tips/tricks with me!