Juneau’s Backcountry Cabins
Eagle Glacier cabin is one of twelve different backcountry cabins in the borough of Juneau, Alaska that are cared for by the National Forest Service and DNR. Some are perched near lakes, some have views of glaciers, others near rocky beaches and salt water.
Each of them require a reservation and anywhere from .3 to 6 miles of trail to navigate, if you intend to stay at them.
They book up fast but we were lucky enough to land a Friday night at the Eagle Glacier Cabin.
The hike in
Surrounded by saltwater on one side and backed by mountains capped in sprawling ice fields on the other, Juneau is a wet place. Annual rainfall is 62 inches, which is a little more than half of Olympic National Park in Washington and almost twice Seattle rainfall.
The Tongass National Forest, which covers most recreational areas in Juneau, is the largest national forest in the United States with 16.7 million acres. Most of that land is temperate rainforest.
The trail to Eagle Glacier Cabin is the Amalga Trail and it follows Eagle River up a densely forested valley for 5.5 miles. With minimal elevation gain, only 300 feet, the most challenging part about the trail is keeping your feet dry.
Being the third week in August, it is the height of the salmon spawn which means that wildlife (Bears, ravens, eagles, crows, etc.) are perched near the river, waiting for their next meal.
In many places along the trail, our noses were stung with the rich scent of decomposing fish. There was plenty of evidence of bear activity, such as scat and salmon carcasses, though we only saw one black bear cub in the first half mile of the trail.
However, the trail was a rainforest wonderland.
Thickly vegetated with devil’s club, skunk cabbage, ferns, blueberries, dogwood, horsetail, and five leaf bramble. Spruce, hemlock, and alder trees. And MOSS, so much moss. It made me feel like I was back in Olympic National Park, my happy place.
We’d spent a lot of time in Washington’s Cascade Range but nowhere had we seen devil’s club as dense or large as we witnessed on the Amalga trail. Many plants were 10′ or taller. It made us wonder if there were any uses for this prolific Araliaceae and after we made it back home we scoured the internet for answers.
For those unfamiliar, devil’s club is the tall, stalky plant with large green leaves, similar in appearance to the maple leaf. Its bark and underside of the leaves are thorny and the top of the plant is crowned with a cone cluster of small red berries.
After our internet search, we found the devil’s club has many uses. Most of them anti-inflammatory! If you want to see a list of its history and usage, click here
After a few hours of slow trekking, only seeing four other people and one bear the whole time, we exited the forest to the shore of Eagle Glacier Lake. Clouds hovered low but not so much as to block the view of the glacier or the surrounding mountains. It was breathtaking, the size and scale, even the murky gray-blue of the lake.
We were happy to find the propane heater in working order and quickly stripped our wet gear as the cabin warmed up.
Inside the cabin is enough sleeping space for 10 people, although it would be a tight fit (especially at meal time) but it would comfortably max out at 6.
There were plenty of hooks to hang up gear, a kitchen counter and cabinets, a table with long benches, and plenty of windows. There is a nearby pit toilet and the cabin was stocked with toilet paper (though, I’d bring your own just in case).
All NFS cabins are public use from 10 am – 5 pm. The reservation gives you exclusive use otherwise. However, we didn’t see a soul and had the place to ourselves the duration of our stay.
There is an option to hike up to Eagle Glacier, an additional 2 miles, if you want to explore the area more. We also read in the log book of people bringing pack rafts and paddling up to the glacier as well.
Here is an outline of what you’ll need to see this place for yourself.