Is The Trans-Alaska Trail America’s Next Great Long Trail?

A group of determined Alaskans hopes to create an 800-mile trail that will trace the state’s famous pipeline from Arctic Sea to Pacific tidewater.

Alaska’s wildlands are famous for their lack of official paths — even national parks like Denali and Wrangell-St. Elias remain mostly track-free. Now some Alaskans want to change that in a big way. The just-announced Trans-Alaska Trail would offer ambitious hikers a chance to walk 800 miles across the state from the Pacific coast town of Valdez to Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Sea. The route would cross the massive Chugach, Alaska, and Brooks Ranges, and offer hikers hardy enough to brave it heroic doses of giant glaciers, empty taiga, and tundra teeming with wildlife along the way.

That such an ambitious idea is remotely possible largely rests on the fact that it (mostly) already exists. The trail would follow an existing gravel service pad for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (TAPS). Pipeline operator Alyeska currently uses it to service the structure; the company allows recreational access on a case-by-case basis.

The pipeline itself tunnels underground and out of sight for about half its length. For the other half, where Arctic permafrost prevents burial, it snakes across the landscape next to the trail, often suspended above ground to accommodate migrating caribou and earthquakes alike.

But making the Trans-Alaska trail real would require cooperation from federal, state, native, and private landowners.

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