Most Accessible Coastal Mountain to Juneau
The trail starts just above the northeast edge of town within walking distance from downtown and the harbor and rises steeply through forests and tree line to 3,819 feet. The four and a half mile trail to Mount Robert’s summit begins just above the Russian Orthodox Church on 6th Street in a dense forest. The hiker could easily walk to the trail head from his hotel or ship within minutes. The starting point of the Mount Roberts Trail is perhaps 100 feet above sea level where there is a register for hikers to sign. The best times to climb Mount Roberts are late April through late October (the driest month). There are no man-made hazards on this four and a half mile trail, but be aware that sudden heavy rain storms can develop quite quickly over Juneau during the climbing season and having rain gear is a necessity. The worst times to climb this coastal mountain would be from early November through late April, the snowy season. Once the hiker is under way, she will enter a very dense sitka spruce forest.
Be Aware of Stinging Devil’s Club
Once in the dense forests, the hiker should not touch devil’s club plants that may line the early part of the trail. They have big broad leaves that are lined with pointy spines which can easily enter deep into the skin. There are no other hazardous plants. In addition to sitka spruce, there are hemlocks, yellow cedars and alder trees. The undergrowth of this forest consists of, as mentioned, devil’s club, ferns, mosses, and early in the summer clusters of blue lupine and red Indian paintbrush.
The Trail Rises Steeply with Many Switchbacks with Views of Juneau Harbor
Within a half mile or so from the trail head, the hiker will suddenly gain elevation on a very steep trail having many switchbacks. This hard work will continue for a mile and a half until sights of Juneau Harbor begin to come into view. Here the hiker should take a well-deserved rest with the knowledge that he is just about half way up. As the hiker continues for the next mile through aisles of sitka spruce, she should stop from time to time to appreciate the music of Swainson’s thrushes that echoes through the valleys below. The trail steadily rises around overlooks that are spectacular.
Waterfalls Tumble Down the Flanks of Mount Juneau
The hiker is treated to many northerly views of Mount Juneau across the valley with tumbling waterfalls whose splashing can be heard for miles. Late morning mist usually spins down the flanks of all the coastal mountains like webs from some giant white spider. The trail steadily gains elevation until the dense forests thin out and become dwarfed. Tree line in coastal Alaska is only 1,500 to 1,700 feet unlike Colorado where it is at 11,500 feet. The landscapes of the lower coastal mountains are somewhat reminiscent of Ireland.
Willow Ptarmigans Dwell in Tree Line Areas
As the hiker works his way over a sometimes muddy trail through dense scrubby alder, he may be surprised by the sudden appearance of a willowptarmigan hen who clucks and flutters and pretends to have a broken wing in order to guide the human intruder away from her chicks. These clumpy alders are a perfect nesting ground for this species of bird. The trail continues to rise through and above tree line into bright green summer tundra.
Views of Higher Peaks That Conceal the Vast Juneau Icefields
The trail winds its way up over the snow-laced tundra affording the hiker (if it is not raining and misty) tremendous views of the higher coastal peaks that harbor the vast Juneau Icefields. It is from these icefields that many local glaciers flow down to sea level like the Mendenhall and Taku glaciers of the Juneau area. Up here the hiker should pause to look far below at Juneau Harbor and Admiralty Island. If it is early to mid-summer, the Smith’s Longspur’s notes will echo from knoll to knoll (a high note followed by a low). Be sure to look at the ground level to enjoy the beauties of delicate alpine flowers.
The 3,819 foot Summit of Mount Roberts Gives a Commanding View
Once on top after a long four and a half mile climb, the hiker can relax to enjoy a view, even a misty view, of fifty miles of the Alaskan Panhandle coast. The hike takes up to a full day with a vertical gain of over 3,700 feet. Bring sufficient water as there are no water sources on this trail (except for eating snow) nor are there any restrooms (except at the tramway station where the climber can take a ride back down if he wants to). You can download a trail map from the USGS web page, Juneau B-2 SE Quad.