- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - To reach one of the most serene spots around Alaska’s largest city, you have to rough it first.

But it’s worth driving the bumpy gravel road for 6 seemingly endless miles to enjoy the splendor that is Arctic Valley, nestled in the Chugach State Park at the edge of military property in the greater municipality of Anchorage. You can thank that Arctic Valley Road, particularly the kidney-jarring parts, for almost guaranteeing much smaller crowds than you would find at say, Flattop, a popular hiking spot in town that’s easier to reach.

Best of all, you’re in for some stunning views that feel far removed from civilization right here in Anchorage’s backyard, a place dotted with wildflowers, a creek weaving through shrub thickets and one of the few local places to see alpine tundra. On top of that, there are some vestiges of the Cold War era and a little skiing history thrown in.

A level of fitness is required for most of the hikes you can take around this wide open valley, unless you try the super easy Muktuk Marston Trail that’s no more than half a mile long.

But visitors can still get an eyeful of green, rolling terrain even if they just hang around the day lodge across from the parking lot. A short hike up, red vintage ski lifts sit idle. They still operate every winter through the Anchorage Ski Club. And if you time your visit just right, you could arrive just as fat, juicy blueberries are ripening.

Keep going, and high up in the distance are the partially refurbished clamshell radar towers that were once part of the national Nike Hercules missile site system established at 145 locations in Alaska and the lower 48. At Arctic Valley, the Nike Site Summit was activated between 1959 and 1979, and is the only site to survive in a nearly complete state, according to Friends of Nike Site Summit, a citizen preservation group that occasionally conducts group tours.

But be forewarned: You can’t just hike up to the long deactivated radars. That would be trespassing onto military property, as the posted signs will tell you.

The Cold War relics are just part of the scenery encountered along my favorite Arctic Valley hike - a one and a quarter-mile trek to an aerial view of the Anchorage suburb of Eagle River. At the start of each summer, I’ve forgotten that it’s a bit of a workout to reach the spot. But after that first stint, I’m good to go.

My dog Scout is especially fond of this hike because it’s the only time she gets to charge around unleashed without me worrying about her tendency to run off. No matter where she is here, I can see her. So far, she’s ignored the ground squirrels that burrow close to the trail.

I’ve never been to this beautiful spot when there are any big crowds, and sometimes I even get that viewpoint to myself. But even when there’s company there, tranquility reigns here.

No matter what else is going on in town or in the world even, you can sit still for hours and contemplate the scenery or life in general. The silence up here is broken only by the whispering breeze, the occasional hum of a plane or the panting of a happy, tired dog.

That’s the best kind of serenity.

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If You Go…

ARCTIC VALLEY: Chugach State Park, Anchorage, Alaska. Take the Glenn Highway to the Arctic Valley exit, passing the Moose Run Golf Course at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. After that, the road becomes unpaved the rest of the way to the Arctic Valley parking lot. Nearby is a parking-payment kiosk, with the $5 per vehicle fee paid on the honor system going to the Anchorage Ski Club. State park passes are not valid here.

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Online:

https://www.skiarctic.net/

https://www.nikesitesummit.net/

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Follow Rachel D’Oro at https://twitter.com/rdoro .

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