Lost and Found: Hiking to Lost Lake in Seward, AK

I don’t remember exactly who first told me about Lost Lake. Throughout the summer I heard stories from an amalgamation of guests at Base Camp who had made their way through Seward, a town in Alaska for which admiration was repeatedly relayed to me. Anytime I asked someone where I should visit on my next trip out of Anchorage, I heard variations on Hope, Talkeetna, Whittier, McCarthy, Fairbanks, or Seward, and within each place a handful of must-sees and must-dos. Lost Lake was described with such reverence that it quickly made it’s way to the top of my list. It’s a 14-mile trail, 7 miles in and 7 miles out, which sounded like something I could easily accomplish in a span of a couple days before I was due back for my next hostel shift. When a guest expressed interest in visiting Seward as well, we joined together to embark on a hitchhiking adventure, arrived in good time, and split up after breakfast at the Lighthouse Cafe & Bakery. My next objective: head straight to Lost Lake Trail.

I stood near Seward Highway for a moment (next to this gas station) and was picked up by a guy in his early 20s who was living out of his car so that he could spend his summers in Alaska and drive down to the lower 48 for winter seasonal jobs. He said he picked me up because he knew the struggle, and he dropped me off right at the trail head. Easy peasy.

The trail begins in what feels more like jungle than forest or mountain range (almost like Monteverde). Vegetation grows in every direction, covered in thick moss, and this particular day it was so rainy, wet, and cold that I definitely understand why it's classified as sub-polar rainforest. Blueberries grow along this portion of the trail, and groups of people with baskets were collecting them. They advised that they were safe to eat right off the bush, so I munched on berries as I skipped along, like an episode of Winnie the Pooh or something. It was pretty cute. Of course I told myself I was some kind of wilderness survivor hunter-gatherer instead of “cute”, and in actuality it was more like “stumbling” than “skipping”. 

 Just ate blueberries and tripped over shit this whole portion.

Just ate blueberries and tripped over shit this whole portion.

As I gained elevation the trees weren’t as numerous, and it grew colder as the rain fell steadier (I was wearing waterproof rain clothes, thankfully). I saw less and less people, and though gorgeous views of the mountain range and even a distant waterfall were replacing the trees, I had moments where I felt nervous. Until a trail runner in shorts with a flimsy drawstring backpack zipped past me, unphased - color me humbled

Even higher still, a mist settled over the trail so thick that I couldn’t see more than a foot around me in any direction. The treeline was long gone now. I kept thinking that a bear could be right next to me and I would never even know it. This section was especially ethereal, and continued long enough to take on a dreamlike quality. The grass grew tall around my knees as I waded into unknown territory. At a three-pronged fork I came across a camping spot, but I wanted to make it to the lake before the day was up, so instead of staying I made an uninformed turn. After half an hour of hiking the wrong direction, I finally crossed paths with another hiker who told me I should have gone the other way if I was looking for the lake. I doubled back and no-one had taken the camping spot yet, which was pretty perfect - it had a bear lockbox and a pit toilet situation, all within suitable distance from where I’d set up my tent. I hadn’t found any other spots like this, so I figured I’d better take advantage of it and camp down for the night. 

The next morning I discovered the fog and rain had cleared, and suddenly the entire landscape was glorious. The final stretch of the trail between my camp and Lost Lake followed along the pinnacle of a ridge that allowed me to see out over the whole mountain range on either side of me. I felt like I was on top of the world. Technically I don’t think the mountains of the Chugach National Forest can compete with other great summits in terms of altitude, but I easily imagined I was in some remote part of the Himalayas or the Andes. Thankfulness and a sense of peace coursed through my veins until I was almost high. 

The last quarter mile before the lake I noticed little creatures on the trail, which must have been marmots. When I looked up I saw a few tents perched high on ridges overlooking the lake (dangit, a prime spot). The lake itself was vast, blue, and clean, and I sat on the beach to take it in for probably an hour. I collected pretty pebbles, dipped my feet, and watched the water push and pull into little coves. I could see where other campers had recently set up fires right on the lake and left behind fishing lures and nutshells (a shame), but not a single person came along and not a single man-made sound interrupted. 

When I finally left, the Primrose trail took me around the opposite side of the tents, and as one person stirred awake we waved to each other from afar, like two ants. For the next few miles I enjoyed passing over rivers and bridges, and then the landscape began to change as it had before but in reverse. Slowly I rejoined the trees, and scrambled downward into forests instead of pulling myself upward towards peaks. It seemed deceivingly lengthy this time, and my limbs became exhausted much quicker. I was mentally ready to return once I’d resigned myself to the fact that I couldn’t stay at the lake forever. The blueberries returned and I began sharing the path with more and more bikers, hikers, and dogs, some of which encouraged me on with a “you’re getting close!”. 

 Well sometimes I go out by myself and I look across the water 🎶

Well sometimes I go out by myself and I look across the water 🎶

Finally the end of the trail spit me out at a designated camping area just outside the Primrose trailhead, and I followed the now-paved Primrose Spur Road towards this intersection at Seward Highway where I thought I could find a ride. It took forever despite the various ways I tried to reposition myself, until finally a man pulled over to help - it was the same guy who had given me directions when I was lost on the first day of the trail! He dropped me off back in Seward’s town center - the second time he’d bail me out. People are cool.

In Seward it was rainy again, and I found a coffee shop where I could gather myself until my friend and I met back up to camp and see Exit Glacier. The warmth felt too indulgent. It was strange to be inside, knowing all the while that Lost Lake was still out there, still beautiful. I think about that sometimes now, when I’m staring at four walls - how strange it is to know that such places exist, all on their own, all the time, without you there to behold it. Just waiting with open arms. 


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