All Hikes

Harbor Mountain/Gavan Hill Trail

By July 14, 2016 No Comments

USE : Hike

DESCRIPTION : At the summit, excellent views of Sitka Sound, Baranof Island, Kruzof Island, Mt Edgecumbe and more peaks. Eagles and deer can be seen frequently along the trail when above tree line.

DISTANCE : 6 Miles (loop) •DISTANCE: 6 Miles (loop)

– Gavan Hill Trail – 2.1 miles from Baranof trailhead to ridge, 2400′ elevation gain

– Gavan Ridge to Harbor Mt shelter cabin- 1.5 miles, 600′ elevation gain

– Harbor Mt Trail – 2.4 miles, 1000′ elevation gain – ups and downs to the shelter cabin

TIME : 4-6 Hours (loop)

TRAILHEADS – End of Harbor Mountain Road & Baranof Street Trailhead, High School, Yaw Drive. To do the loop, you will have to stage a car at either trailhead, get back to the other trailhead or trade keys (and cell phone numbers) with someone going the other way.

RECOMMENDED SEASON : Mid spring through fall (though there is good skiing and snowshoeing on the ridges in winter). Beware avalanche areas.

LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY : Difficult with possible hazardous weather. The trail has some areas where footing is difficult. There are extensive stairs, steps, roots, rocks, and log steps. Boardwalk sections can be very slippery when wet or icy.

TRAIL MANAGEMENT AGENCY : US Forest Service; Cross Trail portion by City and Borough of Sitka


 

ACCESS

Harbor Mountain Trailhead – Go approximately 4 miles northwest of Sitka along Halibut Point Road and turn right onto Harbor Mountain Road. The paved and gravel road winds 5 miles up Harbor Mountain gaining 2,000 feet in elevation. This is a steep climb with sharp switchbacks. RVs and vehicles pulling trailers should not attempt the drive.

The Forest Service closes the road in early winter to vehicles, and opens it with adequate snow cover for snow machines and ATVs. For restrictions and closures: see the USFS Harbor Mountain Rec. Area page.

Gavan Hill Trail – The trail begins at the end of Baranof Street about 1/2 mile from downtown Sitka. The trailhead is obvious. There are 3-4 parking sites by the trees.

HISTORY

The Harbor Mountain Road was built during World War II to provide access for building a lookout and other military installations at the top of the mountain (Fort Ray). The Gavan Hill portion of the trail was constructed in 1937 to provide forest access to recreation and hunting. Much of the boardwalk was built in the late 1990s.

SPECIAL FEATURES

This is the only alpine area in southeastern Alaska that is accessible by road. Wonderful vistas of Sitka Sound, Sitka, Mt. Edgecumbe, and numerous mountains and islands can be seen from the road and trail. The Harbor Mountain Trail has recently received a major restoration and re-routing by the Forest Service. Many steep grades have been rerouted and the tread smoothed with gravel. They also designed several rock benches for picnic spots along the way. This trail connects with Gavan Hill Trail, which terminates in Sitka on Baranof Street. An emergency shelter is located on a small knob near the saddle between Harbor Mountain and Gavan Hill. Campfires are discouraged in this sensitive sub-alpine environment.

Please don’t cut the trees – they are very few and slow growing. Be sure to leave no trace and pack it out.

Weather: The weather can deteriorate very quickly on the ridges and peaks. It may be sunny in the parking lots but very windy and wet up high. Be sure to dress appropriately and carry the 10 essentials (plus a few we added for Sitka) and be prepared for very bad weather and cold, wet conditions. Be a safe hiker and turn back if the weather deteriorates or visibility is compromised by clouds. Sitka Search and rescue has had to rescue many hikers along this route. Don’t be the next victim.

DESCRIPTION

Going from Harbor Mountain Trail – The trail begins at the end of Harbor Mountain Road. The trailhead is marked by a bulletin board and handrails, and proceeds up the hillside in a series of switchbacks, gaining 300 feet in elevation. At the ridge, a short spur trail leads to the left to an overlook. The main trail turns to the right and follows the ridge toward the summit of a knob where WWII lookout (Fort Ray) ruins are located.

Before reaching the summit, however, the trail turns east and runs along the hillside of an immense north-facing sub-alpine meadow. The trail then follows along a ridge toward the peaks of Harbor Mountain. The view from this ridge is spectacular: mountains, deep valleys, alpine rock fields, high meadows, twisted trees and wildflowers.

As the trail continues on toward the rocky peaks of Harbor Mountain, it forks off to the right and skirts the hillside, circling around Gavan Ridge to Gavan Hill, then drops steeply down steps and stairs to town. The other fork of the trail continues up the steep shoulder slope of the peaks, and ends as it reaches the steep rocky alpine at about 2,500 feet.

Going from Gavan Hill Trail – The trail begins at the Baranof St. Trailhead and goes .8 mile to the intersection with the main Cross Trail. It starts with 600′ of accessible trail; turn left before the bench. Upon reaching the junction with Cross Trail turn right and go another .3 miles to the upper Gavan Trail. At this point it becomes a hiking trail climbing to 2200’ in about one mile. The trail is very steep with stairs and steps with numerous switchbacks to Gavan Ridge. Turning right at the ridge and hiking 2.0 miles will take you to the shelter cabin. Hiking an additional 2.3 miles beyond the shelter leads one to the Harbor Mountain parking lot.

OTHER SOURCES:

For information on the WWII radar site on Harbor Mountain see Harbor Defenses of Sitka. http://www.sitkaww2.com/harbordefenses/Locations/harbormtn/harbormtn.html

US Forest Service Harbor Mountain Rec. Area page:

http://www.fs.usda.gov/tongass/ 

http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/tongass/about-forest/districts/?cid=stelprdb5397106

http://alaska.ustrails.org/trails/Harbor-Mountain-Gavan-Hill-Trail.html