The Pioneer Ridge Trail is a challenging trail that starts near sea level and gains roughly a vertical mile over 4.5 miles, bringing you to the top of Pioneer Ridge. The trailhead is located on Knik River Road, just south of Palmer, and is not particularly visible while driving at the speed limit. Once you do locate the parking lot, you'll find that it is adequately sized and has a pit toilet.
The beginning of the Pioneer Ridge Trail switchbacks through the forest to treeline at about 2,000 feet, crossing several small streams along the way that can get quite muddy. Continuing above treeline, the trail straightens out, and you pass through a hillside prairie. Two trailside picnic tables provide good resting spots, where you can take in views of Matanuska Peak and Knik Glacier while you refuel.
The top of the ridge reveals a beautiful valley between Eklutna and Pioneer, and it provides options for those wanting to proceed further—head north on the ridge to Pioneer Peak or head south toward Yudikench Peak. Both are ambitious goals. It is somewhat common to camp just below the ridge, which may help in accomplishing these goals.
The Matsu Borough does a good job with closing trails in its jurisdiction in the spring during the freeze-thaw cycle to prevent damage to the trail. You can find the status of all Matsu trails on their trails page
. However, due to the trail's northern exposure, you may encounter snow fields on and off the trail all summer.
The Pioneer Ridge Vertical Mile Race is an annual mountain running race that typically takes place on the second Sunday in July on this trail. More information can be found on the race page
This trail has an intermediate/black diamond rating due to its length and grade.