Berry Picking in Interior Alaska
Berries are bountiful all over the Interior, and most ripen in late summer to early fall. Here’s a guide to some of the most popular berry picking areas.
Common Edible Berries of Interior Alaska
Alaska Blueberry - Vaccinium uliginosum
Alaska blueberries are low-growing shrubs that grow in tundra, open woods, old burn areas, above timberline and in low-lying bogs. Their sweet and tart flavor makes for great jams, sauces, crumbles and other baked goods.
Raspberry - Rubus idaeus
Raspberries grow on woody, prickly shrubs. Look for them in previously-disturbed areas, thickets and forest edges. Enjoy this bright red, tart berry in jams and desserts.
Low-bush Cranberry - Vaccinium vitis idaea
Look for these plants in rocky or peaty forest soils. Their waxy, evergreen leaves grow low to the ground and produce small, tart berries. They are best harvested after the first frost, to lessen their bite.
High-bush Cranberry - Viburnum edule
High-bush cranberries grow on waist-high stalks and are often found in open woods and meadows. They are often harvested in late fall after a frost to ease the bitterness of the fruit.
Northern Red Currant - Ribes triste
Currants grow on short shrubs in forested areas. The berries hang down from the stems like dangling earrings. The berries have a very sour taste but can be added to sweet jams and jellies.
Crowberry - Empetrum nigrum
These dark blue-to-black berries grow alongside needlelike leaves on trailing stems in an evergreen carpet. Add crowberries to muffins or cakes, or use as a filler in jams and jellies.
Baneberries (Actaea rubra) are the only toxic berry in Alaska. A perennial, averaging 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 feet in height, with toothed, compound leaves and clusters of shiny red or white berries with a black dot at the end. Fruits are extremely bitter. All parts of the plant are toxic. Ingestion can cause death!
Berry picking basics & helpful hints
• Keep in mind that berries are an important food source for many animals in the area. There’s the chance that you may encounter these animals while out berry picking. Stay alert to your surroundings, and if you see an animal, move to another berry patch.
• After harvesting the berries, they should be washed and dried before use or storage. If you are going to freeze them, lay them on a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze before placing in a container. This will make getting them out a lot easier!
• The UAF Cooperative Extension Service has some excellent recipes, harvesting tips, and information on preserving berries: uaf.edu/ces/pubs/catalog
Popular berry patches
Ester and Murphy Domes
Blueberries, low-bush cranberries, crowberries
Directions: From the tops of the domes, follow side trails to the south sides and look for berry patches
Directions: Park at the pull-off on the north side of the curve on Ballaine Road and follow the signs for the Blueberry Preserve
Low-bush and high-bush cranberries, currants
Directions: From the Birch Hill Cross-Country Ski Hill lodge, follow the cross-country ski trails into wooded areas, and look for berries in the understory of the forest
Blueberries and crowberries
Directions: At milepost 20 of the Steese Highway, turn left onto Pedro Dome Road and follow the road to the top of the dome. Berry patches are located within the old burn area
Directions: At milepost 57 of the Steese Highway, turn left onto US Creek Road and drive 7 miles to Nome Creek Valley. A wildfire has burned much of the area, and it has been replenished with blueberry patches
Blueberries, high-bush cranberries
Directions: Located at mile 9 of the Elliot Highway, Olnes Pond’s lakeshores offer good places for berry picking
Wickersham Dome & Summit Trail
Blueberries, crowberries, low-bush cranberries
Directions: From the trailheads of either trail (located at milepost 28 of the Elliot Highway), climb to the higher alpine areas and look for berry bushes along the trailsides
Chena Lake Recreation Area
Blueberries, raspberries, low-bush and high-bush cranberries
Directions: Once you have accessed the Chena Lake Recreation Area from the Richardson Highway, blueberries and cranberries can be found along the bike path that runs around the lake. Raspberry bushes grow along the river near river the boat launch
Chena River State Rec Area
Blueberries, low-bush and high-bush cranberries
Directions: In the Chena River State Recreation Area off of Chena Hot Springs Road, you will find trails that begin at the road and provide low-lying areas for blueberries, currants and high-bush cranberries. As the trails climb in elevation, you will begin to find low-bush cranberries, crowberries, and more blueberries