Kenai Peninsula offers a host of hiking experiences
Because of relentless rain, we’ve been somewhat cheated out of the long-awaited autumn hiking season. But there are still plenty of days remaining, and I’ve got a hunch weather will improve as we move toward October.
In past columns, I’ve covered most of the local hiking options, and if you caught the Sept. 10 Anchorage Daily News column by veteran backcountry hiker Shawn Lyons, you had a great rundown of hiking opportunities in the South Fork of Eagle River. (www.adn.com/2013/09/10/3066721/hiking-alaska-south-fork-eagle.html).
One can prolong autumn from one to two weeks by heading south on the Kenai Peninsula and dropping a degree of latitude. So for a change of pace, I thought I’d list a few of my favorite hikes on the Kenai.
Not everyone likes to go as long and far as I do (and some like to go a lot farther!) so I’ll try to list some short, medium and long hikes that hopefully will have broad appeal.
Portage Valley Trail — (Moderate) This is a great hike, which was thoroughly described in a previous column (www.alaskastar.com/Alaska-Star/August-Issue-1-2013/Portage-Pass-Trail-Footsteps-into-the-past).
To get there, turn left (if you’re coming from Anchorage) off the Seward Highway at Mile 79 and take Portage Valley Road. Then proceed through the tunnels to Whittier. Before heading south, you should check out times for tunnel openings at http://dot.alaska.gov/creg/whittiertunnel/index.shtml.
Emerging from the big tunnel and heading toward Whittier, you’ll find a gravel road in less than one-fourth of a mile. Turn right and follow it to a small parking area. This 4-mile round trip hike has a 750-foot elevation gain. If you go all the way over the pass to Portage Lake, it only takes about four to five leisurely hours.
Lost Lake Trail — (Moderate) The 7.5-mile hike to Lost Lake is one of my all-time Alaska favorites. Coming from Anchorage, it’s easiest accessed by turning right at Mile 17 of the Seward Highway after crossing Snow River at the south end of Kenai Lake and driving 1.5 miles to the Primrose Campground. Drive into the campground and you’ll find the trailhead.
The trail wanders gradually upward through a dense spruce forest and after about six miles puts you into beautiful alpine country. The deep blue lake is about 7.5 miles and really worth the effort. The views are sensational.
To do this hike in a day, with our quickly diminishing daylight, I’d start very early in the morning. Highly motivated folks travel the trail’s entire 16-mile length and come out at Mile 5.5 (Bear Creek Fire Department) of the Seward Highway. (A great way to do this hike is have a group start at each end, and when they meet on the trail — trade car keys — and then rendezvous later at some cool place, like the Salmon Bake Restaurant just outside Seward or Summit Lake Lodge).
Devil’s Pass Trail — (Strenuous) The trailhead is at Mile 39 of the Seward Highway. Turn right off the highway into a small parking area.
The first eight miles include steep, uphill grades (some stalwart people mountain bike it!) and it takes you into alpine country. At 10 miles, it connects with the Resurrection Pass Trail, where a great U.S. Forest Service recreational cabin is located. I once descended the trail from the cabin on a mountain bike without suspension. Not a journey I’d recommend!
Carter Lake Trail — (Moderate) The trailhead to this 3.4-mile trail is accessed at Mile 34 of the Seward Highway. The first 1.5 miles are steep, but on a well-maintained trail. The trail then levels out for the next 1.5 miles.
I’ve heard Carter Lake is stocked with rainbow trout, but I’ve never tried fishing there. Another three miles takes you to Crescent Lake, where there is a U.S. Forest Service cabin that can be rented. This lake also has trout, I’ve been told.
Harding Icefield Trail — (Strenuous) This was also covered thoroughly in a past column, and is one of Alaska’s premier hikes. (www.alaskastar.com/Alaska-Star/June-Issue-4-2013/Harding-Ice-Field-Trail-A-portal-into-the-past).
To reach the trail, turn into Exit Glacier Road at Mile 3.7 of the Seward Highway and travel nine miles to the parking area in Kenai Fjords National Park. From the parking lot it’s a short quarter-mile hike down a paved trail to the trailhead.
I’ve listed the hike as “strenuous,” but the fantastically engineered and well-maintained trail — with lots of switchbacks — makes it a very enjoyable hike. It’s four miles to the edge of the Harding Icefield, with about a 4,000-foot elevation gain.
If you refer to the Shawn Lyons Sept. 10 ADN column that I mentioned earlier, there is information about a relatively new trail in Turnagain Pass at Mile 68.5 of the Seward Highway. That hike was fully featured in his column a week earlier.
These are just a few of the great hiking trails on the Kenai Peninsula. Fall will pass by quickly, so get out and enjoy the wonderful sights, sounds and smells of the great outdoors. And if you’re on alpine slopes amidst the berries, watch out for the bears!
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer and columnist who lives in Eagle River. To contact Frank: [email protected]