Five recreational activities to explore before tourists arrive

Now that the calendar has rolled over to May and the days have grown longer, the great outdoors is beckoning to be explored.

Don’t let pesky mosquitoes or a hectic work schedule slow down the Alaskan adventurous spirit. With schools nearing summer vacation and droves of recreational vehicles nearly descending on the Kenai Peninsula with Memorial Day only three weeks away, the time to explore all the great activities here at home is now.

Weather it is hiking, camping, kayaking, fishing or bird watching, here are five family activities to consider on the Kenai Peninsula.

Hiking

The list of recommended hikes in the area is far too many to number. For those looking for a combination of a climbing hike and views of wildlife and mountainous scenery, try Slaughter Gulch Trail outside of Cooper Landing.

Travel east from Mile 48 on the Sterling Highway, cross the bridge at the outlet to Kenai Lake. About 0.2 miles east of the bridge, find the intersection with Bean Creek Road. Immediately east of that, a short unmarked dirt road departs the north side of the highway and ends at the start of the Slaughter Gulch Trail.

The first part of the trail is broad and easy to follow. It begins at an altitude of about 500 feet and climbs gently through spruce and birch along a small creek. Then the trail continues with a series of switchbacks and a steep climb for the first 1.3 miles.

Hikers come to a bluff that overlooks Kenai Lake and makes for a good stopping point to take in the view over a picnic. Slaughter Gulch Trail is an annual favorite for the Kenai Peninsula Outdoors Club.

Camping/Canoeing/Fishing

The Kenai Wildlife Refuge has 14 cabins available for reservation on a first-come, first-served basis all across the refuge. Gary Titus, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge ranger said all the cabins offer a unique wilderness experience.

In the central peninsula, Dolly Varden Lake Cabin is located at the far end of Dolly Varden Lake and most easily reached by a 20-minute canoe ride from the Dolly Varden Lake Campground along Swanson River Road, about 12 miles from Sterling.

The 16-by-18 foot cabin has two bunk beds, a table with benches, a wood stove for heat and sleeps four. Outside there is a campfire ring and an outdoor toilet. Visitors will need to bring food supplies with them and refuge rangers recommend boiling lake water before consumption. At the end of the stay all garbage must be hauled out.

The lake is also a popular trout fishing spot, Titus said.

Dolly Varden Lake has a “no-wake” zone restriction so traveling by canoe or kayak is the safest bet to get there. Titus said guests should be sure to bring life-vests and exercise safety when on the water. Guests should bring extra food with them in the event they end up staying longer than expected, he said.

“Let people know where you are going,” he said. “All the cabins in the area have something great to offer. Make sure to plan ahead.”

Occupancy of refuge cabins is by permit only. The cost for a historical cabin is $35 while new cabins cost $45 per party, he said. To make a cabin reservation, visit www.recreation.gov and search for “Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Cabins” or call a recreation.gov representative at 1-877-444-6777.

Titus said he is available if anyone has specific questions about cabin rentals and can be reached during business hours Monday-Friday at 262-7021.

Bird watching

While the Kenai Birding Festival kicks off Thursday, May 15, for those who cannot wait Homer’s 22nd Annual Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival starts May 8 and runs until May 11.

Robbi Mixon from the Homer Chamber of Commerce said events will take place all over town with guest speakers, musical performances and art gallery openings. Reduced price boat trips are offered for visitors to get out and see wildlife on the bay, she said.

With all the recent sunny weather, Mixon said tourists have already descended upon Homer and the Shorebird Festival serves as the opening of the tourist season with shops and restaurants on the Homer Spit opening earlier than the Memorial Day weekend.

“I have seen more and more confused people walking around Safeway,” she said referring to tourists. “For us that is a big indicator that summer is here.”

Also planned during the weekend is the Shorebird Showdown Disc Golf Tournament, taking place on the private Moose Pretzel course and Jack Gist Park. A Birders Beer Bash is another event that will take place May 9 at Land’s End Resort at the end of the Spit.

Last year more than 1,000 people attended and this year Mixon said she expects even more. Tickets for the festival cost $19.50 that will give people access to sign up for more events. For more information, contact Robbi Mixon at shorebird@homeralaska.org.

 

Reach Dan Balmer at daniel.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com

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