Bill Farrell leads a Guided Discovery Hike on the Bear Mountain Trail, near Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Friday, June 23, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Bill Farrell leads a Guided Discovery Hike on the Bear Mountain Trail, near Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Friday, June 23, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Working their way up

Refuge offers summer guided hikes

At the Bear Mountain Trailhead, miles down Skilak Lake Road, nearly a dozen gathered Friday to participate in a Guided Discovery Hike hosted by the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

The free discovery hikes, Lead Park Ranger Leah Eskelin said Saturday, are an opportunity to build a community.

“Folks are looking to share their experience on the refuge with others,” she said. “It’s an easy social opportunity for people to get together and get to know each other.”

Meeting up and hiking together also serves to increase safety — the group looks out for one another and makes more noise, dissuading wildlife from coming near.

The program is largely accessible to novice hikers, designed to accommodate a range of skill levels, Eskelin said.

“Within every single walk we modify our pace and increase the number of breaks that people need to make it work for the group that shows up that day,” she said.

There’s also a sense of progression as the season moves on. Early hikes — like Bear Mountain — are short and easy; by August some are much more challenging endeavors like Skyline Trail, Vista Trail and Fuller Lakes Trail. Someone who attends the hikes each week should find themselves working up the ladder.

Eskelin explained that the hikes are led by two guides, one in the front who leads the way and one in the back — “the caboose.” During the hike, they’ll point out things worth taking notice of.

Eskelin said that guided element is called interpretation — that the guides on each hike use their expertise to help attendees reach greater appreciation and perspective about the area around them. That can include a wide variety of topics, she said, like fire ecology, animal signs and Indigenous history.

On Friday, along the Bear Mountain Trail, Bill Farrell was at the head of the line. He pointed out vistas, bird calls, bear scat and scratches on a rock that were a sign of glacial movement long past.

At one of three stops along the way, Farrell pointed to a nearby lake and told a story of a trapper named Andrew Byrd. He said Byrd had, in a winter long ago, crossed that lake on a dog sled. Along the way, Byrd rescued a trapped cow moose by pulling it into the sled and laying on it until reaching the shore.

“I’ve got a lot more stories,” Farrell said at the end of the trail, promising another chapter on next week’s hike.

Hikes are held each Friday at 10 a.m. and each Saturday at 1 p.m. until Sept. 1. Eskelin said that this weekend’s hikes are both great options for less experienced or novice hikers. On Friday, a group will hike Upper Kenai River Trail — which offers a sampling of “everything that’s wonderful about that Skilak area.” On Saturday, it’ll be Burney’s Trail.

For more information about the Guided Discovery Hikes or the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, visit or call 907-260-2820.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at

The view from the vista at the end of Bear Mountain Trail, seen on Friday, June 23, 2023, near Cooper Landing, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The view from the vista at the end of Bear Mountain Trail, seen on Friday, June 23, 2023, near Cooper Landing, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

More in News

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
Brad Snowden and Julie Crites participate in a Seward City Council candidate forum at the Seward Community Library in Seward on Thursday.
Seward council candidates discuss issues at election forum

Participating in Thursday’s forum were Julie Crites and Brad Snowden

Cam Choy, associate professor of art at Kenai Peninsula College, works on a salmon sculpture in collaboration with the Kenai Watershed Forum during the Kenai River Festival at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska, on June 8, 2019. (Peninsula Clarion file)
Soldotna adopts arts and culture master plan

The plan outlines how the city plans to support arts and culture over the next 10 years

Architect Nancy Casey speaks in front of a small gathering at the Fireside Chat presented by the Kenai Watershed Forum on Nov. 30, 2022, at Kenai River Brewing in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Watershed Forum’s Fireside Chats return Wednesday

The chats will cover a range of interesting topics, centered on knowledge, research and projects

Erosion of the Kenai bluff near the Kenai Senior Center. (Photo by Aidan Curtin courtesy Scott Curtin)
Kenai to sign bluff stabilization agreement Monday

A signing event will be held at 5:30 p.m. at the Kenai Senior Center

Engineer Lake Cabin can be seen in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on Nov. 21, 2021. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Public comment accepted for proposed rate increases for overnight fees at refuge

Campsites would increase $5 per night and cabins would increase $10 per night

Abigal Craig, youth winner of the Seventh Annual Kenai Silver Salmon Derby, is presented a novelty check by Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Shannon Martin, City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel, and Kenai Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Samantha Springer at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Silver Salmon Derby nets fish, funds for river protection

116 fish were weighed by 79 anglers across the six days of competition

Soldotna Public Works Director Kyle Kornelis talks about the Soldotna field house project during a Soldotna City Council meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna awards field house contract

Anchorage-based Criterion General, Inc. will construct the facility

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche testifies before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly during a meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Assembly to let borough mayors speak sooner during meetings

The mayor’s report will now be given after the first round of public comments and before public hearings and new assembly business

Assembly members Lane Chesley, left, and Richard Derkevorkian participate in a borough assembly meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Haara/Peninsula Clarion)
Assembly asks state to allow term limits for school board members

Alaska Statute does not allow term limits to be imposed on school board members

Most Read