The view looking north toward the pass from just above Juneau Lake. (Photo by Jack Carroll/Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)

The view looking north toward the pass from just above Juneau Lake. (Photo by Jack Carroll/Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)

Refuge Notebook: Finding refuge in the forest

As a park ranger for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, I get to spend a lot of time on the refuge’s trails and in the campgrounds. Often, I continue to enjoy the recreation areas that the refuge has to offer even after I clock out.

But it can be really nice to escape the refuge for a while, if only for a change of scenery. Another spectacular unit of our public lands to explore here on the Kenai can of course be found just to the east, in Chugach National Forest. One exceptional opportunity it offers is a hike on Resurrection Pass Trail.

Resurrection Pass Trail in Chugach National Forest is a clean, well-maintained trail with stunning views, gentle grades and many long chances at peaceful seclusion. The trail has its origins in the Alaska Gold Rush, when Resurrection Pass was a veritable highway, shuttling gold panners and land claimants between Hope and Cooper Landing.

Today, the pass corridor is home to a thru-hikeable multiuse trail dotted with public use cabins, on land owned by the U.S. Forest Service. You can still try panning for gold — though you may not be as successful as some were back in the day.

I was lucky enough to thru-hike it with my girlfriend and dog for the first time in late September, and could not have been happier to be out there with the fall colors on full display. We started at the north trailhead in Hope.

Day One was spent slowly climbing into the mountains, following Resurrection Creek to its headwaters higher up. The trail was lined with cottonwoods and aspens with leaves of the most vibrant yellow, and mosses and grasses in an assortment of greens, browns, yellows and reds.

The squirrels chattered at us and the grouse startled us more times than I care to admit. A stay at East Creek Cabin that night warmed our tired muscles and offered absolute solitude with a view.

Early in Day Two, we broke out above timberline. What a moment. The pass rolled out into the rugged tundra before us, framed by colorful peaks on all sides. The valley out of which we’d just climbed stretched back behind, ferrying the mountains’ clear waters down to meet the salty sea in Turnagain Arm.

We enjoyed the idyllic yet wild scenery for the next 10 miles, on trail that felt like a walk in the park and looked anything but. It was like walking through a postcard. Tracks in the mud told us that a recent fellow hiker had been a fairly large moose.

The weather, which had been forecast to be pretty wet, held together for us and we only got a short, light drizzle and some clouds. A few times there was even a healthy slice or two of sun to bask in as we ambled along. We didn’t see another soul all day until we made camp near Juneau Lake just before dark.

Day Three and the final leg of the journey came on inexorably, despite all our wishes for the trip to never end. We took our time moving through the southern valley. It was here that the Swan Lake Fire left its mark on the trail, and we marveled at the black desolation, already blanketed with green and fall-colored foliage just one year removed from the blaze.

Near Trout Lake, the vegetation changed to a mix of black spruce and tundra shrub, which was sporadic enough to give us a clear view of the mountains that still loomed over us. On the way, we passed a crew of Forest Service employees working hard to improve drainage on the trail. Always a treat to see fellow public lands pros getting after it out in their natural habitat.

The forest deepened as we neared Cooper Landing, and we hurried along at the prospect of a hot meal of non-trail food and a cold beer. With a few miles to go, we spotted the Kenai River below, and before we knew it we were back at the car and among civilization.

It can be a very rewarding experience to venture outside the same old day-to-day routine of life. New places and new activities can awaken a curiosity and joy in unexpected ways.

For me, the refuge feels like home. Stepping just beyond its boundaries brings me a sense of novelty and adventure. If you’re feeling stuck in the grind, it can’t hurt to step off the rutted path for a bit. Try something new. Go a little further than you normally do. You might be surprised by what you find.

Jack Carroll is a park ranger at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Find more Refuge Notebook articles (1999–present) at https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Kenai/community/refuge_notebook.html.

The intrepid Mitsu the dog reconnoiters the landscape at the top of the pass. (Photo by Sorcha Brooks)

The intrepid Mitsu the dog reconnoiters the landscape at the top of the pass. (Photo by Sorcha Brooks)

More in Sports

Homer senior Madison Story swims the breaststroke in the girls 200-yard IM on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020 during the Kenai Peninsula Swimming Championships at the Kate Kuhns Aquatic Center in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Homer’s Story stars at state club meet

Homer senior Madison Story won two individual titles Saturday at the Alaska… Continue reading

Moose are seen eating on the shoulder of Kenai Spur Highway on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, outside of Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Out of the Office: Into the office

An ode to Kenai Spur Highway

A snowshoe hare in its white winter coat. (Photo by Colin Canterbury/Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)
Refuge Notebook: The verge of winter

As the daylight hours seem to slip away, the temperatures are slowly… Continue reading

Soldotna High School head football coach Galen Brantley Jr. poses with former players Galen Brantley III and Aaron Faletoi. Brantley III and Faletoi helped Dickinson State in Dickinson, South Dakota, to an undefeated regular season. (Photo provided by Galen Brantley Jr.)
Brantley III, Faletoi help Dickinson State to undefeated regular season

Galen Brantley III and Aaron Faletoi, 2020 graduates of Soldotna High School,… Continue reading

Seward’s Lydia Jacoby races to victory in the girls 100-yard breaststroke final Oct. 27, 2018, at the Northern Lights Conference championship swim meet at Homer High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)
Seward’s Jacoby takes 2nd at national swim meet

Seward junior Lydia Jacoby, just 16, finished second in the 100-meter breaststroke… Continue reading

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Theo Thrun brings the puck up the ice on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019, against the Minnesota Magicians at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Brown Bears split weekend games with Steel

The Kenai River Brown Bears split a pair of North American Hockey… Continue reading

Kenai’s Rachael Pitsch swims the girls 500-yard freestyle on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020 during the Kenai Peninsula Swimming Championships at the Kate Kuhns Aquatic Center in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Homer girls, Kenai boys win swim meet

In their last competitive event of the season, the Homer girls swim… Continue reading

tease
CIA volleyball splits matches at Lumen

Staff report The Cook Inlet Academy volleyball team finished up its regular… Continue reading

wrestle
Ninilchik grad Vanderford moves to 10-0 in MMA

Austin Vanderford, a 2008 graduate of Ninilchik School, moved to 10-0 in… Continue reading

The author is seen here skiing a little easier at Trail Lake near Seward. (Photo provided by Kat Sorensen)
Tangled Up in Blue: Grooming the trail

During my first winter spent cross-country skiing in Soldotna, I often found… Continue reading

Basic Incident Command System organization chart. The ICS system has been used for many different types of incidents since its inception. (Chart from Federal Emergency Management Agency)
Refuge Notebook: Incident Command System adapts to record-setting wildfires

The August Complex Fire of 2020 on the Mendocino National Forest in… Continue reading

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Brandon Lajoie pulls up against the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Brown Bears topple Steel again

The Kenai River Brown Bears moved to 2-0-0-0 in the North American… Continue reading