Hiking, Mountain-Biking & Backpacking
Alaska's best long trails lead through the mountain passes of Chugach National Forest, including historic gold-rush trails and portions of the original Iditarod trail (the race doesn't use these southern portions). The Forest Service maintains public cabins on many of these trails and in other remote spots reachable only with a boat or small plane. If the nights you need are available, you can use the cabins instead of a tent on a backpacking trip. Or make a cabin your destination and spend a few days there hiking or fishing. The superb Winner Creek Trail and Crow Pass Trail, from Girdwood, are. Two excellent trail guides cover the peninsula: 55 Ways to the Wilderness, by Helen Nienhueser and John Wolfe (5th edition, The Mountaineers), with detailed coverage in readable prose; and Kenai Trails (tel. 866/257-2757; www.alaskageographic.org), with a detailed topographic map along with each trail description. Trails Illustrated publishes excellent plastic recreation maps of the region (tel. 800/962-1643; www.natgeomaps.com).
Carter Lake Trail -- An excellent dayhike starts from mile 33 of the Seward Highway, a few miles east of Tern Lake, rising about 1,000 feet over 2 miles to alpine views and Carter Lake, which is stocked with rainbow trout.
Johnson Pass Trail -- The 23-mile trail climbs to a pair of lakes above the tree line at the 1,450-foot Johnson Creek Summit, tracing impressively narrow mountain valleys. The route, part of the Iditarod National Historic Trail, leads from near the Trail Lake Fish Hatchery, at mile 32 of the Seward Highway, to near the Granite Creek Campground, on the highway at mile 63. Plan to do the trail as an overnight and have transportation ready at each end.
Lost Lake Trail & Primrose Trail -- With fields of alpine wildflowers and small lakes, these connected trails offer one of the most beautiful hikes in the area. Snow lasts until late in the season at the top. The upper, northern trail head is at the 10-site Primrose Campground, on vast Kenai Lake, 17 miles from Seward off the Seward Highway on Primrose Road. The trail rises through hemlock past a waterfall about 2 miles up (look for the spur to the right when you hear water), past an old mining cabin, and then through ever-smaller trees and above the tree line. A Forest Service cabin is on a 2-mile spur about 11 miles along the 16-mile route. Strong hikers can do the whole trail in a long day, but it makes more sense to hike in and out on the upper end, or to spend the night along the way. The lower, Lost Lake trail head is in a subdivision near Seward; ask for directions at one of the visitor centers.
Resurrection Pass Trail -- This gold-rush trail begins 4 miles above the town of Hope and runs over the top of the Kenai Peninsula to Cooper Landing. It's a beautiful, remote, yet well-used trail for hiking, mountain-biking, Nordic skiing, or snowshoeing; it rises through forest, crosses the alpine pass, and then descends again to a highway trail head where you'll need to have transportation waiting. The 39-mile trail has eight public-use cabins, available for $35 to $45 a night. The cabins are well spaced to cover the trail in an easy 5 days; cabins on lakes have boats for fishing. Cabins book up well ahead winter and summer, but there are lots of good camping spots, too. The Devil's Pass and Summit Lake trails cut off from the Resurrection to the Seward Highway south of Summit Lake, shortening the route. The difficulty of doing the whole trail, by any of the entrances, is that you need either two cars or someone willing to drive you back to your starting point.
Russian Lakes Trail -- This trail begins in Cooper Landing, near the end of the Resurrection Pass Trail, and leads to three remote cabins and a series of lakes. There's excellent fishing and wildlife viewing (bears are common). It's less than 3 miles, with little elevation gain, to Lower Russian Lake and the cabin there, or you can make a backpacking trip over the entire 21 miles.
The national forest contains some of the most famous, and crowded, fishing banks in Alaska, including the Russian River, near Cooper Landing, with its incredible run of red salmon in July and good fishing lasting into September. The easiest access is at the Russian River Campground, just west of the village. There are plenty of other roadside salmon streams and remote fishing rivers and lakes in the national forest where you can lose sight of other anglers. Some remote lakes have Forest Service cabins for rent on their shores, with rowboats. The Forest Service publishes information on these opportunities.
Sea Kayaking & Boating
A variety of Prince William Sound tour boats are listed in the Whittier, Valdez, and Cordova sections of this chapter. Whittier offers the greatest number of boats and the most impressive scenery, with big glaciers that come right to the water. It's also possible to rent your own boat there.
All three communities also have operators offering sea-kayak rentals and guided outings of various lengths. The best sea kayaking is near Cordova or east of Whittier. The long fjords reached from Whittier feature calving glaciers, narrow passages, and Forest Service cabins, but to get out there, you need a boat ride first -- the waters right around Whittier aren't as interesting -- and that is expensive. The local sea-kayaking operators can help you arrange drop-off service. Cordova has more interesting waters near town, so you can paddle from the boat harbor. Those who haven't done much sea kayaking should consider a guided day trip rather than an overnight.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.