On one of my trips to Alaska, when I spent most of my time in and around Anchorage, my host asked if I had ever been salmon fishing.
"No,: I replied.
"Are you afraid of grizzly bears?" he asked.
"Yes," I replied.
"Would you like to go salmon fishing with some hungry grizzlies?" he responded.
"Probably not, " I replied.
"Okay," he replied, let's go for a ride.
We rode forever and talked about everything from all the adventures I had in store during my stay in Alaska to our time together on the island of Crete. Eventually, he turned off into a small parking lot. As we got out of the car and walked across the single lane road, I noticed the bears long before I realized we were also approaching a relatively small, but very fast-flowing river. In fact, my first view of the river was only milliseconds after I saw a pretty good sized salmon flying toward us out of the paws of a grizzly bear which looked as large as my pal's compact car.
We literally stood very still and quiet for several minutes until I realized that even the largest of the bears could not literally reach out and swat me where I stood. After my blood pressure and pulse rate dropped below the stroke rate, we eventually made our way to the water and shortly afterward were in the stream about 100 yard downstream from the bears trying to copy their catch and throw technique. It was actually quite simple, not because of any significant skill on our part but because there were so many in the stream that it was hard to fail. We quickly threw a few on the bank, usually to have them flap their way back into the stream but we did throw some far enough that they could not get back in on their own so after a few had accumulated, we got out and tossed them back in with the knowledge that the bears would probably have an even better chance of getting them in their relatively weakened condition but they revived very quickly once they hit the water.
Grizzlies can weigh up to 750-800 pounds and these top-of-the-food chain predators are mad for salmon, which "run" back up the Alaskan rivers in which they were born to spawn between May and October. Is appears to be pretty easy pickings for the bears, who feast on tired fish struggling against the current.
Although a bit more crowded (with people, salmon, and bears) than the small stream where my friend and I went two of Alaska’s most accessible viewing areas 9with their peak salmon-run seasons) are the Chilkoot River near Haines (from mid-June to October) and the Katmai National Park, which has a perfectly positioned viewing platform (July and September).
Cooper Landing is a small village located around mile 47 on the Sterling Highway, Kenai Peninsula, halfway between Seward and Homer. It is a great base for a variety of activities:
- if you`r e into fishing, several operators offer guided fishing along the Kenai River
- various hiking trailheads are in the immediate vicinity of Coopers Landing (Russian Rivers, Resurrection Trail etc.)
- great viewing spot for jumping salmons at Russian Falls!
- rafting halfday-trips on the Kenai River
- the Skilak Loop Road close to Coopers Landing has a couple of viewpoints and hiking trailheads, and is considered a good area for wildlife watching.
My favourite hike in Alaska! The Carter Lake hike starts from the parking lot at milepost 34, Seward Highway. The return trip to both lakes and back is about 7 miles long (ca. 4-4 1/2 hours). This easy hike starts through woodland and enters more open country later. After reaching Carter Lake, I recommend highly to continue the hike through an extensive meadow until you reach Crescent Lake. The stretch between Carter and Crescent Lake was the most beautiful part of Alaska I have seen.
Ptarmigan Lake Hike was a very worthwhile hike starting from the pull-out at milepoint 23 along Seward Highway. As the name says, the final destination is the scenic turquoise Ptarmigan Lake (lenghth about 3,5 miles one-way to the lake). Keep in mind that this hike is not very well maintained and parts of the path are overgrown with waist-high grass.
Potters March is a wetland natural reserve, about 1/2 an hour`s drive from Anchorage on the Seward Highway (mile 116). An elevated boardwalk allows you to appreciate the wetlands and watch for many kinds of waterbirds in fantastic scenery.
The scenic Turmagain Arm is a fjord-like area between Anchorage and Girdwood, with the backdrop of the Chugach Mountains and the Seward Highway running parallel. This is probably the most beautiful stretch of the Seward Highway. It is accessible by several viewpoints, for instance Bird Point (mile 96), Windy Point (mile 106) and Beluga Point (mile 110). With a little luck, the milk-white Beluga Whales can be spotted from the several viewpoints along the Seward Highway.
Grayling Lake trail starts at the parking lot located by milepost 13,2 on the Seward Highway. The return trip from there to the lake and back takes about 2 1/2 to 3 hours (1,6 miles one way).
The hike can be continued from here to Leech Lake (2.3 miles one way) and has connections to Meridian Lake and Long Lake. This is very easy walking through a beautiful birchwood forest. The lake is named after a local fish species. This hike is recommended if you want to combine two shorter hikes on the same day.
Flattop Mountain is a favourite hiking destination of Anchorage locals, in ca. 30 minutes driving distance from the city centre. From the Glen Alps trailhead parking lot to the summit and back, it is about 2 1/2 - 3 hours return trip of moderate difficulty. The hike gives great open views on Anchorage, the surrounding mountain-ranges and the Cook Inlet. For the most part, ist is very easy and straightforward - the last stretch to the summit is not very obvious (look for orange paint dots) and involves some scrambling - it looks more difficult than it is though!
Several operators offer scenic raft trips along the Kenai River - an opportunity not to be missed. The landscape as seen from the raft is impressive, and salmon, bald eagles, and sometimes moose or bears can be spotted. We went with ... and paid ... for a .. hour - trip.
Eagle River Nature Reserve is about 1 hours drive north of Anchorage (exit Eagle River, continue on Eagle River road until visitors centre) and a great place for hiking.
I recommend to start with the Rodak Trail (1 mile) with great scenery views on Eagle River and a beaver habitat. From the boardwalk, salmon could be seen easily. It is possible to continue either on the Albert Loop Trail (roundtrip leading back to the visitor centre, 5 miles) or on the Crow Pass Trail (great views on Eagle River). The latter goes all the way to Girdwood (26 miles), but you can just hike as long as you like and retrace your steps from there. The Crow Pass Trail is part of a historic Iditarod Race supply route.
Itinerary suggestion: It was possible to hike Flattop Mountain near Anchorage in the morning (about three hours return) and visit Eklutna Cemetery and hike Eagle River in the afternoon without any hassle.
In Denali Park, the shuttle bus drivers let you off anywhere along the park road if you want to go hiking. There are no marked tracks, so you basically make your own path where the going is easy. Polychrome Mountain - named because of its multicoloured ridges - is a nice area for hiking. You can either hike from the bus stop on the ridge paths or towards Polychrome Mountain through the bush. If you choose to do the latter route, I recommend not getting off at the bus stop itself (which is on a steep ridge) but a few miles down the road (drainage tube on the left side of the road) because access to hiking paths is easier where the terrain is level again.
Bears are in the area, so try to avoid thick bush and stick to areas with good visibility while you are hiking.
If you take the early morning shuttle (about 9 am) you will reach Polychrome after ca. 2 1/2 hours and have plenty of time for hiking and catching a bus on the way back.
Exit Glacier is a mere 15 minutes distant from Seward city centre (by car) and a very accessible glacier. There are several options to experience the Glacier: you can do a short hike from the visitor centre which allows you to get close-up with the Glacier; or you could hike up to Harding Ice Field, where - fine weather provided - you get a great view of the expanse of the ice field and the glacier. This trip would take about 6-7 hours return trip and is considered strenuous. A compromise between the two would be to hike the trail to the Harding ice-field halfway, to a viewing point which already gives a great panorama on part of the icefield. Finally, you could book a guided tour to hike on the Glacier itself, with all the proper equipment provided by the operator.
Trail`s End Horseriding was a great bargain considered that you get 4 - 5 hours of riding for a mere 90 $ (October 2013). The horses are well-cared for and docile, and Mark, a real Alaskan cowboy, is a great guy and a good story-teller. The ride involves several river-crossings on horse. It is suitable for beginners and experienced riders and Mark gives advice on each horses peculiar character and mood. He is always accompanied by his smart and funny dog which can be seen in the picture (it gets a lift for the river crossings).
Booking: only by phone +1 907-235-6393. There is no mail adress to the best of my knowledge. We did the booking via our hosts at our B&B accomodation.
The meeting place can be overlooked easily - driving from Homer northwards, it is on the East End Road, milepost 11,2, right side coming from Homer. Be on time as the horses have to be transported to the trailhead by car, so you have to follow the "pilot car" to get to the starting point.
The trailhead for Russian Falls starts at mile 52 on the Sterling Highway between Cooper Landing and Soldotna (access road to Russian Falls campground). A very easy and beautiful hike trough woodland, after 2 miles one-way it leads to the turbulent Russian Falls where - between June and August - salmon can be watched high-jumping into the rapids. The best place for salmon-watching in my opinion.
The Resurrection Pass Hike (trailhead on Sterling highway between Cooper Landing and Soldotna, mile 53, parking lot) is a multi-day-hike (40 miles) from Cooper Landing to Hope, but can be done as a dayhike from the southern trailhead to Juneau Falls and back (between 3 1/2 and 5 hours return trip). The majestic Juneau Falls can be reached by small and not signposted path - once you hear the falls roaring, be on the lookout for a small path into the woods. After 10 meters, the falls can be seen from a plateau (don`t get too close to the ridge as you could easily fall over).
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