When we last explored Alaska, we limited our focus to a small south central area near Cooper Landing. In this the third and final installment of a 3-part series on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, we will head southwest on the Sterling Highway to a region accessible from Crooked Creek Retreat, a beautiful log lodge located 2 miles south of Kasilof River. The week ahead promises excellent fishing, coastal brown bear viewing and a splendid hike to Grewingk Glacier. And so another adventure begins.
The 3-hour drive south from Anchorage to Kasilof will astound the first time visitor to Alaska with views so spectacular the state has built overlooks to ease gawking-based congestion. The Seward Highway skirts the Chugach Mountains and the shore of the Turnagain Arm, before turning sharply west toward Turnagain Pass, the highest point on the Seward Highway. Keep a sharp eye out for moose that frequent the marshy areas on either side of the highway before the Pass. By sheer force of their height and weight, moose rule Alaska's rights of way.
If you’re fortunate enough to feel hungry a few miles ahead at the Hope Road turnoff, a 30 minute drive northeast will deliver you to the quaint former mining outpost of Hope and its Seaview Café and Bar. The menu includes the finest seafood chowder on the Peninsula. Enjoy lunch outside, weather permitting, and a reverse view of the Turnagain Arm. Then head back to the Seward Highway for more scenic views, this time featuring the Chugach National Forest and Summit Lake.
A sharp turn onto the Sterling Highway near the Tern Lake overlook will point you west. You'll pass through now familiar Cooper Landing and make your way to Soldotna. Ignore Soldotna’s traffic and strip center ambiance. The town isn't the Alaska you've dreamed of, but at this point you need a supply post more than mountains, lakes and forests. Pick up a fishing license and a supply of adult beverages at the Fred Meyer before making a quick stop down the road on the left at Moose Is Loose Bakery. Delectable pastries will pair nicely with tomorrow morning’s coffee.
Only a short drive south separates you from Crooked Creek Retreat, operated by Dorothy Baker, formerly called Your Honor in a court room, but now known as kindly Auntie Dorothy, innkeeper. Dorothy's ultra comfortable 8,000 square foot log lodge, infused with her own sharp focus on customer service, stands as a frontier oasis. Enjoy the delicious food and don't hesitate to tap Dorothy's deep knowledge of nearby recreation opportunities. You won’t be disappointed.
Day 2 – Fishing
Take advantage of the excellent fishing opportunities on the western side of the Kenai Peninsula. Catch a guided trip on the Kenai or Kasilof Rivers. The Kasilof fish might not match the heft of those caught on the Kenai, but a trade-off of a different sort calls many to the Kasilof, where silent drift boats replace the piercing wail of the outboard engines permitted on the Kenai. If Halibut beckon, don’t follow Homer's siren tourist song. The very early morning charter boat departure from the Homer harbor will dictate an even earlier morning alarm at Crooked Creek. Instead book a six hour saltwater trip with a seasoned guide like Aaron Mahoney, Captain of Joyce Marie Charters. He runs out of Anchor Point, a much shorter drive south from Crooked Creek Retreat, and with his father has fished local waters for decades.
Days 3 and 4 – Bear Viewing
For phenomenal, up close bear viewing, catch a fly-out fishing and bear viewing trip for a day or, for deeper immersion, leave Crooked Creek temporarily and book two nights in Lake Clark National Park at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge. At Silver Salmon, your plane will land on the sandy western shore of Cook Inlet. David Coray, proprietor of the Lodge since 1983, or one of his able guides will meet you at the plane and transport you to the lodge. Over the next two days, you will experience a true Alaskan wilderness, where towering volcanic mountains provide a breathtaking backdrop to the tidal marshes, streams and bays that comprise the coastal section of Lake Clark National Park. Silver Salmon Creek has evolved into one of Alaska’s premier sites for viewing coastal brown bears in their natural habitat. Enjoy these powerful mammals as they forage in the local meadows for sedge grasses, dig for razor clams at low tide, or chase salmon returning to their native streams. Should bear viewing become humdrum, wet a line in Silver Salmon Creek and pack in some salmon for your homeward bound cooler.
Day 5 – Hike to Grewingk Glacier
For a splendid single day hiking experience, head out from Crooked Creek after a nice breakfast and drive south to Mako's Water Taxi, on the left side of the Homer Spit's retail strip. Mako's will ferry you across Kachemak Bay to Kachemak Bay State Park and State Wilderness Area. Alaska's first state park, and only wilderness park, Kachemak contains roughly 400,000 acres of mountains, glaciers, forests and ocean. Land mammals include moose, black bear, mountain goats, coyotes and wolves. The many species of birds that inhabit the bay, including eagles, gyrfalcons and puffins, make it a popular area for bird watching.
The marine taxi will drop you on the shore of the Bay near the trailhead for Glacier Lake Trail, which follows flat terrain through stands of cottonwoods and spruce and across the dry outwash plain of Grewingk Glacier. Enjoy a quiet lunch on the open beaches of Grewingk Glacier Lake, taking however long is required to experience the explosive collapse of one or more of the glacial calves floating nearby. Hike the Saddle Trail from the Lake to Saddle’s Kachemak Bay trailhead for your prearranged afternoon pickup by Mako’s. The sights and sounds of the glacier and the birds on the surrounding mountains will provide lifelong memories. Back in Homer, there's still time debrief your hike over a Homer Brewing Company Pale Ale at a Homer institution, the Salty Dawg Saloon. Nothing like strong beer and panties pinned to a dollar bill ceiling to cap off a fine and final frontier experience.
Enjoy a farewell dinner prepared in Aunti Dorothy’s kitchen. It’s off to Anchorage in the morning for a flight back home. You’re leaving the Last Frontier with stories to tell for years to come.