Time to stir the mud and draw up some controversy….
It’s at this time of year that I start getting that itch to hike in the hills and look for large brown moosies. I want to fill my freezer with meat that I know was raised right and is healthy for my family! I was raised on moose meat and I have strong memories of my dad going hunting every fall in Soldotna, AK. I remember as a young person, spending the night at a friends house and wondering why their meat tasted like cardboard. I later found out that it was store bought beef and it was very bland compared to the moose meat that I was used to.
As we move closer to the hunting season, I have the urge to buy a gun, ammo, meat bags, 4-wheeler, and a trailer. I get the urge to secure any item that will help me fill that freezer with healthy moose meat. I know this is not your typical girlie behavior but that is what happens when your raised in Alaska. I remember helping my mom and dad cutting meat off the carcass, cleaning it, wrapping it in freezer paper, and marking it with the date, type of meat, and the cut of the meat.
Two years ago, we got two caribou and those really helped us to eat right and cut our grocery budget over time. With meat prices going up at the stores, it’s really worth it to spend a little to catch that elusive moose. Yet, moose are one of my favorite animals to watch and photograph and I highly respect those animals. I believe that farmers feel the same way about their cows. If you know how it has been raised, then you know your eating well. You respect the meat that you are eating.
My husband, an Alaskan Native from the Kuskokwim River region, finds it difficult to hunt in the South-Central area of Alaska. Where he grew up, they would climb into the boat and head upriver, usually up the Holitna River, and find a moose hanging out on the edge of the river. Sometimes they were lucky enough to not have to drag it out of the waters edge or chase it too far into the woods. Sometimes they had to work a little bit harder. Lately, though, the people out there are having a difficult time getting anything due to the amount of wolves and bears in the area.
In many areas of Alaska, there has been a growing problem with bears and wolves. I will go so far as to say that there is a growing problem with predators in Alaska, humans included. If you think about it, there is now a situation where people from outside specific hunting areas are coming in and hunting for moose. This depletes the already stressed population of moose in those areas. For instance, on the Kuskokwim River, you have an area in the upper river region that used to have a healthy population of moose. Then the lower river people from the ever growing city of Bethel come up to hunt moose and you have a higher amount of “predators” in that area. Then there are hunters that are being flown in from other parts of the state and from out of the state. Add to that the growing population of bears and wolves, and you have a problem. This same situation is affecting the caribou in that very same region.
Imagine a population of moose in a particular region that are already hampered by a growing population of wolves and bears. Now imagine this population is accessible by road. Think about how many people are reaching this region from hundreds of miles away and maybe thousands of miles away if they are non-resident hunters. I bring to light the Copper Valley region of Alaska. The people there have never had such difficulties hunting moose until recently. They are now in competition with the rest of the state and with many from out of the state of Alaska. Most of the “outside” hunters have access to ATV’s and large hunting buggies. They may have RV’s or travel trailers to sleep in. The local hunters do not have a lot of these available to them. With so many ATV’s and other traffic hitting the trails, the moose are being pushed back further and further into the wilderness, to the point that only ATV’s or fly-in hunting can reach them. They also have a huge population of bears and wolves, common predators of the moose and caribou. This leaves many locals without meat for the winter.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not against hunting. In fact, I am a strong advocate of our rights to hunt and feed our families and I support the NRA. But I am also witnessing something that I am not in support of. I do not think that our population of moose should support non-resident hunting and especially since many of those hunters are only after the “rack” and could care less about the meat! I realize that many people make their money by being a guide but that is a profession that is self-defeating. You will see such a large decline in the moose populations that there will be none left for anyone. I believe that trophy hunting should be abolished! Hunting for meat and getting a “big one” is different than just hunting for the rack on the wall and I have seen many who do that very thing.
I am seeing this same thing with our salmon. You see many folks up here fishing for that trophy and not caring about eating any salmon. I see that our commercial fisherman are fishing to earn enough money to feed their families but at the same time, they are fishing to feed the world off of fish that should merely feed Alaskans. And our world population is growing. Are we going to feed the world salmon that was meant only to feed a smaller population of Alaskans? Are we going to try to give a trophy salmon or moose to the world so that they can feel proud of themselves while Alaskans go hungry and eventually have nothing left to hunt or fish?
In the Kuskokwim and Yukon Rivers, there is a growing problem of the local natives not being allowed to catch salmon. How much salmon were caught by commercial fisherman? I do not know this answer. You can look into that for yourself. But know this, they were there first, they have always been there, and now they are being told that they cannot fish. This means they cannot feed their family. There are declining moose and caribou populations, and now a declining fish population. Recently, there have been battles by the locals out there for them to fight for their rights to fish. It is a bad situation all around. They do not want to see the fish decline but they want to feed their family too.
Again, let me reiterate, I am not against hunting or fishing. I am against mismanagement of such. I am seeing different regions of Alaska trying to support a growing population of hunters and fisherman. I am seeing that they cannot support this. I am seeing us trying to feed the world and we cannot do that. Lets bring to light the beloved dip-net fisheries in Alaska. We are seeing a growing outrage from those regions about the demise of their beautiful beaches and there is another problem.
Let’s look at the dip-net fishery in Kenai, AK. I grew up in Soldotna, which is the nearest town to Kenai. I remember a few dip-netters on the beach in the 80’s but I could literally count them on one hand at any given moment. I could still walk the beach and not step on a salmon carcass or be pooped on by a seagull. Now, flash forward, the beach is so encumbered by fish carcasses that it would take you half an hour to clear enough space to set your chairs and equipment down. The smell? Well, lets just not discuss the smell as I just ate breakfast.
Seagulls are everywhere, clouds of them. This is the problem. The dip-netters are gutting the fish on the beach and that attracts gulls which causes them to litter the beach with their feces. This has recently caused a problem with a bacteria on the skin of the salmon and a warning about making sure to clean them good. The people of the region are upset, and for good reason too! They have to go clean up after all the dip-netters and it’s not a fun job. Why should they have to do that? They are accommodating people from outside their region and they are suffering.
I am hoping that you are getting my point. Can I find any fish in my local area (Matsu Borough)? Maybe. Not really without a boat or other equipment. Many rivers have been closed to fishing. Have I been to other regions to try to fish or dip-net. Yes. Guilty. Do I catch much? No. I gave up dip-netting years ago after seeing its affects on the beaches and the locals. Do I have any fish in my freezer? No. I am not a great fisherman though, so that is part of my problem. But the same goes for hunting. I find it very difficult to hunt for moose because there are so many ATV’s and hunting buggies; and then there are the hunting regulations that are very confusing. I do not have a “healthy” ATV and it struggles to get very far. It’s a case of drive one mile then work on it for one or more hours, sad to say. I cannot afford a new ATV nor can I afford a hunting buggy.
I want to fish and put salmon in my freezer, but I don’t want to hamper the fishery or put another region into stress. I want to hunt and fill my freezer with meat, but I don’t want to be part of the problem for another region and cause its locals to not be able to eat. Can I hunt locally? Well, that’s a good question. I am trying and, so far, not doing so great with it. I see both sides of the story and am hoping that we can find some answers to this situation. I would like to find some sort of answer to this problem but I am only one person, and it is going to take everyone working together to communicate and understand. So let’s get to work and figure out how to feed the people of Alaska first; giving the locals a better fighting chance to provide for their families.
In the meantime, shhhhhhhhhh……….I’m hunting moosies!!!
Kennecott is the name of the mines and company, while the glacier and town are named Kennicott after a local explorer by the name of Robert Kennicott. The mines and company were misspelled due to a clerical error. After the green streak in the mountain was discovered, the next step was to get it out of the back country of Alaska. They ended up mining some gold in the area to fund the building of the railroad to the copper streak. That green streak was one of the richest copper ore deposits ever found!
McCarthy is the name of the creek and the town that popped up below the mine due to the “dry” Kennecott mine not allowing gambling and or other assorted affairs. Today, the mine is a ghost town that is being restored and McCarthy has a winter time population of between 15-20 families. They say that the population is rising due to the tourism in the summer. The McCarthy road from Chitina to the mine is closed in the winter but you can use snowmobiles to travel the 60 miles or use the airport.
Construction of the railroad to the mine began in 1908 and stretched 196 miles. The current McCarthy road is built over top of most of the old railroad. For 27 years, the railway carried a staggering $200 million in copper ore from the historic Kennicott mining area to the coast of Cordova. The last train delivered the very last load of copper ore on November 11, 1938. During the 1964 earthquake, with a magnitude of 9.2, the railway was destroyed and never rebuilt. Kennicott has been a ghost town since then and, in 1978, President Jimmy Carter declared the area a National Monument because of its cultural and scientific significance. They are now part of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve. At 13.2 million acres, it is twice the size of Denali National Park and larger than the country of Switzerland. It is home to 9 of North America’s 16 tallest peaks, over 150 glaciers, 4 major mountain ranges, and the largest glaciers outside the polar ice caps.
Today, instead of the tram that was used to pull yourself across the river, they have a foot bridge. There is a bridge down a ways that only permitted motorists can use to cross the river and those are usually only the locals or deliveries. Once on the other side, you can choose to hike the short distance to the small base town of McCarthy or you can take the shuttle. You can also skip McCarthy and just head straight up to the mill town of Kennecott. The shuttle to McCarthy is free but the ride to Kennecott is $10 for a round trip and they will give you a little ticket for your return trip. It is a 5-mile hike and so worth the shuttle ride, because you will want to save the hiking for the trail to the glacier or up to the mines. Another good option is to bring a bike and I highly recommend it as many people bike in the area.
For accommodations, there is the Kennicott Glacier Lodge (http://www.kennicottlodge.com/) that is right on the mountain and within the old mining town itself. It is a restored building so expect the rooms to reflect that. Another option is to stay at the historic hotels within McCarthy. You have the McCarthy Lodge and The Ma Johnsons Hotel (http://www.mccarthylodge.com/) with many services available nearby. On the road side of the foot bridge, you will find many campgrounds, Bed & Breakfasts’, Lodges, and cabins nearby. We stayed at the Kennicott River Lodge (http://www.kennicottriverlodge.com/) in one of their cabins that could accommodate 6 people and a dog. We were very glad that we did and found that they are extremely accommodating and had all the services that we could possibly want. We had a great view of the glacier, mill town, and a glacier lake in the foreground.
One of the things that I found confusing, beyond the spelling of the Kennicott/Kennecott names, was whether the glacier was called the Root Glacier or the Kennicott Glacier. Well, it turns out that there are two glaciers in the area which explains all of the dirt, ice, and water that flows beneath them. The glacier actually closest to the mine is called the Root Glacier and beyond that, and partially connected, is the Kennicott Glacier. You can hike both if you are of able body. They have hiking tours (http://kennicottguides.com/ or just google Kennicott guides) available for the cost of a guide and cramp-ons for your boots. We didn’t have a guide and we chose to just hike to the Root Glacier for a shorter experience since we are amateur hikers.
The trail to the toe of the Root Glacier is around 2 miles and most of it is a fairly easy hike. There is the last 3/4 mile of the trip that is down hill and partially in the moraine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moraine), so you can expect sliding rocks and some of it is a strenuous hike. I found it even more difficult coming back up out of there. Now if you are used to hiking and are used to mountain climbing, you might get a slight laugh out of my version of strenuous. I am an asthmatic so it made this hike a bit more difficult for me as I have not been hiking much this year. I did have to use an inhaler on several occasions during the hike, sad to say (Just a warning for those in my current condition.) The hike is worth the pain!
There are a few beautiful creek crossings, some wonderful views of the glacier and surrounding mountains, and the exhilaration of completing the 4 miles round trip is so very worth it. The glacier was beautiful but ended up not being my most favorite part, although the kids loved it. Jumbo Creek, and its waterfall that you cross, was my most favorite part of the hike. Making it back to Kennicott and saying “Wow! I made it!” was a really great feeling for me. I pushed myself and, while most hikers would find it a casual hike, I felt accomplished. I now know that I need to hike more often and condition my body for what I really want to do because there is nothing worse than your mind saying “I want to go see that!” and your body replies “oh…there is no way that is happening!”.
Kennicott, McCarthy, and the Root Glacier are worth the 60-miles (on a dirt road) road trip and worth seeing if you see nothing else in Alaska. You must have a spare tire and a tire repair kit if you attempt this trip in your vehicle, although I have never had a flat. The old railway spikes have a tendency to come up to the top of the road from time to time. I have seen little front wheel drive cars, as well as RV’s, make this trip with no problems whatsoever. You will also cross the single lane Kuskulana Bridge over Kuskulana River Canyon that is around 525 feet across and 238 feet above the river. Take plenty of pictures of this historic bridge and enjoy the mesmerizing views! Make sure you have plenty of gas as the last gas available is in either Kenny Lake or Chitina. Also, make sure you have plenty of room on your camera or smartphone for lots of pictures. Have a great trip…we sure did!!!
Getting reservations for a large family, with a dog, is harder than it seems. No matter the location, I find it difficult to gain accommodations that would suit all 6 of us, plus the dog. This is our family: One dad, one mom, one 12 year old son, one 17 year old son, one 18 year old daughter, one 20 year old nephew, and our dog (large breed.) Now one would think that Alaska has a lot of larger families and thus would have accommodations to compliment that knowledge; however I am finding the opposite to be true.
Hotels are most likely out of the question unless I am willing to rent several rooms in a dog friendly hotel. On a few occasions, I have found hotels that have full suites available but most often they do not like pets. I must say there are a few out there and I greatly appreciate their thoughtfulness to accommodate larger families. I am even more grateful when I see that it is very clean and there are no bed bugs in the establishment.
Some B&B’s might be willing to accept a larger family but I have found that they most often do not accept pets. I have never been able to stay at a B&B due to our family size and the pet issue. That being said, I have always wanted to stay at one and have always admired those who run them. It is a lot of work and dedication to open one’s home to the general public.
Motels generally do not seem to care how many people will be staying in the room and will usually rent it to you without question. More often than not, they will allow pets; however they frequently smell musty and are sometimes dirty. I have also found bed bugs in many motels and that is something I never appreciate.
Cabins are usually a better bet but you have to find one that can accommodate so many people. I have been lucky enough on many occasions to find cabins that can house 6 people comfortably and it is usually a 50/50 chance that they will allow a large dog. My family prefers the cabin style rentals due to the privacy that they afford, but that is only if they have decent bathroom availability. Some have outhouses and that is okay…IF they are clean!
Lodges are usually out of the question for large families with pets due to the very nature of a lodge. It is usually on a more grand scale and most often related to some sort of fishing or hunting adventure. Where would you stash your dog on a fishing trip anyhow? But, again, I am sure there are some out there that might allow large families and pets with the usual “fees” tagged on top of it.
That brings me to the other part of our dilemma. Fees! Families are usually looking for savings on their trips due to the very nature of the cost of a family to do anything beyond just existing in day to day life. So when I go to websites and they say “double occupancy + $25 for each additional person + $75 pet fee”; let’s just say I cringe and keep looking elsewhere. The additional fees that go beyond the double occupancy, plus the pet fees, taxes, and meal expense make it very difficult for families to do anything together. It seems like the lodging industry is just out to make a buck on the larger families instead of being understanding and accommodating them for the same price in the same room or cabin as a smaller family. Does it seriously cost $25 extra to do the laundry of towels and blankets for each additional person?
I wanted to write about this subject because I know that many other families are out there and have situations just like mine. Maybe someday soon, all my kids will leave the nest and it will get better but we have been dealing with this for a very long time. It’s frustrating to say the least and I am hoping that someone, somewhere, will read this and realize that larger families need to get out and have fun too! For the most part, we have stuck to campgrounds and tents but this is Alaska! We don’t want to camp every single time and some places are very cold at night. Our summers are short and there are seriously a lot of mosquitos in most areas of Alaska. If you have a large family and have dealt with this situation in your adventures, then I totally understand your frustrations.
I planned a nice little camping trip to the Kenai Peninsula for the 4th of July. We were traveling from Palmer, Alaska about 260 miles south to Homer, Alaska; which is about a 5 1/2 hour trip if you don’t stop much. On our way out of the Anchorage area, we stopped and got something to eat at Village Inn for dinner. We did this because we were leaving right after the guys got off of work and just packed up and headed out.
I did not reserve any camping spots as I wanted to “wing” it. This was sort of a test of which campgrounds get the most traffic on the 4th of July. I will have to say that MOST of the campgrounds were jam-packed with 4th of July campers and any empty spots usually had reservation tags on their posts. I don’t mind primitive camping but we hoped to find one with a bathroom due to so many in our group. We had my husband and I, our 18 year old daughter, our 17 year old son, our 12 year old son, our 20 year old nephew, and our large dog.
We did find a great spot for the first night on July 3rd at Morgan’s Landing in Sterling, Alaska. This area is just outside of Soldotna and, since it was well off the highway, it was very quiet. After passing the Moose River on the other side of Sterling, you will find the signs that point to Morgan’s Landing State Recreation Area. This campground has 51 campsites and they are $10 per night. There are many pull-throughs for RV’s and trails that lead down to the Kenai River. This was a very quiet campground, the bathrooms were super clean, and the mosquitoes were moderate. We got in very late and had to very quietly set up camp.
After having breakfast (eggs and bacon) we broke camp and headed south towards Homer. We checked out a few campgrounds on the way down but realized that we must avoid the Kasilof River area due to the heavy amount of dipnetters in the area. Dipnetting is an Alaskan subsistence way of getting fish and it is allowed in only a few rivers.
So, heading past the Kasilof area, we ventured closer to the Ninilchik area. Ninilchik is a Russian Village from back in the days of the purchase of Alaska. They have an old Russian Orthodox church which is a popular stop for tourists and the village has some stores and gift shops that you can visit. We liked the area for the beach access. But we decided to move on and check out the other areas closer to Homer.
Just before reaching Homer, you will want to stop at the top of the hill and check out the view of the Kachemak Bay and the Homer Spit from up above. It is a popular stop and a must see photo opportunity. And then driving down into Homer, you will just stay on the road to head right down onto the Homer Spit. This is also a must see and is most definitely a popular spot on the 4th of July. The spit was super packed and it was honestly a bit unnerving trying to dodge all of the people crossing in front of you. All of the camping sites were over-full and so we just walked around and had some ice cream at one of the little shops.
We ran around Homer for a little bit and then decided to head back towards Ninilchik for the night. We would have rather camped in Anchor Point on the Anchor River but all 5 of their campgrounds were packed full also. Note to self: Get reservations at the Anchor River Campgrounds ahead of time as it was gorgeous there! Now back to the Ninilchik River Campground.
Luckily, the campground was not completely full, even for the 4th of July. The Ninilchik River Campground was based not too far away from the Ninilchik River, the beach access road, and the village of Ninilchik. The campground was $10 per night and there was no host but a park ranger drove through twice. We had BBQ Chicken and baked sweet potatoes for dinner. It was a nice quiet campground but you could still hear the highway vehicles. We weren’t the most quiet campers though, as we had brought those celebration pop-its that you can buy at the store and the kids had a blast with those.
On the night of the 4th, you could hear fireworks being set off in the nearby village. And then the next morning, I heard the Alaska State Trooper pulling over vehicles on the highway. But all in all, this campground was fantastic! There were very few mosquitoes and the bathrooms were very clean.
On the morning of the 5th, after a breakfast of corned beef hash and boiled eggs, we headed over to the beach and spent some time wandering around and enjoying the slight breeze that had rolled in. After spending the morning on the beach in Ninilchik we decided to head back over to the Anchor River for some lunch (sausage dogs and mandarin oranges) and a little trout fishing. That was a great call and we had an awesome picnic lunch there. We didn’t catch anything but there were some small fish running all around the boys while they played in the water.
That afternoon, we decided to head back to Homer to check out Bishop Beach. That was a great call as we hit the area at a perfect low tide. The kids all enjoyed running around the tide pools and checking out all of the little critters under the rocks and we found a ton of shells. It was a bit windy as there was a rain system moving in. But all in all, it was a great time and one that the kids will remember for a very long time. Totally perfect day!
As we headed back to our camp in Ninilchik, we noticed a large amount of clouds moving in and the wind started to feel cold. We made our dinner (hamburgers) that evening in camp and discussed whether we wanted to spend another night with a chance of breaking camp in the rain in the morning or just pack up now and make the long 6 hour drive home that night. We decided to break camp and drive home that night. We were glad we did that as we woke up the next morning to a rain storm outside and we knew that we would have been soaked while taking down the camp.
Well, that pretty much sums up our 4th of July trip and the fun that we had on the Kenai Peninsula. 🙂 I hope that you enjoy the pictures that I have posted within my narrative and if you are ever in Alaska for the 4th of July, please remember to make your reservations ahead of time for any campgrounds that you may want to stay at.
Actually, the highway is called the George Parks Highway, but it is more commonly known as just the Parks Highway, or Alaska Route 3. This 327 mile highway runs from a junction with the Glenn Highway about 35 miles north of Anchorage to Fairbanks. It has been designated a National Scenic Byway and it is also considered an Alaska Scenic Byway from about Mile 132 to Fairbanks.
This highway runs right through the Denali State Park and on the edge of the Denali National Park and Preserve. Mount McKinley, which is locally called Denali (elevation 20,320 feet), is viewable from several points along this highway. It is typically about a 6 hour drive, unless you stop and see the sights like we always do. There are several stops and side trips along the way that will draw your interest for sure.
In this article, I will be pointing out the campgrounds and RV Parks that include tent camping, mostly because a large multitude of the campgrounds are privately run on this highway. Otherwise, I will not post the private businesses. For a complete, mile-by-mile, listing of this highway and all of the RV parks and much more, I highly recommend The Milepost (www.themilepost.com). I will include some points of interest near each camping site whenever possible too. I will start this list at the Glenn-Parks Junction and continue up the Parks Highway to Homer.
For the ease of writing, I will only post the mileposts heading North (N). I will also put a (+) sign if it is within the mile marker; for instance, if the location is at mile 44.4, I will put 44+. You can assume that all campsites have a fire-pit, toilet, and table; unless I claim that it is primitive. Please watch for bears in the campgrounds and moose along the highway. So come along and go camping with me!
Mile N 0 – Starts at mile 0 in Anchorage.
Mile N 35 – Glenn-Parks Interchange: The sign heading north indicates that the Glenn Highway ends and the Parks Highway begins. Thus begins Alaska Route 3.
Mile N 36+ – Exit to Trunk Road: This newly completed road will take you to not only the hospital but also the Mat-Su Visitor Center and Veterans Monument. It will also eventually take you to Finger Lake State Recreation Site.
If you travel down Trunk Road to Bogard Road and go through the roundabout heading west down Bogard (left); you will find the Finger Lake State Recreation Site at mile 6.6 Bogard Road. This park has 39 campsites with wheelchair-accessible toilets, water, and boat launch.
Mile N 42.2 – Junction with Main Street/Wasilla Fishhook Road & Knik-Goose Bay Road: This confusing intersection throws many travelers. Heading North, is Main Street which turns into Wasilla Fishhook Road within a few blocks (at Bogard Intersection). Wasilla Fishhook heads toward the hills and junctions with Palmer Fishhook Road, which heads northeast to Hatcher Pass Road and Independence Mine State Historical Park or south towards Palmer (see more about Hatcher Pass at Camping on the Glenn Highway [coming soon]). If you take Knik-Goose Bay Road, instead of Main Street, you will head towards Point Mackenzie and it’s a nice side trip.
About 2 miles in, you will find the main entrance for the Iditarod Trail sled Dog Race™ Headquarters and visitor center. Just after that turnoff is Endeavor Street and about ½ a mile down that road is Lake Lucille Park (managed by the Mat-Su borough) campground and day use area. This campground has 59 sites, picnic pavilions, water, restrooms, playground, and trails at Lake Lucille.
At about 13 miles in, you will come across Knik Historic District which has a private campground on Knik Lake. (I have heard recently that this campground is for sale, so am not sure if it will be open for a little while.)
At just over 17 miles in you will find a junction with Point Mackenzie road. Follow this road for about 7 ½ miles and you will come to a “T” junction. If you turn left, you will head out to Point Mackenzie; if you turn right, you will head towards Susitna Flats State Game Refuge. We will head right from here and follow the road around the bend to the left.
At about 10 miles in, you will come to a fork in the road (after passing some railroad construction); take the road to the right. Then about 3 more miles in, you will come to the Little Susitna River Public-use Facility. You will find 40 campsites, outhouses, boat ramps, water, and great fishing. Please watch for bears and bring extra mosquito repellent.
Return to the Parks Highway at Mile 42.2 and continue north.
Mile N 52+ – Junction with Big Lake Road: Taking Big Lake Road will bring you into a resort destination for most Alaskans. In the winter, the lake has roads graded into it and they usually have snowmachine races and such. In the summer, you will find boaters and ATVs. There are three state recreation sites in the area that include swimming, camping, boating, fishing and much more.
At a little over 3 miles in, there is a junction with Beaver Lake Road. You can take this road to visit Martin Buser’s Kennels and Rocky Lake. Follow the signs to Rocky Lake State Recreation Site with 12 campsites on a gravel loop road with outhouses, water pump, and boat launch. (Lake is closed to jet skis, jet boats, and airboats)
At about 3 ½ miles on Big Lake Road, you will come to a “Y”, which is a junction with North Shore Drive. Take a right (North Shore Drive) and follow it for 1 ½ miles to the end at Big Lake North State Recreation Site with 60 overnight parking spaces and some walk-in tent sites. They have outhouses, shelters, water, and boat launch.
Stay on Big Lake Road to a bit over 5 miles and you will find the Big Lake South State Recreation Site. This park has a bumpy, graveled parking area with an overnight area that includes 20 campsites, outhouses, water, fishing, and boat ramp.
Back to the Parks Highway
Mile N 57+ – Little Susitna River Campground: (Houston city operated) Take a right like your heading towards the public safety building and you will find the campground around to the right. This nice sized campground has 86 sites with a playground, restrooms, water pump, and picnic pavilion.
Mile N 66+ – Nancy Lake State Recreation Site: Turn west and then left (south) on Buckingham Palace Road and then go about a 1/3 of a mile to Nancy Lake State Recreation Site. This campground has 30 campsites with toilets and public access to Nancy Lake.
Mile N 67+ – Junction withNancy Lake Parkway(South Rolly Lake Campground): This very small side road heads into the Nancy Lake State Recreation Area with lots of canoeing and public-use cabins (www.dnr.state.ak.us). There are lots of trailheads down this road that ends at South Rolly Lake Campground. This campground is heavily wooded and has 98 campsites with toilets, water, canoe rental, boat launch and fishing for trout.
Back to the Parks Highway
Mile N 70+ – Junction with Willow Creek Parkway (Willow Creek State Recreation Area): Take the Willow Creek Parkway to head to the Deshka Landing boat launch. To go to the campground at Willow Creek State Recreation Area, follow Willow Creek Parkway for nearly 4 miles. This campground has paved parking for side-by-side camping with tables, water, toilets, and really great fishing. They also have interpretive signs, walking paths, and campground host.
Back to the Parks Highway
Mile N 82+ – Susitna Landing Access Facility: This campground and boat launch is run by a concessionaire on ADF&G land. There are fees charged for camping and it has an RV Park, playground, boat launch, cabin rentals, restrooms, showers, and bank fishing.
Mile N 84+ – Caswell Creek: Take Susitna Shores to a public access for fishing at Caswell Creek. It has some extremely primitive campsites and there are a few portable bathroom stalls at the entrance. The fishing is down a steep cliff. Bring a case of mosquito repellent.
Mile N 86 – Sheep Creek Slough: Public fishing access with a graveled parking area, toilets, and a wheelchair-accessible trail. There is no fee and it is primitive camping (last checked). A really great fishing spot.
Mile N 88 – Sheep Creek Lodge: this lodge has cabins and camping. This lodge also has a restaurant and you must see the large burls on the porch. (Last seen, the Lodge was closed and for sale.)
Mile N 96+ – Montana Creek Campground: Campground is on the east side of the highway, while the Montana Creek State Recreation Site is on the west side of the highway. Both sides have camping. On the east side, you will find a general store, short-term parking for fishermen, and firewood. On the west side, the camping is a bit more primitive. There is a pedestrian tunnel under the highway and a pedestrian bridge. There is also a public access trail to the mouth of the Montana Creek on the Susitna River. Great fishing opportunities here.
Mile N 96+ – Chetta’s Corner: Listed as unsupervised camping. Rules and rates are posted.
Mile 111+ – Junction Talkeetna Spur Road: The Talkeetna Spur Road heads north to the community of Talkeetna (population: 848). This area is truly Alaskan and it is a must see for anyone visiting! I highly recommend more than a quick passing through. There are two camping options.
Head to the end of Main Street and you will find tent camping at the Talkeetna River Park. Another option would be to head to the private campground called the Talkeetna RV Park and Campground found at the public boat launch by turning off at the airport and following the signs.
Back to the Parks Highway
Mile N 104+ – Susitna River Bridge: There is a western access to gravel bars on the north side of the bridge. I have seen people primitive camping in this area. There are no facilities whatsoever.
Mile N 114+ – Trapper Creek Inn & RV Park: I mention this RV Park because there are not many camping grounds nearby for Trapper Creek. It is a one stop shop with many conveniences. You can also camp there, so that is a plus.
Mile N 114+ – Junction with Petersville Road: Petersville Road heads nearly 19 miles into the wilderness and is a major recreational destination for Alaskans. It was built as a mining road with a lot of history attached. There are no major campgrounds but lots of cabins, lodges, and some primitive camping.
At just over 18 miles in, you will come to a fork in the road, the right fork heads to the Forks Roadhouse. The left fork heads to Peters Creek which has some informal camping available with no facilities. There is a bridge that crosses the creek but is restricted to the types of vehicles that can cross. It is a beautiful area with some nice fishing capabilities.
Back to the Parks Highway
Mile N 115+ – Trapper Creek Trading Post: On the east side of the highway, you will find this trading post that also provides cabins and a campground. There are other amenities available too.
Mile N 134+ – Denali Viewpoint South (Denali State Park): This small area is heavily trafficked with mostly day use capabilities. It gets a lot of traffic and is right on the highway. However, it has some of the best views of Denali. There are 9 campsites with toilets, water pump, and the parking area can accommodate large vehicles. There is also a scenic viewpoint, viewing scopes, and an 800 foot long uphill trail to overlook.
Mile N 137+ – Lower Troublesome Creek campground and trailhead: You will find 10 campsites in the trees with 32 overnight parking spaces, picnic sites, toilets, water, and trailhead. There is a 0.6 mile trail to the Chulitna River from this area.
Mile 147 – Byers Lake Campground (Denali State Park): This campground features a nice day use parking area with picnic tables and cabins that are available to rent from www.dnr.state.ak.us. There are 73 sites with a dump station, wheelchair accessible toilets, water, and many trails. There is a trail that also connects you to the Veterans Memorial, which is the very next turnoff after Byers Lake Campground. This area is a must see and has an interpretive kiosk, viewing scopes, visitor information center, and is a very popular picnic spot.
Mile N 162+ – Denali View North Campground: This Park has some day use parking and 20 side-by-side spaces for overnight parking with picnic tables, firepits, interpretive kiosks, spotting scope, nature trail and it overlooks the Chulitna River and views of Denali.
Mile N 194+ – Primitive camping and parking: Watch for spots to have primitive campsites on the side of the road. There is informal parking next to the Middle Fork Chulitna River. Watch for Caribou in this area. I have seen the Caribou in the brush starting from mile 194 to mile 210, and then on up into The Denali Highway.
Mile N 210 – Junction the Denali Highway: Please see my upcoming article on this Highway. Another must see for tourists with many camping capabilities.
Mile N 231 – Denali Grizzly Bear Resort: The only AAA-approved campground in the Denali area. They have many accommodations available and they have riverside tent areas. Visit www.denaligrizzlybear.com for more information.
Mile N 237+ – Junction with Park Road/Denali National Park and Preserve: This is the entrance to the Park Road and a great spot for pictures. There is a visitor center, shuttle services, and so much more. I highly recommend this area to all tourists and locals who want to camp and have a lot of activities available. I also recommend that you visit http://www.nps.gov/dena/index.htm to make reservations, get maps, and any other details that might be needed for a successful trip into the Denali area. There are a lot of rules and regulations so be sure to check out all of the links. Also, be very careful about the bears!
Since this park has many different rules that are very different from normal camping rules, I am just going to describe the locations of the 6 campgrounds. You can do primitive camping and backpacking in the back country, but you need permits and there are some extensive rules and you must watch the backcountry simulator program first. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of wolves, bears, and such out there and they want the least impact on the park possible. Stop by the Wilderness Access Center at about 0.2 mile on the Park Road.
At about a 1/3 of a mile in, you will find the largest campground in the park. Riley Creek Campground has 147 spaces that are located along 3 gravel loops. They feature a Mercantile, shuttles, laundry and shower facilities, and many other amenities. This campground pretty much has it all but the spaces are limited (even at 147) and you would do well to reserve your spaces ahead of time. This campground is open year round but has no running water in the winter.
If you travel in to mile 12.8, you will find the Savage River Campground with 33 campsites that includes 3 group tent sites. There is a trail, restrooms, and firepits. You must have a permit or shuttle bus ticket to go beyond the Savage River check station.
At mile 22 you will see the Sanctuary River Campground that accommodates tents only. You can access this campground via shuttle bus only and no reservations in advance allowed. There is also a Sanctuary River ranger station.
At mile 29.1 you will find the Teklanika River Campground which is at an elevation of 2,580 feet. There is Tent camping, RV’s, and 5th wheels allowed but no trailers or towed vehicles. There is a water filling station. You must have a camping reservation and it’s a good idea to watch for bears in the area.
Igloo Creek Campground is found at mile 34.2 and it is tent camping only. They have vault toilets, and the only water is from the creek. You must reserve these spots and there are grizzlies in the area.
The final campground is at mile 84.6 and it is called Wonder Lake Campground, which is at an elevation of 2,090 feet. There are tents only allowed here and access is shuttle bus only. You can see Mount McKinley (Denali) from here and lots of Denali calendars feature it’s reflection in Wonder Lake.
I feel it important to note that at the end of Park Road are several lodges, resorts, and camps. Please make reservations in advance.
Back to the Parks Highway
**Caution** Please drive carefully and slowly through the next 10 miles due to people crossing the street.
Mile 240+ – Denali Riverside RV Park: this is a private park but it has some great views of the river that is nearby and it is only a few miles from the park entrance. You will find 90 sites; some with RV pull-throughs and some are dry and tent camping. There are handicapped-accessible bathrooms, TV, pay showers, laundry, gift shop, tours, and more.
Mile 247 – Junction with Otto Lake Road(Denali Outdoor Center): If you travel a ½ mile down this road you will find the Denali Outdoor Center which has some cabins and a campground. They also offer many tourist packages that include kayaking and equipment rentals. It is about 10 minutes to the Park Entrance from here.
Mile 248+ – McKinley RV & Campground: This area has tent and RV sites that are wooded right off the highway. There is free Wi-Fi, shuttle to Denali Park, a grocery store, gas station, deli, ATM, and Brewery/Restaurant. You will find a lot of amenities at this this campground for sure.
Mile 276 – Tatlanika Trading Co. and RV Park: This gorgeous site is right on the Nenana River and has tent sites and RV parking with services. They also have a dump station, clean restrooms, showers, laundry, and water. There are also trails and they are only 39 miles from the Denali Park. You can also view their educational and historical displays.
Mile 283+ – Junction with Clear Air Force Station and Anderson: This is a ballistic missile early warning site (Military installation) and also the small town of Anderson (pop: 536) is nearby. You cannot enter the military base but you can turn right and travel 1.2 miles into Anderson which has a small amount of services.
At the end of the road (a bit over 6 miles in), is the Anderson Riverside City Park. This park is a bit simplistic but it has 40 sites on the Nenana River and lots of room to run. The last time I came to this site for a picnic the place seemed a bit rundown but that was about 5 years ago. I hope that they have started maintaining it better.
Back to the Parks Highway
Mile 304+ – Entering Nenana (Nenana RV Park & Campground): Take the junction to the right to enter Nenana (pop: 553) at A Street and then take a right on 4th. You will then find the Nenana RV Park & Campground. This is the only campground in the area although I am not sure of the amenities that they provide. I will update you the next time I travel through the area. This city sits on the confluence of the Tanana and the Nenana Rivers and is home to the Nenana Ice Classic.
**Fairbanks arrival and junction with the Richardson Highway (Alaska Route 2 South) and Steese Highway (Alaska Route 2 North). I will write about Fairbanks campgrounds in another article.
I will leave you here and continue with writing about the camping opportunities of the different highways within Alaska. I hope this has helped you and please let me know if you have any questions about camping on the Parks Highway or anywhere else in Alaska.
The Seward Highway has garnered a triple threat of designations: National Forest Scenic Byway, All-American Road, and Alaska Scenic Byway. This beautiful highway travels 127 miles from Anchorage to the community of Seward on the Kenai Peninsula. The first 9 miles are within the city of Anchorage and it is called the New Seward Highway.
In this article, I will be listing all of the camping sites on the Seward Highway (Alaska Route 1 & 9) that I know of and what I know of them. Some will be RV capable and some may be primitive; however I will not post RV park businesses unless there is a special circumstance and I will post that circumstance. For a complete, mile-by-mile, listing of this highway and all of the RV parks and much more, I highly recommend The Milepost (www.themilepost.com). I will include some points of interest near each camping site whenever possible too. I will start this list just outside of Anchorage and continue down the Seward Highway to Homer.
For the ease of writing, I will only post the mileposts heading South (S). I will also put a (+) sign if it is within the mile marker; for instance, if the location is at mile 44.4, I will put 44+. You can assume that all campsites have a firepit and table, unless I claim that it is primitive. Please watch for bears in the campgrounds and moose along the highway. So come along and go camping with me!
Mile S 101+ – Bird Creek, Chugach State Park: There is a parking area to the east for day-use with interpretive signs and 20 overflow spots. To the West is the campground with 28 campsites, toilets, water, and payphone. There is a paved bike trail from Indian to Bird Creek that runs about 3 miles and goes through the campground. **Warning: Do not go out on the mud flats as it is like quicksand.
Mile S 90 (Side Trip) – Girdwood – Alyeska Highway: The 3 mile Alyeska Highway heads into Girdwood which is known for the skiing and hiking in Alyeska. There is an Aerial Tram and a restaurant on the mountain.
Forest Fair Park – has 20 walk-in campsites available off of Egloff Drive. I have seen people camping there and there is a playground nearby. It is pretty full during certain times of year, especially during the Alyeska Blueberry Festival.
Crow Creek Mine National Historic Site: At mile 1.9 of the Alyeska Highway, you turn down Crow Creek Road and travel 3 miles down to the site. There is a trailhead for Crow Pass Trail at mile 6.
Return to Mile S 90 of the Seward Highway.
Mile S 78+ (Side trip) – Portage Glacier Access Road/Whittier: This road is your access to both the Glaciers, campgrounds, and the port town of Whittier whose only access is through a 2.5 mile shared train/vehicle tunnel. The Portage Glacier area has a visitor’s center, a lake cruise to the Glacier, campgrounds and some awesome scenery. One thing you may want to know is that you can camp pretty much anywhere along the Portage Glacier Access Road. The port town of Whittier is fairly small with a winter population of 159 souls. They grow quite a bit during the summer due to all of the cruise ships and tunnel traffic. The tunnel charges round trip tolls depending on the vehicle size.
At about 3 ½ miles in, you will see the Black Bear USFS Campground; which has 12 campsites, toilets, and it is a nicely wooded area. Watch for bears in this and all areas of this road. I have seen them cross very near here.
At a little over 4 miles in, you will see the Williwaw USFS Campground. This campsite is very near the Middle Glacier and has 60 campsites with some pull-through sites, water, and lots of trails. There is a fish viewing platform nearby. Again, watch for bears.
As you go through the tunnel and enter into Whittier, you will come across a road on the left before coming to the Whittier Creek. It is a beach access road (not sure of the name of the road) with parking, bathrooms, and no other services. I have seen people camping in this beach area.
Just past Whittier Creek, you will see Whittier Street on the right. This road will take you to the paid parking and there is a campground nearby with basic accommodations but no services for RVs.
Return to mile S 78.9 of the Seward Highway.
Mile S 75 – Welcome to the Kenai Peninsula! It is fair to note that most any pull out or gravel pit allows primitive camping on the side of this highway, but I will mention the ones that I have seen used the most. Just make sure it is not private property and does not have any “no fires/camping” signs. Be careful of any wildlife in the area.
Mile S 68.5 (West) & 68 (East) – Turnagain Pass Recreation Area: (elevation 988 ft) Parking areas with bathrooms and picnic tables on both sides of the highway. This area is a favorite for snowmobilers (west side) and cross country skiers (east side.) Snow often reaches 12 feet and might last well into June. There are some great trails here but the camping will be mostly in your RV or farther in on the trail and very primitive if you walk into the trails. It was worth mentioning this area though.
Mile S 67+ – Primitive gravel camping area. On the west side is gravel access to some informal camping.
Mile S 65+ – Bertha Creek USFS Campground: This small campground has 12 sites with water, toilets, and bear proof food lockers. It is in a wooded area by a creek so be watchful of bears.
Mile S 62+ – Granite Creek USFS Campground: Take the gravel road nearly a mile to the campground that has 19 sites with toilets, water, firewood, host (usually), interpretive signs and fishing. Pretty nice area and you must still watch for bears. Yes, it requires repeating it often.
Mile S 56+ (Side Trip) – Hope Highway Junction: This paved highway is nearly 18 miles long towards the small community of Hope, which is an old gold rush mining town from the late 1800’s. With a population of 151 and some buildings still in good shape from the gold mining days, you can really enjoy this small oasis that is preserved so well.
At about 16 miles in, you will find a junction with Resurrection Creek Road. This road leads to the airport and some trails, but at about ½ mile in you can take Palmer Creek Road which gives you a gravel access into Chugach National Forest. If you go 7 miles down Palmer Creek Road, you will find the Coeur d’Alene USFS Campground with 6 walk-in primitive campsites. (No fee) Watch for bears and I do not recommend this road for RVs or trailers. Return to Hope Highway.
At nearly 17 miles down the Hope Highway, you will find the center of Hope towards the beach. There is access to the Seaview Café and Bar and campground. I do not know very much about this camping area so I am just mentioning it as an option.
At the end of the highway, about 18 miles in, you will a nearly 1 mile loop road that runs through the Porcupine USFS Campground. This campground boasts 24 paved campsites with outhouse, water, firewood, trails, and some overlooks with great views of the Turnagain Arm. I highly recommend this campground and the Hope area for those that want to see Alaska in depth. Watch for bears, once again.
Return to Mile S 56+ of the Seward Highway.
Mile S 46 – Tenderfoot Creek USFS Campground: About ½ a mile in on a gravel road, you will find a nice campground that is located at the back of Upper Summit Lake. There are 35 sites with water, toilets (wheelchair accessible), boat launch, and fishing. Please be bear aware here. There is a lodge nearby with food and lodging. It is a very beautiful area and they ice fish at this lake during the winter too.
Mile S 39+ – Devils Creek Trail: There is an expert trail that runs 10 miles into the hills and starts at 1,000 feet and runs up into 2,400 feet. There are camping options available (very primitive) at miles 2.3 and 5.3 along the trail. There is also a public-use cabin (must be reserved in advance).
Mile S 37+ – Southbound exit for Sterling Highway (Alaska Route 1): To continue to Seward, continue straight ahead on Alaska Route 9. For the Sterling highway and its campgrounds, click here.
Mile S 37 – Tern Lake Junction (Sterling Highway 2nd junction): You can turn here to access a second junction with the Sterling Highway (Alaska Route 1) if you want, but I mention it because you must turn here to access Tern Lake USFS Wildlife Viewing Area. There are not campsites here but I have seen people do primitive camping in the parking area corners. This is a great spot to see nesting birds and other wildlife. Return to Alaska Route 9, the Seward Highway.
Alaska Route 9: Heading toward Seward. Travel slowly through Moose Pass (at mile S 28) and stop in and visit a few places here.
Mile S 24+ – Trail River USFS Campground: There is a side road that leads 1.2 miles in to this gorgeous campground. I highly recommend this campground which has 91 campsites with day-use picnic sites, shelter, volleyball net, playground, and host. This is a great place for berry picking in the fall.
Mile S 23+ – Ptarmigan Creek USFS Campground: This is a cozy campground with 16 campsites featuring water, toilets, and fishing in the creek or in Ptarmigan Lake (hike in 3.5 miles). There will be salmon spawning in the creek in the fall.
Mile S 16+ – Primrose USFS Campground: This campground is located about a mile down Primrose Spur Road (past private homes) on the Kenai Lake. It is a dirt road and may not be great for larger RVs or trailers. The day use area is located on the lake and has a sizable beach that many use for access to the Kenai Lake for winter snowmobiling. The campground has 8 sites in a heavily wooded area with toilets, boat ramp, firepits, and water. There is a trail that is used for hikers in the summer and snowmobilers in the winter which runs 6.5 miles and connects with Lost Creek Trail (7 miles).
Mile S 3+ – Exit Glacier Road via Herman Leirer Road: Turn to the west for Exit Glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park. This road travels nearly 8 ½ miles to reach Exit Glacier. I will warn you right now, there are a lot of bears in the area!
Right after turning onto the Herman Leirer Road, take a right onto the Old Exit Glacier Road loop. Travel about 1 ½ miles in and you will enter the Glacier Road Special Use Area with semi-primitive camping and an 8 day camping limit.
If you don’t take the Old Exit Glacier Loop junction, and remain on Herman Leirer Road, you will enter the Kenai Fjords National Park at about 1.3 miles in. This road is closed in the winter to vehicles but open to skiers, snow machines, and mushers. You are now entering Exit Glacier Road Special Use Area (Alaska DNR) with recreational tent and RV (no services) camping at designated pullouts along the next 2.2 miles of the road. There is an 8 day limit, outhouses, and you must pack out your garbage. This is a fairly primitive area with gorgeous views of the river and surrounding areas.
At about 8 miles in you will find the turn on your left for a walk-in tent campground with 12 sites. There is a bathroom, picnic shelter with bear proof food locker, and no fees. I personally have seen pictures of cars that have been broken into by large bears in this area and they open them up like a tin can. Please be careful and aware. Just past this camping area is the Exit Glacier Nature Center, which is a must-see for anyone visiting the area.
Return to the Seward Highway at mile S 3.7.
Mile S 2+ – Forest Acres Municipal Campground (At Hemlock St.): You will find wooded sites on a gravel loop with flush toilets and RV hookups.
Mile S 2+ – Seward Military Resort/Seward Air Force Camp (via Sea Lion Dr.): Both vacation facilities for active and retired military. There are camping sites available as well as cabins and RV services in both areas. This area is beautiful and well kept. If you or someone is your party is active or retired military or a federal employee, you will gain access to this coveted camping area.
Mile S 0 – Two more areas to mention that are not on the Seward Highway but are accessible. The Waterfront Park Municipal Campground is located literally on the waterfront in Seward (between the docks and downtown) and they have some RV hookups, restrooms with coin-op showers, and a dump station. (Owned by the City of Seward)
Another area to mention is Lowell Point Recreation Area that is located past Seward on Lowell Point Road (3 miles). There is the Lowell Point State Recreation Site with many trails available, but be sure to take a tide table book with you as much of the trails require low tide access.
In Lowell Point, down Pinnacle View Road, you will find the Lowell Point State Recreation Area Beach Parking with a trail to the beach. The beach is beautiful and a great area for photographs. Throughout this community, you will find private campgrounds, cabins and other lodging and kayaking businesses. The two that I am aware of are Millers Landing and The Silver Derby Campground & RV Park.
Don’t forget to visit the Alaska Sealife Centerwhile you are in Seward. I also find that a short cruise can take you to see Fox Island, a multitude of glaciers, and tons of sea life. Halibut fishing is a definite perk and don’t forget to walk through downtown Seward and the docks to get a closer glimpse into the locals world in beautiful Seward. This area is one of my favorite weekend vacation spots.
Growing up in Alaska, I have heard many of the legends, myths, and rumors in and around this state. The legend of the Sleeping Lady has been one of the most shared legends that I know of. The legend states that I heard while growing is stated to have been an old native legend; however I have heard recently that their legend is much different than the one I grew up with and that one was most likely created by old miners or homesteaders.
The basics of what I heard were that long ago there were a race of giant people and that there was a princess named Susitna who was waiting for fiancé warrior who never returned. She fell asleep while waiting and became Mount Susitna, also known as the sleeping lady. This mountain across the Cook Inlet from Anchorage has this legend and then another from the original people in the area, the Dena’ina.
Here is the legend I knew as a child:
Long ago, there lived a Gentle Giant people. The Giant people loved their land in lived in peace and harmony. The children played and danced and the adults talked of their land that stretched into the inlet by the sea.
Within the Giant People’s tribe, there lived a young couple: Susitna and Nekatla. These two young people loved each other like no others. Their love lit up the sky with great dancing lights and their people loved and respected them for their devotion to one another.
One terrible day, a stranger visited the Giant People. He told them stories of a fierce and warlike tribe that lived far to the North. The stranger warned that the Giant People would one day be attacked by the warlike tribe.
After hearing the news, the Great Chief of the Giant People gathered the tribe together in council. The Giant People decided that all of the men, young and old, would travel North to convince the warlike tribe to live in peace and harmony.
Susitna and Nekatla knew they would be separated for a long time. They walked hand in hand to their favorite plateau, overlooking the slender inlet. Nekatla gazed into Susitna’s tearful eyes and promised her that he would return. He asked that she wait at this spot, as he wanted to find her as soon as he returned.
Many days and nights passed with no sign of the Giant Men or Nekatla. Susitna wove baskets and picked berries, but she grew weary and lay down on the plateau and was soon fast asleep. Meanwhile, the Giant People’s Men arrived at the Northern Warlike Village.
Their plea for peace and harmony was met with a swift and terrible answer. Suddenly the Warlike Tribe attacked the Giant People. The battle was fierce, but short. Many of the Giant People were killed and others were taken prisoner.
The news of the disaster quickly swept across the Great Land. The name of Nekatla was on everyone’s lips, for he too had fallen. With his last breathe he spoke the name of his precious Susitna. The women of the Giant People could not bear to awaken Susitna and tell her the fateful news. To shield her from heart break they wove a blanket of grass and wildflowers and gently placed it over her sleeping form.
That night the women prayed to their Gods to place Susitna in a deep, unwakening sleep. The Gods answered the women’s prayers, but the price was high, as the Great land would be changed forever. The air tuned cold and a light snow began to cover Susitna and the long stretch of land that ran into the inlet. That snow was the first that had fallen in the Great Land.
Days turned into years and Susitna continued to sleep and dream of Nekatla’s return. The Giant People disappeared from the Great Land, and a different smaller people came in their place to watch over the Sleeping Susitna. Each summer her sleeping body is still covered by the blanket of grass and wildflowers and each winter the God’s gently place a soft blanket of snow upon her.
There are some who say that when all the warring people of the world disappear and peace and harmony return, Nekatla will awaken his sleeping Susitna. But today few remember the Giant People. Many call the great mountain Susitna but the wise, who believe the legend, gaze at her from a distance and respectfully address her as the “Lady”.
As you can see, this story has a lot of beautiful drama with a fairly sad ending. It is the story I knew as a child but, even then, there are a few different versions of this legend. There is another legend told by the Dena’ina people but it is quite different from this one.
The basics of this legend are as follows:
Cook Inlet Region Inc. Historian A.J. McLanahan cited evidence that Mount Susitna was sacred to the Dena’ina people in the area, and linked the mountain, which they called “Dghelishla,” or “little mountain,” with Denali, which they called “Dghelay Ka’a,” or “big mountain.”
In “A Dena’ina Legacy,” Peter Kalifornsky told the story of the Mountain People who gathered at Susitna, and a giant lady who said she would lie down by the river she loved to become Susitna Mountain. Her relatives followed, Kalifornsky said, to become Mount Redoubt, Mount Iliamna and the Chigmit Mountain Range. Another wandered inland to become Denali.
And yet another version of the Dena’ina legend:
The Dena’ina name for Mount Susitna is Dghelishla, “little mountain.” It is a sacred place. Here, Dena’ina elders said, the ancestors of the Nulchina clan descended from the sky on a frozen cloud. Here, the renowned Dena’ina qeshqa, Diqelas Tukda, obtained spiritual power. Here, centuries before, a young Dena’ina man from Tuqen Kaq’ (Alexander Creek) discovered a deposit of copper and through trade became rich.
The ridge sloping to the south of Dghelishla is Ch’chihi Ken, “Ridge Where We Cry.” Shem Pete explained this name:
That big ridge going downriver from Dghelishla all the way to Beluga,
They call Ch’chihi Ken.
They would sit down there.
Everything is in view.
They can see their whole country.
Everything is just right under them.
They think about their brothers and their fathers and mothers.
They remember that,
And they just sit down there and cry.
That’s the place we cry all the time,
‘Cause everything just show up plain.
That’s why they call it Ch’chihi Ken.
I find it very interesting that this simple beautiful mountain has so many stories and legends connected to it. I love all of them and I am just so very glad that this beautiful Mt. Susitna, forever known as The Sleeping Lady, is in my view on a daily basis.
If you enjoyed this story, then please follow me for some more Alaskan information and stories in the future.
Camping on the Kenai – Sterling Highway (Alaska Route 1)
Rumor has it that the Kenai Peninsula has the best salmon fishing in the world. I think that used to be considered general knowledge, but times have changed and so have the salmon runs. Russian River reds are still running somewhat thick each year. While it’s still great for fishing, it does not have the runs like they used to in the 80’s or even the 90’s. Still, camping is a sure thing on the Kenai Peninsula and lots of fun. The Sterling Highway begins at the Seward Junction, 90 miles south of Anchorage and spans 143 miles south towards the coastal community of Homer.
In this article, I will be listing all of the camping sites on the Sterling Highway (Alaska Route 1) that I know of and what I know of them. Some will be RV capable and some may be primitive; however I will not post RV park businesses unless there is a special circumstance and I will post that circumstance. For a complete, mile-by-mile, listing of this highway and all of the RV parks and much more, I highly recommend The Milepost (www.themilepost.com). I will include some points of interest near each camping site whenever possible too. I will start this list at the junction of the Seward and Sterling Highways and continue down the Sterling Highway to Homer.
For the ease of writing, I will only post the mileposts heading South (S). I will also put a (+) sign if it is within the mile marker; for instance, if the location is at mile 44.4, I will put 44+. You can assume that all campsites have a firepit and table, unless I claim that it is primitive. Please watch for bears in the campgrounds and moose along the highway. So come along and go camping with me!
Mile S 44+ – Quartz Creek Campground (USFS) & Crescent Creek Campground (USFS): On Quartz Creek road (near Sunrise Inn), go about a 1/8 of mile down to the Quartz Creek day use area. Then at around half a mile you will find the Quartz Creek Campground with 45 sites with flush toilets available. (Reservations: 1-877-444-6777 or www.recreation.gov). The pavement ends just past this campground.
At just after a mile in, the road will fork. If you go left, at nearly 3 miles in you will find the Crescent Creek Campground with 9 sites, toilet, and water pump. If you continue on the road past the campground, you will find the Crescent Creek Trailhead, which is 6.2 miles to Crescent Lake. There is a public-use cabin at the lake that requires a permit. If you go right at the fork in the road (mile 1), you will reach the day-use area on the Kenai Lake; however there are no toilets or tables.
Mile S 47+ – Cooper Lake (Snug Harbor Road): Just past the Kenai Bridge is the road that heads up into the mountains for about 12 miles to reach Cooper Lake. Pavement ends about a mile in and the gravel road conditions really depend on the year and the grading.
At mile 10, you will find a winter recreation site for snowmachines that heads up into the Chugach National Forest. At nearly 11 miles, you will find the Rainbow lake Trailhead with a ¼ mile trail to trout fishing. Then a little over 11 miles in you will see the Russian Lakes Trailhead, which is a fairly long trail at 23 miles. There are public-use cabins on the trail but permits are required.
At a little over 12 miles, you will find a gate (large vehicles turnaround here) and a short access, very rough road down to the lake. Cooper Lake offers primitive camping (with no facilities and no fees) and beautiful views.
Mile S 50+ – Cooper Creek Campground (South) & (North): At mile 50.5, there is a bridge over Cooper Creek and, just after the bridge, is the turn off, South, to Cooper Creek Campground (USFS) with 23 sites and some outhouses. I have some great memories of this campground from when I was a child. There is access to the creek and it is nicely wooded and well maintained. If you continue past the South entrance to mile 50.6, you will find the exit to Cooper Creek Campground (North). The narrow short gravel road leads you to a small camping area with 7 sites and an outhouse.
Mile S 52+ – Russian River Campground (USFS): You will follow a paved road for about 2 miles once you enter. This campground has parking areas for day-use, trailheads, overflow parking, dump station, and a campground with 84 sites with toilets available. Watch for bears!!! Bears are extremely common in this area and they will attack! This campsite is often full to overflowing during the summer due to the famous Russian River Red salmon runs. (Reservations: 1-877-444-6777 or www.recreation.gov) (**Note: To cross the Kenai River and fish, use the Russian River Ferry at mile 54.9 on Sterling Highway)
Mile S 58 – Skilak Lake Loop Road Campgrounds (4 total): Skilak Lake Loop Road leaves the Sterling Highway at mile 58 and travels 19 miles (gravel; original highway) through the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area and reconnects with the Sterling Highway at mile 75.3. This is a known brown bear habitat so watch for bears! There are many trailheads along this road so I will only point out the four campgrounds.
At about 3.5 miles in, you will find the Hidden Lake Campground which is about a ½ mile in. This campground has 44 sites, picnic pavilions, dump station, wheel-chair accessible toilets, water, and a boat launch. This campground holds a ton of memories for me. There is some great trout fishing and many summer activities here.
At nearly 8.5 miles in, you will come across the beautiful Upper Skilak Lake Campground, which is about 2 miles in along Lower Ohmer Lake. There are 25 sites, toilets, water, and boat launch. There is also a day-use picnic area.
Just past that, at around 8.6 miles, the Lower Ohmer Lake Campground is a very small campground with a narrow road. It has only 5 sites, toilet, and a boat launch. You can trout fish from this lake.
The last campground on Skilak Lake Road is the Lower Skilak Lake Campground at mile 13.7. There is a 1 mile gravel road that leads to 3 large parking areas, boat launch, and the campground. The campground has 14 sites, toilets, picnic areas, and boat launch for Skilak Lake and Kenai River fishing. The lake is cold and has fierce winds from a glacier, so please wear life jackets. Watch for bears! (**Return to Sterling Highway at mile 75.3**)
Mile S 59+ – Jean Lake Campground: There is a large gravel turnoff to the north and there is no sign for this entrance. This is a nearly primitive campground with only 3 sites, a picnic area, and a boat launch. At the time that I visited, there were no toilets.
Mile S 68+ – Kelly & Petersen Lakes: Turn to the south and you will encounter a fork. Go to the right for Petersen Lake with a small campground with lakeside gravel parking, toilet, water, and boat launch. Go straight for Kelly Lake with a similar camping set up as Petersen Lake. Both lakes are pretty basic in amenities but they do have rainbow trout in them. There is access to the Seven Lakes trail.
Mile S 71+ – Watson Lake public campground: There are parking areas on both sides of the highway. There is an entrance with only 3 sites, toilets, water, and steep boat launch (for canoes, etc). This is a very basic campground with access to the East Fork Moose River trailhead. Watson Lake has rainbow trout.
Mile S 80+ – Bing’s Landing State Recreation Site: A half a mile down this road brings you to a well-maintained campground with 36 sites, picnic area, toilets (wheelchair accessible), water, and boat launch. There is access to the Kenai River by walking the Naptowne Trail, which is a ¾ mile hike to Rapids Hole.
Mile S 81+ – Izaak Walton State Recreation Site: This campground is located at the junction of the Moose and Kenai Rivers. There is paved access to the day-use parking area, boat launch, and camping area. The campground has 31 sites with toilets, water, and lots of fishing. This area is famous for salmon and trout fishing. There are a lot of amenities in the nearby town of Sterling.
Mile S 83+ – Swanson River Road Campgrounds (North): The Swanson River Road leads to what Alaska Magazine calls “a world-class canoe trail system.” This area that is in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge hosts 2 canoe trails. The 60-mile Swan Lake route connects 30 lakes, while the 80-mile Swanson River rout links 40 lakes. Since there are multiple trailheads and lakes with great trout fishing, I will focus only on the campgrounds.
At nearly 14 miles in, after passing many trails and fishing lakes, you will come across the Dolly Varden Lake Campground. This campground has 15 sites, toilets, water, and a boat launch. The loop is very narrow and bumpy, so check before bringing a large vehicle in. You will find great trout fishing here. I also remember picking mushrooms and the rare watermelon berries here with my mom when I was pretty young.
When you have gone about 15 ½ miles, you will come across the Rainbow Lake Campground. This campground is very small with 3 sites, outhouse, water pump and boat launch. This area is not good for RV’s and it has a steep road.
At about mile 17, you can take the Swan Lake Road junction and access several somewhat primitive campgrounds with many trails, canoe routes, and much lake trout fishing. At Mile 3 (Swan Lake Rd), you will reach Fish Lake Campground with only 2 sites and an outhouse. At mile 3.9 (Swan Lake Rd), there are no campsites, but there is a large parking area with restrooms. At mile 12.5 (Swan Lake Rd), you reach the end of the road and parking area with an outhouse.
Back on Swanson River Road, if you continue to mile 17.5, you will reach the Swanson River Landing that includes a graveled parking area, outhouse, picnic table, firepit, boat launch, and fishing. This is a single, nearly primitive campsite that marks the ending of the Swanson River Canoe Route.
Mile S 84+ – Morgan’s Landing State Recreation Area: Turn South on Scout Lake Loop Road and travel past the Scout Lake day-use area, going about 1 ½ miles in and then turn right on Lou Morgan Road, then drive about 2 ½ miles in to Morgan’s Landing State Recreation Area. This is a beautifully maintained campground with a day-use area, 41 campsites, 10 RV pull-through sites, toilets, and water. There are gravel paths down to the Kenai River for fishing. The Alaska State Parks Special Management Area Headquarters is located at Morgan’s Landing. This is another one of my favorite spots to camp.
Mile S 94+ – Swiftwater Park Municipal Campground: Take East Redoubt Avenue (just after Fred Meyers) about a ½ a mile to the park entrance. This campground hosts 42 sites with some pull-throughs, toilets and boat launch. This campground is located on the Kenai River and is usually pretty crowded during the summer due to salmon fishing. It is a heavily wooded area and has a narrow road.
Detour to Kenai here, the road to Homer continues at mile 95.8. (Please consult a good map or The Milepost for more detailed information)
Mile S 94+ – Kenai Spur Highway to Kenai and Nikiski area campgrounds: Take a right at the Y and head towards Kenai.
At nearly 12 miles, after passing the visitors center, you will find Spruce Drive with Kenai Beach access and rest rooms. There is camping allowed on the beach; however it is fairly primitive with no tables or firepits, although you can have a campfire on the beach. They do have bathrooms available. I would not recommend camping down there during the local Dip-net fishery as the beach becomes quite crowded and smelly. It is a sight to see and I would try to stop by if possible just to see the craziness. There are parking fees.
At about 35 ½ miles down the Kenai Spur Highway, you will enter the Captain cook State Recreation Area. This area has many lakes with swimming, fishing, picnic, and day-use areas dotted all over the place. I will just mention a few spots.
At mile 35.9, you will see Bishop Creek to the west. This area is very primitive but has parking, water, picnic tables, firepits, and trail to beach. There is a camping and day-use fee. Watch for salmon spawning. No salmon fishing allowed.
At mile 39, you will turn left to enter the Discovery Campground with an additional day-use area that has a gorgeous view (Very steep, high cliffs!!) with toilets and tables. The campground has 53 sites, hiking trail, water, and scheduled fireside programs (in season). There is a beach access road but it is only good for 4-wheel drives and the beach is unsafe due to high tides and loose sand. There are also mud-flats that you can get stuck in, of which I know about from personal experience. This is an amazing place!
Back to the Sterling Highway at mile 95.8. (After passing through Soldotna)
Mile S 95+ – Traffic Light Junction to Funny River State Recreation Site (Funny River Road) and Centennial Park Municipal Campground, Kenai Landing, and Kasilof Beach Road (Kalifornsky Beach Road).
Funny River Road Junction: At mile 95.8 of the Sterling Highway, there will be a stop light and you must turn left (east) to head towards the Funny River State Recreation Site. At mile 1.6, you will find the Kenai River Center and it is a major resource for information on the Kenai River. At mile 2.9, you will enter the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The road is about 22 miles long in total. A recent, very large forest fire in the area makes this area not very desirable (2014).
At a little over 11 miles, you will come to the Funny River State Recreation Site. This park has about 6 RV spots and some tent sites with outhouse, water, and a trail to the Kenai River fishwalk. It is a very basic campground.
Kalifornsky Beach Road Junction (Also called the K-Beach Road): This road heads west from the Sterling Highway for about 22.2 miles and reconnects back to the Sterling Highway at mile 108.6. The first 5 miles has Soldotna businesses and there is a Kenai Bridge Access road that connects to Kenai at about mile 6. There are also lakes and trails along this road.
Within seconds of turning onto the Kalifornsky Beach Road, you will want to take a right hand turn at mile 0.1 for the Centennial Park Municipal Campground and the Homestead Museum. This park is huge and is right on the Kenai River. It has 126 sites with water, restrooms, dump station, boat launch, fishwalk, and numerous trails. There is also the nearby Homestead Museum. I have many memories from camping here as a child and it has grown since then. I think I camped here more than anywhere else while growing up.
At mile 8.3, after passing the Kenai Bridge Access Road, you will take a right on Cannery Road and drive 1.2 miles for the public beach access and the historic Kenai Landing. On the public beach, you can camp but it is primitive camping only and preferably with a 4-wheel drive vehicle as there is soft sand and gravel. The Kenai Landing is a 1920’s-era salmon cannery that has been renovated as a resort community which offers lodging, camping, restaurants, shops, galleries, and fishing. This is the only time I will mention a business but that is because they offer camping and it is a must-see for anyone visiting the area. (www.kenailanding.com)
At mile 17.4, the Kasilof Beach Road leads nearly a mile down to the very primitive picnic area and beach access. There are some locals who camp here for the dip-net fishery (Alaska residents only) during fishing season but it is very primitive and messy. I would not recommend it to anyone who is visiting the area from out of state.
Back to the Sterling Highway at mile 95.8 (again).
Mile S 108+ – Kalifornsky Beach Road Junction (See above).
Mile S 110+ – Johnson Lake State Recreation area & Tustumena Lake: From the large metal T at the beginning of Tustumena Lake Road, drive 0.1 mile to the Johnson Lake State Recreation Area. This area has 50 sites with wheelchair accessible restrooms, water, boat launch, and some RV sites. Johnson Lake is stocked with trout but it is a non-motorized lake.
If you continue down Tustumena Lake Road for about 6 miles, you will come to the Slackwater Boat Launch on the Kasilof River. The surrounding area is owned by the Salmatoff Native Assoc. and is private property. You must have permission to camp in the primitive sites.
Mile S 111 – Crooked Creek State Recreation Site: Take a right on Cohoe Loop Road (junction) and travel 1.6 miles. Take the turn off for the rest of the ½ a mile to the Crooked Creek State Recreation Site on Rilinda Road. This campground has 79 side-by-side overnight parking sites, 36 day use sites, toilets, water, pay phones, tent sites, and trails to the Kasilof River for fishermen. (**Note: Cohoe Loop Road is a 15.6 mile loop that runs along the Cook Inlet for at least half of it with great views.)
Mile S 117+ – Clam Gulch State Recreation Area: Take the dirt access road about a ½ mile down to the campground. This campground has 116 side-by-side overnight parking spaces with picnic tables, picnic shelter, toilets, water, and a long stairway leads down to the beach. There is a steep beach access road but it is for 4-wheel drive or ATV access only due to deep, soft sand on the beach. Clam digging for razor clams on the Kenai Peninsula is a favorite pastime and you must have a sports-fishing license to dig. Watch for closures and read the regulations. Nearby, in Clam Gulch, there is usually some delicious, famous clam chowder at Bakers Clam Shell Lodge.
Mile S 134+ – Ninilchik River Campground: Take the turnoff to the east for a basic campground with 39 sites with water, grills, and out-houses. There is a trail to the Ninilchik River and fishing for salmon and Dolly Varden. Don’t forget to visit the Ninilchik Village and the old Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord Russian Orthodox Church which is nearby.
Mile S 135 – Ninilchik Beach Campground: This campground is accessed by the beach access road and has 35 sites, toilets, water and razor clamming. The sea breezes are known for keeping the mosquitos down. The view is amazing here and you can see the Russian Ninilchik Village from the beach. Please respect private property; however they don’t mind you walking through the road system. Be careful of the tides as they have had a few people drown in the area.
Mile S 135+ – Ninilchik View State Campground: This state campground has a narrow gravel loop road with 12 campsites. They have tables, toilets, drinking water fill-up, and litter disposal available. View of the village from the campground and there is a long stepped bath that leads down to the beach and the village.
Mile S 136+ – Deep Creek North & Deep Creek South: These sites are located right near the Bridge over Deep Creek. Deep Creek North offers camping while Deep creek South is day-use only. Both have restrooms, water, interpretive kiosks, tables and firepits.
Mile S 137+ – Deep Creek State Recreation Area: This campground is located on the beach at the mouth of Deep Creek. There is a gravel parking area with 100 over overnight campsites, water, tables, restrooms, pay phones, and firepits. There are some beach-side camping sites as well as there is some great salmon fishing along the beach. This is a really great site but it can get windy. Please be careful of the tides.
Mile S 151+ – Stariski State Recreation Site: This campground is set up just past Stariski Creek fishwalk at mile 150.8. It is located on a bluff with great views of Mount Iliamna and Mount Redoubt; however there is no beach access. The small campground features 16 sites in the trees on a gravel loop road with toilets that are wheelchair accessible and water.
Mile S 157+– Old Sterling Highway (Junction/Access to Anchor River Beach Road): When you see the Anchor River Inn, take a right at about Mile 157. This will have you cross the Anchor River Bridge and just beyond the bridge; turn right onto the Anchor River Road which will take you 1.2 miles down to the Anchor River Recreation Area for camping and fishing. There are 5 recreation sites in the area.
At the junction, is the Silver-king Campground which is on the river, and has a parking area and toilets.
At mile 0.6, is the Coho Campground with side-by-side parking and toilets.
At mile 0.8, is the Steelhead Campground with day –use parking, picnic tables, and toilets.
At mile 1.1, is the Slidehole Campground with 30 campsites that feature a day-use parking area, tables, water, toilets, wheelchair camping areas, and trail access to the river.
At mile 1.5, is the last campground called Halibut Campground and it has 20 campsites with a day-use parking area, toilets, and water.
The Anchor River Beach Road dead-ends on the shore of the Cook Inlet and features a viewing deck, telescopes, beach access, a parking lot, benches, and display boards. (Return to Sterling Highway mile 157.1)
Mile S 169+ – Rest Area/Kachemak Bay: Not a campground, but too good to miss! You must stop here and take pictures!! You will then descend into Homer and head to the Homer Spit!
Mile S 172/173+ – Karen Hornaday Hillside Park: This is a city campground accessed via W. Pioneer Avenue, then Bartlett and Fairview Avenues (follow signs) and located behind the ball fields. It is in a thickly wooded hillside and it has 31 campsites, restrooms, water, and a playground. There is no campground host. No reservations allowed and only small RVs.
Mile S 173+ – Bishop’s Beach: Turn west (right) on Main Street towards water, then left on E. Bunnell Avenue and right on Beluga Avenue to reach Bishop’s Beach Park. There is a public beach access, parking, picnic tables, and the Beluga Slough Trailhead. I don’t know for sure that you can camp here but I have seen people camping on the beach, so I am listing it just in case. You may want to visit the visitors’ center to find out for sure. Either way, it’s a must-see destination.
Mile S 175+ – Mariner Park public beach parking and camping: You are now on the Homer Spit! This campground is very primitive. Make sure you camp on the side that is furthest away from the sea bog as that really has a strong smell as the tides move in and out (personal experience).
Mile S 178+ – The Fishing Hole Public Campground: restrooms and rudimentary campsites. Very close to the Pier One Theatre and The Fishing Hole. This campground can fill up fast in the summertime as the Homer Spit is a popular destination.
Mile S 178+ – Home Jackpot Halibut Derby: There are maps, information, toilets, and you can ask them about the beach camping spaces that are provided by the city of Homer. There are no RV hookups and they are primitive.
Mile S 179+ – The Homer Spit Campground: This campground has quite a bit more to offer but it fills up extremely fast. They have RV camping on the beach, showers, electric, RV pull-throughs, dump station, laundromat, and gift shop. I am pretty sure you can tent camp there as I have seen them. The Homer spit is usually pretty packed so calling ahead would be a great idea. (907-235-8206)
That is the end of the road and it is considered the most Western highway in North America at the tip of the Homer Spit. Please share and take the time to leave me a small comment if this information was useful to you.
Many families who live in Alaskan villages might have to make a choice that they shouldn’t have to make. Should they heat their homes or should they feed their children? Jobs are few and far between and, quite often, are seasonal. This makes income sporadic and household budgets difficult to manage. Many families will have to make the difficult choice of moving into a city to seek work, bringing with them the hope that they can finally feed their children.
Cultures are being lost or pushed aside in the desperate search for a way to support the family, and sometimes the entire village might need help. More often than not, these searches end up disastrous. Families could end up homeless or forced to live with relatives. It’s not just the polar bears and arctic ice that are endangered, entire native cultures and their economies are on the endangered list too.
The solution, many believe, is to make each village self-sustainable. The best way to achieve a self-sustainable community is through renewable energy. If the village, or community, could become more self sufficient, this would not only help them with their economy; it would also give them pride in themselves and their accomplishments. In Rob Hopkins’ book, The Transition Handbook, he correctly states that “At the end of the day, oil and gas are finite resources.” (Hopkins, 2008) This means that oil has a beginning and an end, and someday, it will end. Fuel is now, and will continue to be, a costly way for residents to heat their homes. The cost is just part of the story, but it’s a part that needs to be renovated.
Renewable energy is the preferred method of making a village more self-reliant, however it is not always so cut and dry. ‘Renewable energy’ means energy that is produced from clean, naturally replenished resources, with the sources for this energy coming from wind, hydropower, solar, biomass, ocean, and geothermal. Providing this sort of energy in remote village locations can be expensive and logistically challenging. There are a number of difficulties that must first be addressed when deciding to install a renewable energy in a village. So, what are the difficulties of renewable energy in Alaskan villages? An understanding of what renewable energy is, and what the choices are, must first be made. The villages must also consider its location and what resources are available.
Testing and Communication
Once a choice is made, the next step in the process is to start the testing phase so that the results can be used for grant writing. The Alaska Energy Authority, or AEA, has a program to loan an anemometer, data logging equipment, and technical support to villages so they can test the wind levels to see if they have a wind resource. Villages living on or near a river, waterfall, or the ocean will need to test to make sure that what they wish to install will not be detrimental to spawning fish. There are many tests that could, and should, be done so that all needed information is available. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA, 2007) and Fish & Game (Interior, 2003) will need to run their tests also, as the village will need to have the necessary permits to run the equipment.
Once the testing is completed, the grant writing process will begin. The village will want to make sure that they receive sufficient funding to complete the project. The way that grant writing works is that the more remote or far out a village is the more likely it will receive the grant. In a November 3, 2009 interview with Gary Kessinger, former General Manager of the Middle Kuskokwim Electric Cooperative, or MKEC, he said that “part of the problem is that utilities themselves cannot apply for the grants, only village entities and companies like AVEC can apply.” The Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, or AVEC, is a non-profit electric utility that currently serves 53 villages throughout interior and western Alaska.
This is a good time for the village to start having community meetings to discuss all the details of what is going on. All information should be made available and the residents will need to be constantly updated and notified of any changes to the projects status. Expectations will need to be declared and disputes should be handled immediately to save the project from being stalled in the future. There have been several villages in the past that did not take these steps and have paid for it in the long run.
Wind energy is a favorite amongst the islands and the coastal regions of Alaska. In a November 3, 2009 interview with Katherine Keith, the Wind-Diesel Coordinator for the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, she stated there are already fifteen working wind farms in the state, with fifteen more planned to be operational within the next year. The wind resource in those regions can be quite strong, and sometimes, almost too strong. If the wind gusts too much, it can cause problems with the power fluctuations. This is where wind-diesel generation comes into play. With the wind turbine and a diesel generator connected together, they can counteract the highs and lows that come with a wind source and thus provide a more stable source of energy. The computerized system seamlessly switches between diesel and wind without interruption. (Don Comis, 2006) Before this can be done, of course, the village generators will have to shed their old ways.
According to Keith, the top three difficulties with wind-diesel turbines being installed in the villages are logistics, foundation designs, and integration. Logistics problems are an obvious problem because most villages are so remote that they do not have any roads connecting to neighboring villages, much less to the rail-belt area of Alaska. Foundation designs will become better as they are tested and engineers see what works and what doesn’t. They will do geotechnical testing on the land where the wind turbines will be located, so that engineers can design the best possible foundation for them. There are ways to deal with the thawing permafrost in the tundra to keep the ground frozen and thus stabilize the turbines. Most of the systems currently in use have extremely old parts and will not integrate with the new wind turbines on the market. Alaska Energy Authority currently runs programs to help villages upgrade their generation systems to make them easier to integrate with the updated renewable energy systems. (AEA)
The wind turbines themselves have issues with icing on the blades and the components inside the nacelle, which is the housing for the gear box and generator. Keith discussed issues relating to the icing dilemma and explained that it is a current issue that many are still trying to find the answers for. The existing solutions that are currently being used are painting them black to absorb heat from the sun; or coating them with Teflon, which seems to cause the blades to deteriorate faster. Some still hit the blades with a hammer to knock the ice off, which can be hazardous. There has been talk of using heating cables; however it isn’t cost effective, considering the energy that would be required would negate the savings made from using the turbines.
The cost to install any renewable energy can be unsettling, especially for a village that is extremely small in population. Keith noted that the price for installing a Northwind 100 wind turbine could be around one million dollars, depending on the logistics of the location. She was also quick to note that the Integrity 60 kW wind turbines in both Kotzebue and Nome cost around $400,000 for each one installed. Connie Fredenburg, of TDX Power on St. Paul Island in Alaska, pointed out that refurbished equipment can be a useful way to save money and they can be just as trustworthy as new equipment.
Wind-diesel systems are proving to be an excellent choice for many villages in Alaska, but for several villages it has not been as successful. Some have had extended down time due to control system troubles, maintenance issues, and community social problems. Issues with birds may be fixed with bird diverters; however studies are always done to determine if there will be any issues in the first place. (Interior, 2003) The ice, snow, and very cold temperatures can also impact the performance and life of the equipment. Keith states that, overtime, streamlining the process will help to alleviate difficulties and expenses in the future. Villages considering this form of renewable energy might want to contact several agencies to get more information on the testing equipment, the types of turbines available, and on updating their current power generation systems.
If the village does not have a proper wind source, but it does have a water source, such as a river or waterfall, they might choose hydroelectric energy. There are several different types of hydroelectric energy, or hydropower, systems available; however not all are appropriate for Alaska’s freezing waters and salmon runs. Kessinger stated that he looked into hydropower for his facilities and decided that it was not viable due to the initial cost of testing, installation and upkeep. The Kuskokwim River, where MKEC is located, has intense freeze up and thaw cycles, which are well known for their destructive properties during these times. The cost to put in and take out the hydropower system before freeze-up and after break-up would have been a costly and almost impossible ordeal each year. There have been many improvements in the hydroelectric world since then, and there are several villages using hydropower that might disagree with him today. Most villages that use hydropower have road access and can use equipment not available to villages that are not on a road system. Admittedly, any form of energy, renewable or not, comes with its own package of troubles.
According to the Renewable Energy Alaska Project, or REAP, there are several types of hydroelectric facilities, all powered by the kinetic energy of flowing water as it moves downstream. (REAP) Impoundment hydroelectric facilities use a dam to store the river water in a reservoir and they control electricity being produced by regulating the flow of water through the penstock. These can have a detrimental effect on salmon runs and can be expensive to install and maintain for even a medium sized village. Diversion facilities channel a portion of the rivers water through a canal or penstock, often without the use of a dam. Basically, when water is flowing and the turbine runner is spinning, the turbine is producing electric power. The electric power must then be stored in batteries and the village electrical system is connected to the batteries. Hydroelectric facilities typically range in size from large to small power plants that provide consumers with electricity and even micro-hydro systems for the individual.
In Alaska, thirty-plus hydroelectric facilities are in operation, with seven more in construction. Every year, new facilities come online and raise that number even higher. Hydropower “is Alaska’s largest source of renewable energy, supplying 24% of the state’s electrical energy.” (REAP) Hydropower is the most likely choice for a village in the southeastern part of Alaska, and for any village on a river or creek. A study would need to be done to see if the salmon population would be affected by the hydropower facility, and also whether there are enough residents in the village to support the expense of building it.
To make hydropower feasible, a power line connecting two or more villages might need to be installed so that the cost can be spread out among those villages. In an area that has no roads between villages, gravel airports that can only accommodate small airplanes, and very limited time-slots for the supply barges; this might seem like a risky venture. Some villages have already taken the risk, and many more are interested. According to REAP, “Many rural communities located on the Yukon and other large rivers are interested in using river current for generating power with low-impact turbines that would act much like an underwater wind turbine.” (REAP) This technology is referred to as river ‘hydrokinetic’ or ‘in-stream’ power. In-stream hydroelectric power is still relatively expensive as compared to other renewable energies; however it may be a viable alternative to costly diesel for many rural Alaskan villages.
“Run-of-the-river” projects use more modest structures to divert a portion of the natural river flow through turbines to make power before returning the water to the river downstream. Although these projects produce less electricity than other hydropower facilities, they maintain water levels downstream for salmon runs. This process makes them ideal for many parts of Alaska and can be the perfect choice for personal hydro systems.
Hydropower technology is a great choice for villages in Alaska and will continue to be implemented around the state. Regardless of which system is used, the village would need to learn how to be energy efficient. Villages all across Alaska are in the need of upgrades to their generator sheds, control systems, and power lines; meanwhile going through the process of installing a renewable energy will push the village to update their system a lot sooner.
Solar power is another option available to the villages, however since the sun is usually playing ‘hide and seek’ during most of the winter, many villages might choose not to use it. For the most part, solar power has been more of a personal or small residential form of renewable energy. With sun angles being lower in our state and difficulties with snow build-up; solar energy, which uses radiation from the sun, has its own set of challenges in Alaska. Many homes in Alaska are using solar energy for heating hot water and electricity generation successfully.
There are many different ways of harnessing the energy from the sun. Passive solar heating uses building design and construction to reduce the usage of heating fuel. The design might employ windows, thermal mass, and the position of the building itself to act as a solar collector. Active solar heating systems use pumps or fans to circulate heated water or air to where it will be used, such as a hot water tank.
“Despite short winter days, solar water heaters can be used about 9 months out of the year in Alaska, making them one of the most practical applications of solar energy for domestic use.” (REAP) Solar-electric panels, or Photovoltaic (PV), are used to generate electricity from the sun. The term photovoltaic energy is derived from the Greek and can be translated as ‘electrical energy from light’. (Wengenmayr & Bührke, p. 42) These are commonly used to power homes or small communities that are not connected to an electric utility’s power grid. Roland Wengenmayr, in the book Renewable Energy, states that “…compared to wind and hydroelectric power, photovoltaic power conversion is still very much in the background, in spite of considerable government subsidies.” (Wengenmayr & Bührke, p. 35)
Solar electricity generation is an emerging technology that uses concentrated solar power. “They use mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto receivers that collect the solar energy and heat a thermal oil.” (REAP) Thermal energy is then used to produce electricity via a heat exchanger that vaporizes water to drive a steam turbine; however this process is still more expensive than fossil-fuel derived power.
The remote community of Lime Village has a population of less than 30 residents and has a hybrid diesel-PV system to produce electricity for their village. (REAP) BP donated a number of solar PV panels for their system, which currently helps to offset around 5800 gallons of diesel a year, providing a 28% reduction. The system will provide researchers with quality information for future projects. Photovoltaic energy is growing rapidly and can only be expected to become more streamlined and practical the more it is researched and implemented. If a village in Alaska were to implement solar energy, they would need to learn ways to conserve energy. The village would also have to make sure that their diesel generator controls would be updated.
“Biomass is a collective term for renewable energy made from the organic material of recently deceased plants or animals. Sources of bioenergy are called ‘biomass’ and include agricultural and forestry residues, municipal wastes, industrial wastes, and terrestrial and aquatic crops grown solely for energy purposes.” (REAP) In more basic terms, they can use wood, fish oil, organic matter or trash as fuel to make energy. In 2008, the City of Craig installed a ‘sawmill waste-fired’ boiler to heat several buildings including the schools. (AEA) There are several wood-fired boilers installed around the state, with 15 more under development.
Biodiesel is another example of biomass fuel that is really starting to spark interest in the state. Biodiesel is an engine fuel manufactured from renewable sources, such as vegetable oils, recycled cooking greases or oils, or animal fats rather than from fossil petroleum. (AEA) The AEA estimates that 13 million gallons of fish waste is dumped into the sea each year in the form of unprocessed fish waste. They are partnering with fish processor UniSea Inc. to test the use of fish oil diesel blends in electric power generation in a 2.2 MW generator. At this point, all processing of the fish oil into biodiesel is outsourced to a commercial facility in Hawaii. It is hoped that Alaska can use the data to create a similar facility, if the results show that it could be a viable endeavor.
Alaskans produce approximately 650,000 tons of garbage annually throughout the state. (REAP) Several installations use waster paper and other similar waste products to fuel power plants or to mix with coal. Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks uses densified paper from the Fairbanks landfill to co-burn with coal, which provides up to 1.5% of the base’s heat and power. (AEA) This technology can be used in villages around the state and would help reduce the amount of waste in the landfills. Some larger landfills can also produce methane gas that can be used to produce electricity; however this is not a feasible venture for the smaller villages of Alaska.
There are disadvantages to using a biodiesel fuel in remote areas, such as the need to heat the oil because the ‘cloud point’ is around 34 ̊̊ F, which is near the freezing point of water. On the other hand, it is a common practice to warm the diesel before using it to make the fuel more efficient. Another disadvantage might be that biodiesel contains 6% less energy per gallon than #2 diesels, though decreases in engine output are rarely observed. On the brighter side, “jobs and relatively low cost renewable fuel could be provided to remote Alaskan communities that have an existing fish processing industry by starting up modular biodiesel production facilities.” (AEA, 2009)
Ernst Huenges, in the book Renewable Energy, correctly proclaims that “…geothermal energy is still an exotic source.” (Wengenmayr & Bührke, p. 54) Geothermal energy uses the heat of the earth to gather direct heat or electricity production. Direct heat geothermal uses low to moderate temperature water to heat structures, grow plants in greenhouses and in industrial processes such as drying food or fish farming. (REAP) Water is pumped directly into the facilities they are warming. They have been growing plants using this process for many years at Pilgrim Hot Springs near Nome, Alaska. (AEA) Producing Electricity from geothermal uses high temperature resources to convert heat into power. In her February 2008 speech entitled Alaska Forum on the Environment, United States Senator Lisa Murkowski declared “…we passed a specific initiative to get geothermal moving by utilizing ‘hot rock mining’ everywhere, not just at hot springs.” (Murkowski, 2008)
There are three types of geothermal electric generators in use today. The first one is the dry steam power plants that use the steam that comes from geysers or fumaroles to turn turbines and create electricity. The second type is the flash steam power plants that require geothermal fluids in excess of 360 ̊̊ F, which they pump into a tank that is at a very low pressure, causing the fluids to vaporize instantly. This is the most common type of geothermal power plant. The third type of generator is the binary-cycle power plants which generate electricity by pumping hot water into a heat exchanger where a fluid with a lower boiling point than water is stored. The hot water causes the other fluid to vaporize and the steam turns a turbine, thus generating electricity. It is a relatively new technology but is likely to increase in the future since most geothermal resources in the world are low-to-moderate heat. (REAP)
An Economist article claimed “far more promising is geothermal energy, since Alaska lies on the ‘ring of fire’, a string of volcanoes that encircles the Pacific Ocean.” (The Economist, 2007) There are many opportunities for geothermal development in the state, with over one hundred and thirty volcanoes and volcanic fields that are active and well over a hundred sites that have thermal springs and wells. The USGS identified four major regions that warranted further study for geothermal potential. These regions are the Interior Hot Springs, the Southeast Hot Springs, the Wrangell Mountains, and the Ring of Fire volcanoes. (REAP) Any villages living within these regions have a good chance at developing geothermal energy for their community; nevertheless extensive studies might first need to be done if they have not already been completed by another entity.
Ocean or Tidal Energy
The ocean is a deep well of potential renewable energy, yet development of ocean energy generation technologies are still in the demonstration stage. Alaska has 44,000 miles of coastline and some of the largest tidal ranges in the world, giving the state almost limitless ocean energy potential. There are two different types of energy that come from the ocean; wave and tidal. Kai-Uwe Graw explains, in the book Renewable Energy, that the “…major portion of the energy which is stored in ocean waves is transported by so-called gravity waves. They are initiated by the wind and their motion is governed almost entirely by gravitation.” (Wengenmayr & Bührke, p. 76) Wave energy is harnessed from the rise and fall of ocean waves. There are currently several sites undergoing studies to see if they have the potential needed to support a renewable energy project.
Tidal energy is a concentrated form of the gravitational energy exerted by the moon and, also, the sun. This energy can be converted into electricity in two different ways. Dams that force water through turbines at high and low tidal stages are most common and extract more energy. Underwater turbines that are activated by tidal flows are still in the development stages, with Ireland opening the first large facility in 2008. These are similar to the ‘in-stream’ versions that are currently installed in the Yukon River town of Ruby, which has been working successfully. (REAP)
Harnessing this vast energy could be problematic, considering that the state has very remote shorelines and western Alaska often has violent storms. Upkeep and maintenance would be expensive and equipment might be hard to transport. Murkowski remarked that “…we took steps in an effort I led to expand aid to capturing energy from the ocean, including funding of up to six national ocean research centers to advance tidal, current and wave energy projects.” (Murkowski, 2008) Any villages that are near sites that have shown potential could tap into that energy for their village which would create jobs and community stability.
Due to the fact that many generators and their sheds were built approximately twenty years ago, many of these systems will have to be replaced. According to Keith, updated systems are a key component to correctly integrate with any new technology. This step should be done well ahead of any renewable energy installation, while keeping in mind what sort of energy system is being installed. For instance, if the village has chosen wind-diesel energy, the control system to smoothly switch between wind and diesel generation will need to be installed. The community should make sure that their technician will be properly schooled on how all of the new equipment will work ahead of time. The AEA, along with other organizations, have programs for upgrading the systems and for training of the technicians.
The logistics required to gather all of the equipment needed at the right time can be extremely challenging. For wind turbines, this may require that a crane be shipped out in advance by barge. The project managers will need to be planning all equipment deliveries so that everything is out there at the time that they are needed. This can be quite the challenge if the river has a late thawing of the ice, or break-up, and the crane ends up at its destination late.
Another essential step that needs to be addressed is foundations. In many parts of Alaska, ground thawing in areas with tundra and permafrost can be very tricky. As Keith pointed out, a geotec test will be done by drilling a hole in the ground and taking a sample to a geologist who will look at it and tell the engineers how to build the foundation. If the ground needs to be kept frozen to keep a wind turbine more stable, then geothermal holes can be drilled, which could be an additional expense. Foundations are important to stabilize wind turbines, and they are likewise important for solar and hydropower installations.
Energy storage is considered another key issue to properly installing and integrating the new system. Many people believe that the toxic chemical nature of some types of batteries used for storing the energy make them a very poor choice for the environment. They often wonder where the batteries go when they are not usable anymore; however some batteries are able to be reconditioned, according to Keith. There are two types of batteries currently in use in Alaska, the lead acid and the NiCad. The life of the battery will depend on its use and the environment that it is kept in. These batteries require periodic replacement, or reconditioning, which can be expensive.
The villages’ choice for a renewable energy will be a lifelong battle to maintain and repair. The high cost for shipping and installation of equipment for repairs can mean downtime for the system. Maintenance and repairs will be left solely to the village or its operating entity, both in management and funding. The village will have many connections within several organizations which will help them answer questions and acquire resources as needed. There could be a long waiting period for the assistance of qualified technicians to go out to the village and complete work. Sometimes just negotiating the arrival of equipment and technicians can seem overwhelming.
Nature can have an extremely damaging affect on most equipment related to renewable energy. Icing on the blades of the turbines, strong wind gusts, and snow on the solar panels are all just a few of the situations that may occur. Some systems have seen extended downtime due to failing equipment, control system glitches, and community social problems. It’s a good idea to have back up plans and community involvement. Regular meetings can help to deter a lot of problems before they escalate into major disasters. Teaching energy conservation is an outstanding way to develop energy reserves and to help save money for the residents.
Wales, in northwestern Alaska, is a sad example of what can happen to a great idea. The village of around one hundred and fifty residents has a wind-diesel farm that was installed in 2000. They have had nothing but difficulties with the system and the village has had even more difficulties working out their community issues. The system has been only in partial operation and is a good example of why planning, training, and community infrastructure are essential. There are better examples to promote renewable energy in Alaska, such as the island of Kodiak. Keith stated that Kodiak, as of November 2009, was running completely on wind and hydropower. This is a major accomplishment that has long been coming and deserves being noted by many who have scoffed that it cannot be possible.
Employment is always an issue that the general public questions whenever talks of renewable energy hit the floor. Keith stated that, “depending on the choice of system made, one can expect jobs to be created in the planning, installation, and maintenance processes.” In the village, the existing power plant operator will likely be trained in the operations of the equipment. The community might also want to train another person in the system so that the operator can leave to do his traditional hunting, gathering, and fishing. If a system such as biomass is chosen, more jobs will be made available within the village. Jobs such as engineers, project managers, and grant writers will be available within the industry and in the more populated regions.
There is no doubt that our environment is warming up, no matter which position you take on it politically. Diesel prices will not likely be going down and the carbon footprint is of importance too. Diesel usage can be an addictive pattern that many are reluctant to let go of. Rob Hopkins, in his book The Transition Handbook, comments that advice can come “…as community-scale strategies for energy descent.” (Hopkins, 2008) This can be taken to mean that the community can choose to change as a whole by setting out a plan, and implementing it, to relieve their addiction to fossil fuels. Albert Einstein once said “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.” (Albert Einstein Quotes)
The choices that a family makes while living in a village in Alaska will not be based on whether or not the air is warmer, but rather on whether or not they can afford to live in that community any longer. If the village can reduce the cost of energy and possibly create more jobs, then the family may not have to make that tough choice. Despite the high cost, environmental difficulties, and community adversity; renewable energy is the way to reduce the decline of the native community, their culture, and its family units therein. There are many obstacles in making the choice to obtain a renewable energy but, in the overall picture, they are worth it. In Jenn Wagaman’s article Bringing Alternative Energy to Life, Victoria Chang accurately declares, “The key is not to think about how we can find alternatives to continue to live the same way, but rather to examine the resources that are available to use and think about how we can use those to enrich, enliven and support the community.” (Wagaman, 2009)
Written by: Sonya Andreanoff
*References not included in this posting due to space issues, but are available upon request*