2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   TRIP NOTES: ANCHORAGE TO COOPER
 LANDING ON THE KENAI PENINSULA

MONDAY, JULY 2

 
"No other destination offers such an up close and personal Alaskan experience. 
With over 15,000 square miles of extraordinary adventure and excitement
to choose from, even the rest of the state comes here when they need a reminder
of why they moved to Alaska in the first place. That's why we are known as
ALASKA'S PLAYGROUND."
 
~ from the introduction to Alaska's Playground: 2012 Kenai Peninsula Discovery Guide
 
 
We've been looking forward to visiting the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage because 90% of the land mass is protected wilderness full of mountains, glaciers, ice fields, lakes, rivers, creeks, waterfalls, marshes, coastlines, trails, and bountiful wildlife.

It sounds like paradise to outdoor lovers like us!

In addition to state and national parks, a huge national wildlife refuge, and millions of acres of national forests, the peninsula is also full of history and culture and has several coastal towns that are very popular tourist destinations. The area appeals to people with all sorts of interests, not just active outdoors men and women.

We have a long list of things we plan to see and do on the Peninsula. How long we stay in this area depends on the weather -- and whether we can get camping sites where we want them. July is normally prime time for both Alaska residents and tourists to fish for several kinds of salmon on the Peninsula.

The only campground reservations we have are for the next three nights at the Russian River National Forest Service campground near Cooper Landing and six days at the Seward Military Resort in Seward.


Our new home for a few days -- Russian River NFS campground near Cooper Landing

Beyond that, we'll play it by ear.

We like the flexibility of staying longer in areas we really like (especially if the weather is great) and being able to leave "early" if we aren't happy there for some reason. The only other reservations we have this summer are at Denali National Park in early August, so we can spend most of July on the Kenai Peninsula if we want.

OUR ROUTE

This entry describes today's drive from Anchorage to Cooper Landing, which is on the Sterling Highway in the north central part of the peninsula. Most of the information here is relevant for anyone who drives this route, not just folks traveling in RVs.

Here's a section of the AAA map of Alaska that shows our route highlighted in yellow:

We followed the Seward Hwy. from MM 127 in Anchorage to MM 37 at Tern Lake Junction, then headed west on the Sterling Hwy. to our campground a few miles past the town of Cooper Landing.

Since we had only 115 miles to drive today we ran some errands on the way through Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) and Anchorage. We left Sam's Club on Dimond Ave. in the south part of town at 11:15 AM and arrived at the Russian River CG at 1:45 PM after several short stops to take pictures and make lunch.

ANCHORAGE TO PORTAGE

We've already driven this section in our truck, without the 5th-wheel. The three entries dated June 27 describe the Seward Highway along the north side of Turnagain Arm from Anchorage to Portage.

That didn't stop me from taking more photos today, however! Even with overcast skies the mountains and water are very scenic:


The tide was fairly high at the western end of Turnagain Arm near Anchorage.


Approaching Beluga Point, where you can often see Dall sheep on the cliffs and maybe
some whales in the water when the tide is high (we haven't seen whales here yet)

Traffic was moderate to Portage at MM 79 and beyond. Once south of Anchorage there are some passing lanes but the road is mostly two-lane and curvy as it follows the rather narrow shoreline between the water and mountain cliffs.

Jim was able to drive at or above the speed limit with the Cameo and keep up with traffic. Sometimes those in a hurry get backed up behind slower tourists and campers and take risks to pass them. The whole Seward Hwy. is accident-prone so be careful when driving there.


The tide was fairly low at the eastern end of Turnagain Arm, which is several hours "behind" the western end.

 


Glaciers near Portage at the eastern end of Turnagain Arm

The only thing different in this section today was being able to see the Dall sheep at Beluga Point more clearly than we saw them last week:

And with my new Sony camera with 16 megapixels and 16x zoom they actually look like sheep this time and not little white dots!

PORTAGE TO TERN LAKE

We continued across the isthmus near the former town of Portage at the eastern end of Turnagain Arm onto the Kenai Peninsula. The Seward Hwy. curves around the arm, heads west for a little while, and then goes mostly south to Seward.

I've mentioned the devastating 1964 earthquake that destroyed or seriously damaged several towns in this area of Alaska, including Valdez, Portage, Whittier, and Girdwood. The land was lowered by several feet and new standing water killed most of the trees in this area.

The landscape is a bit eerie at this end of the Arm, with dead trees still standing in the wetlands:

New, smaller trees have grown up behind them in the intervening years.

The Seward Hwy. continues south to MM 0 in the picturesque town of Seward on the eastern coast of the Kenai Peninsula. Today we followed it to MM 37 at Tern Lake.

This section of the Seward Highway is also very scenic as it courses through lush green valleys in the Chugach Mountains. There are no long grades that are difficult to drive with an RV. Most of the streams and lakes are a gorgeous turquoise blue from glacial silt. We continued to see glaciers as we drove south:

 

Because of the low clouds we couldn't always see the tops of the peaks. Hopefully it'll be more sunny when we come back this way in a few weeks.

We stopped for lunch at the large, attractive Canyon Creek rest area at MM 56, which is located just north of the intersection with Hope Hwy.

The parking area overlooks the scenic confluence of Canyon and Sixmile Creeks. Both streams are a pretty glacial blue. There are interpretive signs about the nearby Gold Rush in the mid-1890s and a view to the high, curving bridge over Canyon Creek:

 

 

We noticed a paved hiking/cycling trail along the highway in this area. There are several places to access the Sixmile bike trail and walking path, which is eight miles long, but named after Sixmile Creek.

There are also trailheads in this section of the Seward Hwy. to access the popular 23-mile-long Johnson Pass Trail and the 10-mile-long Devils Creek Trail. The Johnson Pass Trail follows some of the original Iditarod Trail.

Just over the Canyon Creek bridge we came to the intersection with the road to the historic town of Hope on the south side of Turnagain Arm. This picturesque community at the mouth of Resurrection Creek was established in 1896 during the local gold rush frenzy and still has about 150 residents. We didn't drive back the 18-mile paved road to Hope today but might on the way back to Anchorage in a few weeks.

We stopped briefly at MM 47 to take pictures of Lower Summit Lake. Per The Milepost this turnout is known for its lush summer flowers but the only things I saw blooming today are cow parsnip and dandelions (not shown here):

 

This section of the Seward Hwy. is fairly smooth except for some rough abutments at either end of some of the bridges we crossed.

Although the terrain is mountainous there is generally more room here than next to Turnagain Arm to build passing lanes, so traffic tends to go faster. 


There are some more narrow spots like this, too.

TERN LAKE JUNCTION TO COOPER LANDING & OUR CAMPGROUND

At MM 37 we turned west on the Sterling Highway at Tern Lake to reach our campground. The Seward Highway continues south to the town of Seward. We were happy to see that most of the traffic continued that way.

Tern Lake is a National Forest Service Wildlife Viewing Area. Although we didn't stop today at one of the viewing areas I'm including a picture of the lake that I took on July 3:

Tern Lake is reported to be a great place to see nesting trumpeter swans and other migratory birds, spawning salmon, moose, bears, mountain goats, and Dall sheep. All we saw driving by today were large birds. We'll go back in a few days and spend more time there.

The 15+ miles we drove on the Sterling Hwy. to Cooper Landing were surprisingly rough, considering how many towns it accesses on the north and west side of the Kenai Peninsula.

We followed long, thin Kenai Lake for several miles after Tern Junction. It's a beautiful glacial blue color that is very popular with anglers. The highway crosses the water when it turns into the Kenai River and continues following the stream for about 20 miles:

 

We drove through the Cooper Landing business area (lodges, restaurants, fishing services, outfitters/guides, etc.) around MM 48.

The town is named after the miner who discovered gold there in 1894. About 350 people live in the community today. The fella occupying this RV is a summer entrepreneur who sells food from the red trailer and chainsaw (!) carvings from the little wooden building:

I like the "moose" on the bench:

I imagine it's a popular place for tourists to have their pictures taken. We've already seen several such examples of summer tourist businesses and Alaskan humor in our journey through the state.

We continued to MM 52 to the Russian River National Forest Service campground sign. The narrow paved road two miles back to the campground loops is wavy, bumpy, and has several killer speed bumps. If you're in your own RV and care about its condition, go slowly.


This part of the campground road looks deceptively smooth . . .

We passed two trailhead parking areas before reaching our campground loop, one of five loops in the campground. There are several trails going to the river, lakes, and waterfalls.

I'll talk about the campground and the fascinating "fish walk" along the Russian River in the next two entries.

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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