Runtrails' Web Journal
Previous       2012 Journal Topics       Home       Next



"During late June, pools within the stairstep falls on the Russian River
swarm with thousands of green-headed, red-bodied sockeye salmon. From two
decks on the riverside cliffs you can watch the salmon attempt to leap the 
falls to reach spawning grounds upstream. Brown and black bears 
sometimes appear on the river to scoop salmon from the water."
~ from the Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game website
This is quintessential Alaska!

Yesterday I was able to watch a mama grizzly bear and her two cubs fishing at the bottom of the falls for salmon, the first time I've witnessed this iconic scene. It was a thrill.

Mama Bear (in the water) and her two yearling cubs head for the river to fish.

It was also fun to watch the salmon leaping upstream and to see birds hovering nearby to catch weak or dead fish or to scavenge the scraps left by the bears.

We hiked and/or cycled part of the Russian River Trail both yesterday and this morning from our campground. At a fork in the trail a spur goes down to the falls. The main trail continues past the Lower and Upper Russian Lakes and ends at Cooper Lake, a distance of 21 miles point to point. It also connects the Resurrection Pass and Resurrection River Trails, allowing a 72-mile traverse between the towns of Hope and Seward on part of the old Iditarod Trail.

This entry focuses on the 2Ĺ miles of trail to Russian River Falls and includes photos from both days. I'll show photos of the other part of the trail to Lower Russian Lake in the next entry.


My goal yesterday was a three- to four-hour hike with Cody on the Russian Lakes Trail.

I had trouble finding it, however, and walked around for 2Ĺ miles along the river and in the campground before realizing I had to go to a different trailhead off the campground access road about 3/4 mile from our site. (I showed photos of the interesting trail along the river in the last entry.)

Sign at upper Russian Lakes trailhead parking area

I saw Jim riding his bike through the campground loops and explained my mistake. He offered to drive Cody and me to the correct trailhead to save a little time.

[Note:  If you aren't staying in Russian Lakes Campground you can reach the trailhead by turning onto the campground access road at MM 52 on the Sterling Highway. There are two parking areas about one mile back this road. Both access the Russian Lakes Trail. The first one, the upper trailhead, is the most convenient but there are very few parking spots. If that one is full you can park down the hill at the lower trailhead parking area and walk rather steeply uphill to reach the trail.]


I encouraged Jim to take his bike in the back of the truck because the Russian Lakes Trail is open to cyclists.

He was game to try it. We returned to the camper to get the truck and parked in the last available space at the upper trailhead parking area.

Jim starts his ride yesterday from the upper trailhead parking area.

I had read that the Russian Lakes Trail is an easy path to the falls but didnít know itís as nice as it is Ė fairly smooth hard-packed dirt and gravel, undulating with no steep grades, and four to six feet wide most of the two-plus miles to the falls:

The part of the trail that goes to Lower Russian Lake and beyond is more narrow (mostly single-track) and less smooth.

On the way to the falls the trail passes through attractive forests filled with white spruce, birch trees, alders, and willow shrubs. Part of the trail is shaded, part open:




There are lots of good views into valleys and toward snow-capped mountains, an unexpected view of a glacier in the distance, and some flowers, ferns, and other interesting groundcover plants along the way. 

The trail splits at a bridge across the Russian River about 1Ĺ miles from the trailhead:

I was surprised how much more narrow the blue-colored glacial river was at this point than it is below the campground. Up here it's more like a creek:

Hikers going to the falls continue straight ahead and mostly downhill for about a mile and don't cross the bridge at that intersection. Trail users heading to the lakes turn left at the bridge and cross the river. (More about that in the next entry.)

Jim rode ahead of me to the falls, turned around and rode back to the bridge, crossed the river, and headed to the lower lake. When he didnít run into me he figured correctly that I hiked to the falls first.

Iím glad I did because I caught the tail end of that classic Alaska scene with a mama bear and her two cubs fishing below the falls.


There are two large wooden decks overlooking the falls, the perfect place to watch the salmon, birds, and bears.

I took this picture of the falls from the first deck I came to, before realizing what was going on nearby  below the second deck:

When I went over to the second deck I saw these eight people intently looking at the river flowing below them. They had just watched a female grizzly bear catch a salmon!

Soon after I got into position at the rail Mama Bear disappeared with her cubs into the woods on the far side of river to eat the fish:

Above and below:  the bears are just to the right of the fish weir.
Mama Grizz is on the left and one of her two cubs is on the right.

Everyone was hoping the bears would come back for more.

To our delight, they did. In about ten minutes they ambled out of the woods and into the water. The first picture in this sequence is at the top of the page. The next photo shows Mom watching and/or instructing her cubs where to go:

I was able to see both cubs clearly for the next five minutes.

Grizzly cubs remain with their mothers for three years. These are too big to have been born this spring but they aren't very good at fishing yet so I'm guessing they are a little over a year old.

I got some good pictures of them watching mom fish. The one on the left tried to catch salmon swimming by (it was unsuccessful this time) but the little moocher on the right seemed content to just watch:



Note those long claws!!

The people who had a good view of the mama bear fishing kept their places along the deck rail and I couldnít get a picture of her until she came out of the water. The close-up in the second photo below shows the salmon she caught:



Once again Mom was watching her cubs, this time making sure they were following her.

Note the bird that was brave enough to perch on the end of the weir while the bears were still close. The first time I saw the bears there were no birds in sight.

Shortly after the bears disappeared into the woods Jim came back to the falls on his bike to see if I was there. We waited around for several minutes but the bears didnít return while we were there. I'm sorry he didn't get to see them.

Continued on the next page . . .

Happy trails,

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

Previous       Next

© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil