Sunday, June 22, 2008

Kenai & Soldotna Hikes

We were supposed to spend our whole weekend backpacking up to the Fuller Lakes in the Kenai Wildlife Refuge Area, but got sidetracked. First to waylay us was the Stolstice Music Festival taking place on the Diamond M Ranch in Kenai. There were over 30 bands playing all afternoon and evening of the 20th (the stolstice) and 21st. This is an annual fundraiser for the local public radio station. There were a few vendors (the Gourmet Hot Dogs were the best!), and the muscians were a mix of local and from around the state, a huge mix of types of music, and a range of abilities as well. It was a fun time hanging out, though chilly at times.

Since we were on the Diamond M Ranch for the festival, we decided to spend the night there before heading out packing. The next morning when we got up it was raining heavily, so we decided to spend the weekend at the Ranch and do some day hikes.

The Oilers Field Trail is an approximately 1 mile loop next to the semi-professional local baseball team's field. There is a frisbee golf course and fitness course trail there as well. In the winter these trails (as well as the adjoining golf course) are used for cross-country ski trails.

The Soldotna City Park is one of our favorite places for a picnic. It is right along the Kenai River in downtown Soldotna, nearly across the Sterling Highway from Safeway, has a small little-kids playground, and lots of private picnic areas that you have to walk down the trails to. We never see the sign until after we pull in, which is probably why there is hardly ever anyone there (just fisherpeople; never picnickers).

Then we checked out the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor's Center (a nice place; great movie about wildlife in Alaska) just off Ski Hill Road and hiked the trails. There is an interpretive section of trail, the Lake Loop, and the Forest Loop. We took our fully loaded packs on this tame, mostly flat, woodchipped trail. It was probably only 2 1/2 miles all the way around the outside loop, but it is a nice, comfortable, safe-feeling hike.

One set of hiking trails that we checked out the trailhead, but didn't actually hike were the Tsalteshi Trails, which begin at the Skyview High School or off of Kalifornsky Beach Road. There are a rabbit warren of trails, which would be fun for exploring, but also increase the chance of getting temporarily lost! These are cross-country ski trails in the winter, and can be mountain biked in the summer. The disconcerting part of the trail map was that all the distances were measured in meters, for a total of about 33,000 meters for the whole trail system (I'll let you figure that out!).

Finally, we hiked the Skilak Creek Trail that begins in the parking lot of Kenai River Campus of Kenai Peninsula College. It is another easy hike down to Skilak Creek and the Kenai River. There were metal grate boardwalks along the river since there has been extensive bank damage that has affected the fish habitat. This is part of the area where much of the population of Anchorage ends up during July salmon spawning and dipnetting season. The trail was under a couple miles and it was interesting to explore.

So while we hadn't planned on spending a day hiking in Kenai and Soldotna, we got to explore some short, fun hikes. I recommend these hikes for anyone visiting the area that wants a tamer taste of Alaska hiking. The ironic part is that when we got out of the car for the first hike of the day it stopped raining, and didn't rain again all day!

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