Juneau Falls is a fine spot for a summer picnic, but it can be even better during winter.
The creek erupts from a curtain of ice sculpted like stalactites, draperies and flowstone in a limestone cave. It looks like an ice-climber's paradise. A hundred feet below, the water disappears through a hole in a knobbly sheet of white.
From the southern end of the Resurrection Pass Trail in Cooper Landing, it is about a four-mile hike to the falls. In January, it is normally a pleasant trip by snowmachine or skis. With snow in the air on Thursday, it could soon be again.
Last Sunday, though, ice cleats were a better choice for a trail glazed by alternating snow and rain. A carpet of lingonberry bushes, reddish and speckled with slushy snow, still showed by the trail at lower elevations.
The trail begins outside Cooper Landing near Mile 54 of the Sterling Highway at an elevation of about 400 feet. It climbs steadily through aspen, birch and beetle-ravaged spruce to an altitude of about 1,000 feet. Shortly after that, it reaches the rim of the gorge that carries Juneau Creek to the Kenai River. Then, it is a fairly level hike to the falls.
When the skies are clear, there are good views down the canyon to Cecil Rhode Mountain and Kenai Lake. On Sunday, though, blowing slush rode a 30-knot wind up the Kenai River valley and whistled through the trees where the Resurrection Pass Trail turns up Juneau Creek. A grove of barren aspen overlooked the gorge in stark black-and-white -- slender trunks darkened by rain, plastered white with slush on the upwind side.
Ice made it chancy to peer over the cliffs to the roaring creek below.
Hike to Juneau Falls showcases best of winter landscape.
Photo by Doug Loshbaugh
Farther up the trail, the blowing slush turned to snow. Two inches of the wet stuff stuck to a foot of crusty white from previous storms. A lone jay perched in a spruce, screeching at the wind.
A small wooden sign marked the cutoff to an overlook by the falls, about 100 feet through the trees from the trail. Compared with summer, the roar of the water was muted.
A quarter of a mile above the falls, the Resurrection Pass Trail crosses Juneau Creek on a wooden bridge, then runs another 34 miles to Hope. Just past the bridge, though, an informal trail runs about two miles to Bean Creek Road in Cooper Landing.
The U.S. Forest Service closes the Resurrection Pass Trail to snowmachines after Feb. 15.
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