Beyond the official Kenai Refuge ski trails

Posted: Friday, March 12, 2010

As an employee at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, I often opt to take my lunch break out on the ski trails that run through the woods from the refuge headquarters on Ski Hill Road. These beautiful, groomed trails meander through quiet mixed forests and out into the sunshine and mountain views on Headquarters Lake. As varied, extensive, and picturesque as this trail system is, my need for adventure urges me to find ways farther out, to follow trails that lead I know not where.

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Photos By Matt Bowser
Photos By Matt Bowser
Arc-Slikok trail after a fresh snow.

I know of four main ways farther out: 1.) the Peninsula Sled Dog and Racing Association (PSDRA) trails; 2.) the power lines heading south toward Kasilof; 3.) a trail heading from Arc Lake toward Slikok Lake; and 4.) a trail heading south from the southeast bay of Headquarters Lake. A map of the refuge ski trails, including the loops named below, are available on the refuge's Web site (

The PSDRA trails

The Peninsula Sled Dog and Racing Association (PSDRA) maintains a groomed trail system to the east of the refuge ski trails. These trails can be accessed from the northeast shore of Headquarters Lake. A map of the PSDRA trails is available from their Web site:

Directions: From the entrance to Headquarters Lake, head nearly due east toward the view of the mountains where there is a distinct gap in the black spruce trees that surround the lake. Leave the lake continuing eastward into the fen. There are usually ski tracks here where others have taken this route. One of the PSDRA loops parallels the lake shore here merely 100 yards from the lake. A nice, short loop can be made by taking a right (heading south) on this trail and following it as it turns to the east, follows the shore of a small lake, and comes to an intersection to the northeast. Turn left (west) here. This loop can be exited via the pond to the north of and connected to Headquarters Lake or by continuing on the PSDRA trail back to the eastern shore of Headquarters Lake.

The power lines

Power transmission lines east of and roughly paralleling the Sterling Highway link up with networks of snowmachine and dog mushing trails in the vast fens to the south, and the headwaters of Slikok Creek and Coal Creek.

Directions: The power lines are easily accessed from the Cheechako, Howling Hill, and Nordic View loops, which are bounded by these power lines to the west. The area north of Arc Lake is closed to snowmachines, so the northern section of the power lines can be tough going. They are well traveled south Arc Lake however.

The Arc-Slikok trail

This well-used trail crosses Arc Lake from the public access on the Sterling Highway, intersects the power lines, then winds through the woods to the southeast, eventually continuing to Slikok Lake and beyond.

Directions: This trail can be accessed via the power lines, the Nordic View loop, or the Raven Ridge loop, but the power lines provide the easiest access. The Arc-Slikok trail crosses the power lines just south of where the Nordic View loop meets the power lines. Reaching this trail via the Nordic View or Raven Ridge loops is more difficult, involving heading through thick woods to the southwest of these loops.

The south bay trail

This ski route links Headquarters Lake with trail systems to the south in the Slikok Creek drainage. The going can be difficult when breaking trail.

Directions: On the southeast bay of Headquarters Lake there is a conspicuous opening in the black spruce trees along the shore of the lake. Here, ski tracks leaving the lake are often evident, leading to the south and slightly eastward. The trail cuts through a narrow stand of spruce trees on an old seismograph line, then turns southward on an intersecting seismograph line. This trail continues southward, intersecting the Arc-Slikok trail and other trails.

When exploring these trails, please abide by the rules of the various trails and avoid getting lost. I always keep a compass in my coat pocket, knowing that I can make it back to civilization by heading west toward the Sterling Highway or North toward Funny River Road. The radio tower on the hill behind the Refuge shop is a good landmark, prominently visible from many of the wetlands and hills in the vicinity. Air traffic from the Soldotna Airport, the road noise the Sterling Highway, and the industrial din from the landfill also help with orientation in this area.

Matt Bowser, entomologist, has worked for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge since 2004.

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Previous Refuge Notebook articles can be viewed on the refuge Website, You can check on local birds or report your bird sighting on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Birding Hotline at 907-262-2300.

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