Refuge is a wilderness playground

Posted: Saturday, April 20, 2002

Whether you're looking for an Alaska fishing adventure, a quiet nature stroll or a remote camping getaway, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge has more than enough room to accommodate your needs.

Stretching across 1.9 million acres, the refuge reaches from Turnagain Arm south of Anchorage to the mountains south of Kachemak Bay on the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula. Included in the refuge's expanse are the peninsula's two largest lakes, Tustumena and Skilak; much of the Kenai and Kasilof river drainages; and large areas of the Kenai Mountains.

The refuge is vital to the health of the peninsula's wildlife populations and is home to brown and black bears, caribou, moose, lynx, loons, eagles, Dall sheep, mountain goats, wolves, salmon and trout.

You will find wildlife displays and visitor information at the refuge headquarters on Ski Hill Road in Soldotna. To find out more, call 262-7021.

Hiking opportunities range from nature and cross-country ski trails around the refuge headquarters to steep hikes in the Kenai Mountains. There also are numerous public campgrounds and boat launches.

The Russian River, which forms the boundary between the refuge and Chugach National Forest, hosts one of Alaska's most popular sockeye salmon fisheries. There also is good sockeye and silver salmon fishing from the banks of the Kenai River.

But sockeyes are far from the only sport-fishing fare. The Swan Lake and Swanson River canoe trails offer rainbow trout and Dolly Varden. There are grayling in lower Fuller Lake. That is about 1.5 miles up the Fuller Lakes Trail beginning at Mile 57 of the Sterling Highway.

Those with boats will find lake trout, Dolly Varden and salmon -- as well has hiking trails and public-use cabins, some historic -- on Hidden, Skilak and Tustumena lakes. Be wary of the weather, though, which can turn stormy and dangerous.

The refuge provides abundant opportunities for hunting and wildlife watching. Round Mountain near Fuller Lakes is an excellent place to spot Dall sheep. Watch from the Fuller Lakes Trail or the parking area by the Russian River ferry. You'll spot bald eagles along the Kenai River and moose almost anywhere. Trumpeter swans visit the lower Moose River, Watson Lake and lakes along the canoe trails.

All-terrain vehicles, water-skiing and jet skies are banned on the refuge. Snowmachines, motorized boats and aircraft are allowed only in specific areas, and bicycles are banned from refuge trails.

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