One of the nice things about living close to the end of the road is that you don't have to go too far to get off the beaten path.
Captain Cook State Recreation Area, located at the end of the Kenai Spur Highway, is just such a spot -- a great place to get away without having to go away.
"There's really not too much that goes on, other than people come here to relax," said Mike Williams, the campground host at the recreation area's Discovery Campground. "It's more family-oriented camping. It's laid back. This is a beautiful spot, the campsites are more spread out, and trees here aren't all dead."
Captain Cook State Recrea-tion Area, opened in the 1970s, covers some 3,500 acres at the end of the Kenai Spur Highway. The park boundaries, which start at Mile 36 of the Spur Highway, encompass saltwater beaches along the shores of Cook Inlet, freshwater boating, fishing and swimming on Stormy Lake, and the 51-site Discovery Campground at the very end of the paved road. For day users, there are picnic facilities at Stormy Lake, Bishop Creek and Discovery Camp-ground.
Captain Cook often serves as the end of the road for canoeists as well, providing a spot to take out after paddling down the Swanson River and the Swanson River Canoe Trails in the adjacent Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Terry Rude, an Alaska State Parks ranger who has been covering Captain Cook for nine years, said a lot of campers visit the park to get far away from the madding crowds that flock to the fishing hot spots on the rest of the peninsula.
Kim Boyle of Soldotna enjoys a sunny afternoon on the Cook Inlet beach at the end of the road with her daughter Randee and son Zac earlier this month. "We just come out for the afternoon to break the monotony," she said.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"We do have that run of silver salmon in August, but you can bypass the Swanson River if you want to," Rude said. "We get people that aren't all that interested in fishing. It's not wall-to-wall campers here. It's just not as hectic a spot."
And activities in the recreation area tend to be more of the relaxing variety -- a nice walk on the beach, searching for shells or agate, watching the wildlife, checking out the view or just finding a spot in the sunshine to stretch out for a nap.
"They relax," Williams said of the campers he sees. "They hike the nature trail or walk on the beach or just socialize and hang out -- this is a good place for it."
A majority of visitors to the recreation area are Alaskans, though Williams said he has met people from around the world this spring.
"Quite a few locals come up, and quite a few people from Anchorage," Williams said.
Tent camping used to be available at the Bishop Creek area, but that has been designated as a day-use area for several seasons due to bear concerns. From the parking lot at Bishop Creek, beachcombers can follow a quarter-mile trail down to the beach, which is soft and sandy at the mouth of the creek. Stormy Lake has three access points in the recreation area -- a swimming beach, a picnic loop and a boat launch.
The water in Stormy Lake runs on the chilly side, and Rude said that it's usually only kids that are bold enough to test the water, and only on the hottest days of the Alaska summer, though the family dog is often spotted taking a dip.
An angler is dwarfed by the solitude as he fishes Stormy Lake at the edge of Captain Cook State Park. The wayside is a refuge for area outdoor enthusiasts.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
On a clear day, the beach at Bishop Creek and the picnic area at Discovery Campground can offer a glimpse of Mt. McKinley, some 120 miles to the north.
The Yurick Nature Trail rings the Discovery Campground and has interpretive displays identifying the plentiful wildflowers along the trail. Part of the trail overlooks Cook Inlet, affording views of the mountains on the other side.
Williams, who is from Florida and is spending the summer in Alaska, wakes up to that view from his site in the Discovery Campground every day.
"It's tough to walk out your door every morning and be greeted by that -- but somebody's got to do it," Williams said with a grin.
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