HOMER -- Exploring Homer and its surrounding expanses by foot is possibly the most rewarding and interactive way to experience the beauty of this part of Alaska.
Hiking trails throughout the lower Kenai Peninsula offer everything from easy, popular family hikes to more difficult trails through higher elevations. Whatever your level of hiking expertise, Homer provides ample opportunities to get out and experience the best of the outdoor scene.
Children are natural explorers with fresh eyes and open minds. Given the opportunity, they may guide you to some of the more obscure and previously unnoticed treasures in the backcountry around us. Nevertheless, if getting them to that backcountry takes half the day, you risk losing their innate curiosity and wonderment to sheer exhaustion.
On the Homer side of things, a good option for family trekking is the Diamond Creek Trail. It starts across Sterling Highway from the entrance to Diamond Ridge Road, at approximately Mile 167. Hikers walk down a well-traveled, yet generally untainted path to a water-front parcel. There are plenty of areas for little ones to explore and touch, along with beautiful views of Cook Inlet.
Other options for the less experienced hiker include the Calvin and Coyle Trail and the various trails wandering through 126-acre Carl E. Wynn Nature Center. The Calvin and Coyle trail is about one mile from town off East End Road, at Mariner Drive, and offers an easy walk that also provides spectacular views. It's a good place to check out the wildflowers and possibly catch a glimpse of birds and small animals in the wetland area above Beluga Lake.
Trails at the Carl E. Wynn Center also provide a vast stretch of wildflowers, along with a 30-acre wildlife refuge. In addition, one of the trails is wheelchair-accessible for those who may rarely get the opportunity to experience Alaska's offerings by trail.
"All of the trails are clear and in great shape," said Marilyn Sigman, executive director of the Nature Center. "It's pretty dry out there, but the wildflowers are out, and it's just a beautiful walk."
Guided tours are offered every two hours in the summer between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., and Sigman said the tours are getting fairly popular. The center is located on east Skyline Drive, about 1.5 miles from the intersection at East Hill Road.
For more information on the trails, the center or any of the tours, contact the Center for Alaska Coastal Studies at 235-6667.
For those looking for something a little more challenging, the Homestead Trail provides a 6-mile path through some of Homer's more stunning backcountry. Views of Cook Inlet, Mount Iliamna and Mount Redoubt dominate many areas of the trail, while moose, bald eagles and various other wildlife reside in the area.
For the true hiking enthusiast, there are still plenty of trails around to challenge even the toughest of trekkers. A more strenuous adventure awaits those willing to head across Kachemak Bay to Kachemak Bay State Park.
Among some of the more formidable trails are the Lagoon and Poot Peak trails. The Lagoon Trail is a 6.2-mile route that boasts an elevation gain of 1,200 feet. The trail includes several long, steep climbs, wet areas and glacial stream crossings. The minimum hiking time is five hours with a few campsites available at the Halibut Creek Flats and the Halibut Cove Lagoon Ranger Station.
The 4.1-mile Grewingk Glacier Trail is open and cleared of dead trees. The trail climbs 500 feet through some easy topography on the flats, to more arduous climbs up steep hills, and finishes up at the head of the glacier. This moderate trail will take two to three hours for most hikers, but offers explorers an interesting opportunity to come face to face with a glacier.
Just about any spot of land off the beaten track in Homer can provide one with interesting vistas of wildlife and foliage. To be sure which trails are accessible to the public, and which cross over private lands, or to just get a better idea of where you're going and what you may run into, grab a trail guide from Alaska State Parks and Recreation or Homer Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center.
Your adventure awaits.
Sean Pearson is a reporter for the Homer News.
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