All the view, half the work

Posted: Friday, August 15, 2003

For those looking for a rewarding outdoor excursion, but who don't want to hike long miles of quad busting ups and downs to take in a blow-you-away view, the Bear Mountain trail may be just right.

This is a hike that offers some impressive scenery from the summit, but at .8-miles one way, this hike is short in length and has a moderate grade to the 500-feet of incline.

This makes it a perfect after-work jaunt in these late summer days with sunlight growing ever shorter, or for those family types whose children just don't have it in them to walk many miles.

The Bear Mountain hike flanks the east side of the mountain which bares the same name. It can be steep in sections, but is offset by many long level stretches.

The entire hike moves through high bush cranberry. Some of the shrubs are over 6 feet in height, and the lower elevations of this trial are particularly thick with plants festooned with red fruit.

Although quite sour when eaten raw, high bush cranberries can be picked for later use in jams and jellies, and are said to have a good flavor once cooked.


An Old World swallowtail butterfly (Papillo machaon), rests on some flowering bluebells halfway to the summit on Bear Mountain Trail.

Photo by Joseph Robertia

However, hikers aren't the only ones who partake in this natural bounty. Bears frequent this area, and the chances of spotting one are better than average.

Even when not present themselves, signs of the bruins are everywhere in the form of numerous piles of scat, pie-plate sized paw prints, and even the occasional claw marks on trees where they have marked their territory.

It's best to make noise while on this trek to ensure any bears in the area aren't surprised by your presence.

The dense brush and trees, especially the thick alder patches and large old-growth cottonwoods halfway up the hike, are excellent places to see some of the other animals that inhabit this forest area.

Moose are another common sight. Many cows are accompanied by their quick growing calves that were born in May and June -- some of which are already up to several hundred pounds in weight.

Grouse, seemingly wound tight as springs, often blow from the brush with little more provocation than the imminent approach of hikers.

Porcupines are present, but slightly elusive. These large, slow moving rodents can be seen nibbling buds and young leaves.

Large ledges and false summits poke out in several places on the way up the mountain, teasing glimpses of the stunning views awaiting on the true summit. Don't be fooled, the true summit is unmistakably apparent when reached.

The view from the top is spectacular. The enormous 15-mile long Skilak Lake can be seen, including the inlet of the Kenai River.

The meeting point between the lake and what is called Skilak River -- the body of water carrying runoff from Skilak Glacier -- can also be seen from the summit.

On the south side of the lake, the snow-capped peaks of the Kenai Mountains also add to the savory summit view.

The summit of the nearby Skilak Lookout Trail can be seen. The Bear Mountain summit has an almost identical vantage as the Skilak Lookout Trail, but Bear Mountain comes with the satisfaction of knowing 1.7-miles less were hiked to obtain it, for those who believe less is best.

These fading days of summer are a prime time to enjoy this bountiful hike, and for those looking to beat the crowds, a mid-week hike can almost ensure your solitude.

The trail head is located in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge at Mile 6 of the Skilak Lake Loop Rd., which is a 19-mile loop off of the Sterling Hwy.

The east end of Skilak Lake Loop Rd. is located at Mile 58 of the Sterling Hwy. The west end of the road is at Mile 75 of the Sterling Hwy. For more information, contact the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Happy Trails!

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