A lone canoer takes an early morning paddle on Johnson Lake on Saturday morning. Johnson Lake State Recreation Area offers an ideal setting for outdoor recreation on Labor Day.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
Labor Day is here again a day many consider to be the unofficial end of summer and the perfect time to flock to recreation areas away from the city to enjoy one last three-day weekend in the woods.
“This is a great time to be outdoors on the Kenai Peninsula,” said Jack Sinclair, area superintendent for Alaska State Parks.
Many may already have a destination planned, but for those still looking for a place to get away from the hubbub of city life, Sinclair recommended Captain Cook State Recreation Area in Nikiski as one quiet alternative.
Reached by driving 25 miles north of Kenai on the Kenai Spur Highway, this recreation area often sees only a fraction of the visitor use as other campgrounds off of the more frequently traveled Sterling Highway.
Captain Cook offers a short nature trail, good fishing for silver salmon, boating in nearby Stormy Lake and the area has several campsites, including sites for pitching a tent or sleeping in the open air under the celestial canopy.
Sinclair said the close proximity to the Cook Inlet beach makes this area popular with beachcombers and rock hounds, as well.
“It’s possible to find agate, jade and other precious stones,” he said.
Jack Focose of Kenai makes an omelet breakfast for himself and his wife, Wendy, and their friend Lorie Weber, of Soldotna, on Saturday. Three three said they arrived on Friday and intended to stay at Johnson Lake through Monday.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
Sinclair said the same holds true for beachcombing from Ninilchik State Recreation Area at Mile 135 of the Sterling Highway.
“It can be a little quieter there, too, because it’s down and out of the way,” Sinclair said.
Also in this area are several developed campsites, one group picnic shelter and a hiking trail to the river. The Ninilchik River is a good place so spot eagles soaring as they frequently feed on the salmon carcasses left by summer fishermen.
Not as far south as Ninilchik, Johnson Lake State Recreation Area in Kasilof offers numerous recreation opportunities.
“It’s a fairly quiet area that has good canoeing,” Sinclair said.
Johnson Lake also is stocked with rainbow trout annually, which Sinclair said makes for good fishing from a canoe or from shore.
Johnson Lake has 48 campsites, 16 day-use parking sites and a group picnic area that can be reserved by groups of 12 or larger.
“There is also good berry picking in the surrounding woods, and this year with such great periods of wet and dry, the plants are just overloaded with berries,” he said.
Labor Day also is not too early to do some leaf peeping, and the best place to see fall colors is Cooper Landing, according to Sinclair.
“That’s where they start first,” he said.
Sinclair said a great way to take in these colors is to take a float trip down the Kenai River. Rafters can put in at the Sterling Highway bridge over the Kenai River in Cooper Landing and wind their way downstream as far as Jim’s Landing off of Skilak Lake Road.
Sinclair said rafters who bring their rods may even be able to fight it out with a feisty fish while on their float trip, since “This is a good time to do some rainbow (trout) fishing.”
Robin West, manager of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, said recreation opportunities also abound on federal land, with the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area, at Mile 75.2 of the Sterling Highway, being among the best of them.
“It’s an accessible area with good camping and hiking, nice vistas. It’s also an area that’s large enough for people to be spread out,” West said.
The Skilak area is currently closed to hunting, which can make for a wildness experience without the sounds of rifle rapport in the distance, as in common in many wooded areas this time of year.
West said there are numerous lakes in the area where people can partake in canoeing, fishing and bird watching, such as Kelly, Peterson and Engineer Lake, to name a few.
There are numerous hiking trails in the area, from pleasant, easy walks that could be done with the whole family, to longer, more rigorous hikes better suited to the physically fit.
For those who enjoy sleeping in tents there are numerous campgrounds with tent sites, but for those who prefer the added security of being indoors, West said “There are also cabins at Upper Ohmer Lake and Engineer Lake.”
These cabins require reservations, though, and this near to the holiday it may be tough to find one vacant.
For those looking for more fast-paced action than what still waters will bring, West said the Swanson River is running much higher and faster than it usually would at this time.
“People are doing the whole trip in about six hours, much quicker than most are probably used to. And at the low end, with the water picking up, it can be a bit of a rush and a challenge for people not familiar with it to stay dry,” he said.
The common put-in point for a Swanson River canoe trip is at the end of Swanson River Road, and West said there are campgrounds in the area, such as Dolly Varden Lake and Rainbow Lake, where people can spend the night outdoors before beginning their river excursion.
The paddle trip ends at Captain Cook State Recreation Area.
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