Fall is still officially more than a week away, but that hasn't stopped Mother Nature.
The nights are growing cooler. The hours of daylight measure minutes less each passing day. Leaves are changing to various shades of gold, orange and red.
Many Kenai Peninsula residents are taking advantage of the fair weather by getting outdoors.
The Kenai River Trail in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge it one spot in particular that offers brisk temperatures, stunning scenery and abundant fishing this time of year.
"In my opinion, it's one of the best trails in the refuge system," said Andrea Winkler, a back-country crew member at the refuge.
Winkler should know. She has been on the trail several times this year performing trail maintenance and restoration as part of her job, but she also recently hiked the trail with family from out of state.
"The views are just incredible," said Winkler. "Especially from the river canyon overlook it's just gorgeous."
The view she is referring to not only is impressive to behold, but it's also easily accessible. From the east trail head, which is a little under a mile down the east entrance of Skilak Lake Road, it is only a .4-mile hike over moderate conditions to reach it a real draw to hikers who don't enjoy putting in hours of quad-throbbing ups and downs to take in a scenic view.
However, there is a swift drop-off of several hundred feet down to the river, so parents may need to show extra caution with children near the edge of the canyon.
"The trail is a fun hike," Winkler said. It alternates between rocky terrain high on the bluff, some thick forest areas, and, of course, it runs parallel to the river for some sections."
The forest is a mix of aspen, cottonwood, spruce and birch, not to mention the tall stands of fireweed that are fluffy and white from dispersing seeds this time of year.
The trail goes through several areas that were consumed by flame during the Pothole Lake Fire of 1991, and evidence of new growth since then is obvious. The high bluffs overlooking the canyon also are studded with pioneer shrubs.
"There is also good wildlife viewing in the area," Winkler said.
Eagles, ducks, geese and other birds are common sights streaming through the canyon. Signs of bear are everywhere, including scat and half-eaten salmon carcasses on the trail, claw marks in trees and paw prints galore.
Winkler said she has not seen a bear on the trail, but anyone hiking the area should be wary and follow safe hiking practices.
Many of the bears reported in the area are being seen in the early morning and late evening.
The bears are being drawn to the abundance of berries and salmon.
"The water is just red with spawning sockeye," Winkler said.
The fish draw in more than bears, and many peninsula anglers have been wetting a hook along the trail.
"The fishing's been pretty good," said Kathy Lewis of Sol-dotna.
She recently fished the river with her husband and did pretty well for herself. She said they like the spot because of the scenery.
"We caught a lot of nice trout and dollies, and I got a 15-pound silver," Lewis said. "It was hiding in there with the reds."
Lewis said the sockeye are in the river by the thousands and are forming huge red bands in the silty, green water.
"The reds were everywhere," she said. "I couldn't keep them off my hook, but I wish they would stay off because for a spawning fish they're tough fighters. They wore my arms off."
Whether for wildlife viewing, fishing, or just out for a hike, the Kenai River Trail offers many options. The entire loop is only 6.3-miles long, but there is an east and a west entrance to the trail, so only hiking 2- to 2.5-miles is an easy alternative. Both trail heads start on the left side of Skilak Lake Road, if coming from the east end of the road.
For more detailed information on hiking and camping along the Kenai River Trail, contact the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge at 262-7021.
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