Bill Shuster of the U.S. Forest Service said fall colors on the Kenai Peninsula remind him of Trix cereal -- "raspberry red, lemon yellow and orange orange."
"The raspberry red is blueberries and bearberries," he said of their changing leaves. "The lemon yellow is willows and cottonwoods, and the orange orange is water birch."
The colors are reaching their peak across the peninsula. Shuster, a resource staff officer for Chugach National Forest, said his favorite spot to find them is the Resurrection Pass Trail. To find fall colors, though, hikers need not travel anywhere near the whole 39 miles from Cooper Landing to Hope.
"From Cooper Landing, right off the bat, you'll get into aspen," Shuster said. "That is turning yellow and orange."
Aspen grows in clones revealed in the patches of color, he said.
"When you see a patch of orange, those trees are all closely related," he said. "They're all connected in the root system. You may see a patch that hasn't started to turn colors yet. Those trees are a different clone. So when you look up in the fall, you can identify the different clones."
The Resurrection Pass Trail leaves Cooper Landing at about Mile 53 on the Sterling Highway. It climbs about 4.3 miles and 700 vertical feet to Juneau Falls. Watch for fireweed and highbush cranberries, which turn crimson, and rose hips, which turn bright red.
From the falls, the trail follows the Juneau Creek valley to Trout, Juneau and Swan lakes. Swan Lake lies almost 13 miles and 1,000 vertical feet from the trail head in Cooper Landing.
"You leave the aspen when you climb out of the Kenai River drainage," Shuster said. "Then, you get into birch."
Above Juneau Falls, there are broad views of the surrounding mountains. Many are covered with blueberry bushes, which turn purplish red in fall, and bearberries, which turn brilliant red and red-orange. In the high country, watch for water birch, also called dwarf birch, a low bush that turns orange.
Beyond Swan Lake, the trail climbs to alpine tundra. Descending to Hope, it runs through spruce and hemlock. There are extensive stands of birch near Hope, Shuster said.
For an easier hike, he recommended the Russian Lakes Trail, which begins from the Russian River Campground near Mile 53 on the Sterling Highway.
Leaves of the high-bush cranberry and currant plants turn as red as the berries they conceal.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"You'll see cottonwood and birch changing color and also get alpine vistas," he said.
There are a few aspens, too.
The trail is wheelchair-accessible as far as Lower Russian Lake, 2.8 miles and less than 200 vertical feet from the trail head. Upper Russian Lake is 12 miles and 300 vertical feet from the trailhead. Be alert for brown bears.
Shuster directed those who would rather drive to Palmer Creek Road, which extends roughly 10 miles into the mountains near Hope.
"You can drive above the timber line," he said. "You'll see birch and aspen around Hope and get up to where you can see fall colors on the mountain slopes. The top is within a couple hundred feet of the tundra."
From there, old mining roads reach the recent snow line. The area is closed to moose hunting, he said, so it can be a good place to spot moose and black bears.
Palmer Creek Road is good as far as Coeur d' Alene Campground, he said. The Forest Service recommends driving beyond that only with pickup trucks or other high-clearance vehicles. However, Shuster said he has seen sedans reach the top.
Gary Titus, wilderness ranger and historian for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, recommended the Fuller Lake Trail, which begins near Mile 57 on the Sterling Highway. That climbs through spruce, birch, aspen and cottonwood.
The trail emerges by a lake and beaver dam at the lower end of Fuller Lake valley, then climbs through cottonwoods, willows and spruce to Fuller Lake itself, about 2.5 miles and 1,200 vertical feet from the highway. Blueberries, bearberries and willows brighten the surrounding mountainsides. A hunters' trail about halfway up Fuller Lake climbs a ridge that leads to the 4,200-foot summit of Round Mountain.
Roger MacCampbell, district ranger for Alaska State Parks in Homer, recommended the Woznesenski River Trail in Kachemak Bay State Park. Water taxi service is available from Homer. The trail begins by Haystack Rock near the base of the spit at the entrance to China Poot Bay. It follows Stonehocker Creek, then runs up the Woznesenski River. Hikers will find cottonwoods, willows, alders and fireweed. There also are good views of waterfalls that tumble from the surrounding mountains into the Woznesenski valley.
About seven miles from Haystack Rock, the trail leaves the valley and climbs about 2.5 miles to China Poot Lake. From there, MacCampbell said, it is a little more than 2 miles to the ranger station in Halibut Cove Lagoon.
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