Eklutna Lake an awesome autumn getaway

Thursday, October 4, 2018 - 13:45
  • Yuditnu Creek entering Eklutna Lake at Mile 3 of the Lakeside Trail, with 7,522-foot Bold Peak looming over the lake. (Photo by Frank Baker)
  • Currant bushes overlooking Eklutna Lake. (Photo by Frank Baker)
  • A lone kayaker rounds the point near Yuditnu Creek where it enters Eklutna Lake. (Photo by Frank Baker)

The sky was a slightly deeper blue than Eklutna Lake on Oct. 1 as I biked along the lakeside trail in bright sun, immersing myself in the sights and smells of autumn. There was a surprising number of people on the trail for a week day, but it made sense. Days like this could be counted on two hands and people — young and old — were out to enjoy it.

Perhaps it’s the briefness of Alaska’s fall season that makes it so special to us. But this year we’ve been treated to an extended season, with unseasonably warm temperatures. Sitting inside on any one of September’s bluebird days was a truly painful experience that I couldn’t abide.

Moderating my activity to nurse an injured knee, I only pedaled about three miles along the lake to a spot where my children and I had picnic some 25 years ago. I sat down on a sun-bleached log that I think still remained from those bygone days, and listened to lake waves lapping up on the shore.

I was grateful for a light breeze that kept the small, aggravating gnats (or “no-seeums”) at bay. I once heard a few people pass on the trail, but then quiet returned and it was just the lake waves and the random flicker of yellowed leaves in the wind.

Eating a sandwich, I pulled out one of my recent acquisitions — a pair of way-too-expensive 10x Swarovski binoculars —and began glassing the mountains above the lake’s western shore.

I never before owned high-end binoculars, and assumed I’d immediately spot bears, moose and other critters. Many years ago I hiked those ridges on the other side of the lake and observed grizzly bears that thankfully, were far below me.

But after persistently glassing the slopes for at least 20 minutes, there was no apparent wildlife. Perhaps another day.

For a different view and more mountain slopes to glass, I biked a little farther to the bluff that overlooks Yuditnu Creek. A kayaker was paddling around the point. The air suddenly became still and the bugs moved in; so after snapping a few photos, I got back on the bike and headed toward the parking lot.

In past years we’d routinely bike to the end of the 12.7-mile Lakeside Trail, and sometimes combine that with a hike up to the toe of the glacier, which has retreated more than a mile in the last 100 years.

I’ve always thought that hiking or biking on the Eklutna Lakeside Trail, which is mostly flat, is far superior to Anchorage’s Tony Knowles Coastal Trail — also flat, but usually crowded. For one, you can’t beat the scenery at Eklutna Lake. Secondly, you don’t have to worry about running into parents with baby carriages, or being flattened by Spandex-clad bikers whizzing along at 25 miles per hour. If you want traffic, you can find it on the Glenn Highway.

Even with increasing numbers of visitors over the years, Eklutna Lake remains a peaceful haven to enjoy the outdoors —whether biking, hiking, kayaking; or in winter, skiing and ice skating. You can always find your spot for picnicking somewhere along the lake. And side hikes such as the Twin Peaks, Bold Ridge and East Fork trails are especially rewarding.

For those wanting some comfort, there are two new public-use cabins at the north end of the lake. There is a cabin at Yuditnu Creek (Mile 3 of the Eklutna Lakeside Trail) and another (named Kokanee) on the western shore that is accessed in summer by kayak and by skis or snowmachine in winter. The Serenity Falls Hut (at Mile 12) is a multiple party hut that sleeps a maximum of 13. For reservations to the Serenity Hut and other Eklutna Lake cabins, visit dnr.alaska.gov/parks/cabins/

I took my time on the return trip, stopping often to take in autumn’s extravaganza, from the brilliant reds of currant bushes to the yellow and gold that appeared painted on Bold Peak’s lower flanks.

“The next time I get up here it’ll probably be snowy white everywhere,” I thought. “I’d better take a few more photos to sustain me through the long winter ahead.”

Frank E. Baker is a lifelong Alaskan and freelance writer who lives in Eagle River with his wife Rebekah, a retired grade school teacher. He is currently serving a three-year term on the Chugach State Park Citizens Advisory Board.

IF YOU GO:

To reach the Eklutna Lake Campground, take the Eklutna exit at approximately mile 26.5 of the Glenn Highway, then follow Eklutna Lake Road to its end about 10 miles away at Eklutna Lake. The ADA-approved facility includes 50 campsites, toilets, water, picnic shelters and fire pits.

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