Photo Credit: Frank Kovalchek

National Heritage Area Sites to Visit

June 13, 2017

Discover the story in person

Learn something new about your favorite places this summer:

Alyeska Roundhouse Museum   Summer, 9:30am – 6:30pm

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center   May – Sept., 8am – 8pm

Williwaw Nature Trail, Agents site,

Begich Boggs Visitor Center May 27 – Sept. 18, 9am – 6pm

Prince William Sound Museum   9am – 7pm

Hope & Sunrise Historical Museum   Memorial – Labor Day, 12pm – 4pm.

K’Beq Footprints interpretative site   Summer, 10am – 4pm Thurs. – Sun.

Cooper Landing Museum   May 15 – Sept. 15, 12 – 5pm Wed. – Mon.

Moose Pass Library   New exhibits debut June 17, Hrs. (907) 288-3111

Seward Library &  Museum * May 16 – Sept. 16, 10am – 5pm, Fri. – Sat.

Seward Cable House  (Park of Seward walking tour – interpretative panel outside building)

Note: winter hours vary.

Discover new and classic trails in Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm NHA

May 30, 2017

September explorations of Gull Rock Trail outside of Hope.

From the shores of Prince William Sound, through glacially carved Kenai Mountain passes, to Turnagain tidal flats, trails have long connected diverse ecosystems and peoples of this mountainous region. Today, recreational trails within the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area (KMTA) offer a variety of terrain, length, and difficulty. Bike a beloved backcountry trail, or explore a secret gem of alpine access. This assemblage is an introductory sampling of outstanding trails in the KMTA area, listed south to north.

Iditarod Trail, Seward

Distance: 1 mile

Terrain: Paved bicycle path

Trail use: Walking and biking

Trailhead: Starts at the Milepost 0 Tripod marker near the Alaska SeaLife Center in downtown Seward. The trail runs north along the shoreline of Resurrection Bay.


A list of KMTA trails would not be complete without including the economic and social lifeline of Alaska’s gold rushes, the Iditarod Trail. The National Historic Iditarod Trail is a 2,300-mile network of trails used for subsistence and trade. The celebrated trail starts in Seward, where travelers today can use a 1-mile paved bike path and visit the Iditarod trailblazer Jujiro Wada memorial.

Primrose & Lost Lake

Distance: 15 miles

Terrain: Gradual climb of 1,600 feet through spruce forest to open meadows, hemlock, and alpine ridges

Trail use: Hiking, difficult biking; horses allowed after June 30

Trailhead: Primrose: Mile 17 of Seward Highway, travel west 1 mile to Primrose Campground. Lost Lake: Mile 5 of Seward Highway, follow signs up gravel road of Lost Lake subdivision.


This popular trail with buckets of alpine lakes is one of the author’s favorites, whether for backpacking or a big day trip. Consider bringing a fishing rod! Linking Primrose and Lost Lake trail is an elegant point-to-point with a short shuttle ride along the Seward Highway. There are five designated campsites on the trail. Bring your camp stove; no fires allowed above tree line. Snow often lingers in the alpine until mid-July.

Russian Lakes Trail, Upper & Lower

Distance: 21 miles

Terrain: Accessible broad path, gentle climbs over the first 3.5 miles of Lower Trail; narrower multiuse trail overlooking wooded rivers and slopes beyond Barber Cabin

Trail use: Hiking, biking; horses allowed after June 30

Trailhead: Lower (north): Mile 52.6 of Sterling Hwy, turn south into Russian River Campground and continue 1 mile. Upper (east): Mile 48 of Sterling Hwy, travel south on Snug Harbor Road for 9 miles, continue on Cooper Lake Road an additional 3 miles.


Listen to the Russian River and look for adventures big and small. From the Lower Trailhead, Russian River Falls is a destination 2.4 miles in with benches and rocks to scramble. Three Forest Service cabins may be reserved at Barber Cabin, first one from the Lower Russian Lake Trailhead, is 3.5 miles in and wheelchair accessible.

Crescent Creek Trail

Distance: 6.3 miles to Crescent Lake, optional bushwhack extension of 8 miles along Crescent Lake Trail connecting with 3.4-mile Carter Lake Trail

Terrain: Rolling and gradual climbs through birch-aspen forest and mountain meadows

Trail use: Hiking, biking; horses allowed after June 30

Trailhead: Mile 45 of Sterling Highway, south onto Quartz Creek Road past the campgrounds to Mile 3.3.


Climb to a long lovely lake and linger. Campsites are located along the wooded shoreline, or reserve the Forest Service cabin. An epic through-hike is possible for those willing and able to tussle with Chugach brush and stream crossings along the southern shore of Crescent Lake to the Carter Lake Trail. This offers a steeper descent to the Seward Highway.

Resurrection Pass

Distance: 39 miles

Terrain: Rolling forest floor, gentle switchbacks to assist in the climb from 500 to 2,600 feet

Trail use: Hiking, biking; horses allowed after June 30

Trailhead: South: Mile 53.2 of the Sterling Highway. North: Mile 15 of Hope Highway, turn south onto Resurrection Creek Road for 4 miles on gravel road to the trailhead.


A classic hiking, horse-riding, or biking trail in the summer and ski route in the winter. Eight Forest Service cabins along the route can be reserved and several designated campsites are located amongst spruce forests, lakes, and tundra with seasonal wildflowers and berries. The nearby town of Hope was the first established during the Turnagain Arm gold rush.

Gull Rock Trail

Distance: 5.7 miles

Terrain: Flat, forested, numerous boardwalks, last miles include short steep sections and narrower tread

Trail use: Hiking, difficult mountain biking; horses allowed after June 30

Trailhead: Mile 17.8 of the Hope Highway, turn left on Forest Service signed road to a one-way parking lot ¼ mile from the Highway or access trail from end of the Porcupine Campground.


Of any trail within KMTA, Gull Rock offers a flavor of Turnagain Arm with numerous overlooks and a few social trails to rocky beaches. Avoid walking out to the mudflats because the mud can trap hikers and tidal change can be large and rapid. The parking lot above Hope Highway starts with ~1/2 mile of rolling hilly trail before reaching a toddler-friendly flat section of the Gull Rock Trail. This lot is the trailhead for the steeper Hope Point Trail as well. Campground access leads directly to the gentler trail. The final miles include ascents to a couple of small alpine slopes and tantalizing views of the rocky outcrop at the end of the trail. Backcountry campsites are available at the trail’s end. Gull Rock Trail will see early-season improvements thanks to a USFS-led Alaska Trail Stewards volunteer work party this June.

Johnson Pass Trail

Distance: 23 miles

Terrain: Forested climb to subalpine meadows

Trail use: Hiking, biking; horses allowed after June 30

Trailhead: North: Mile 64 of the Seward Highway, South: Mile 32.5 of the Seward Highway.


A popular, varied trail for day, overnight, and biking trips, this trail is also known for the need for careful trip timing, especially by bike. Too early, and the trail is still too muddy to sustainably travel on. Too late, and vegetation obscures the trail and sight line. Spruce and hemlock open to wildflower meadows over a gradual 1,000-foot ascent. Travelers can pause at waterfalls and Johnson Lake and overnight at Forest Service designated campsites. The north trailhead is connected to Granite Creek campground and the Hope Highway junction via a paved bike trail along the Seward Highway. Alaska Trail Stewards also plans a summer work party to brush out this trail.

Byron Glacier

Distance: 1.4 miles

Terrain: Flat, gravel then rocky with some standing water

Trail use: Hiking

Trailhead: Follow Portage Glacier Road to the Begich Boggs Visitor Center and turn right/south on the Portage Lake Loop. Stay right on Bryon Glacier Road, and watch for signs to the trailhead.


Bring your friends and family to meet a glacier close-up in a way that allows for exploration of ferns, creeks, and snowfields along the way. Byron Glacier is easily visible from the end of the trail. Beyond, boulders deposited by the glacier at its terminus can be a challenge if you choose to negotiate them. Climbing on the glacier is dangerous and should only be undertaken with appropriate training and equipment.

Williwaw Nature Trail

Distance: 1.25 mile loop

Terrain: Well-maintained walking trail with boardwalk over bog

Trail use: Walking, biking

Trailhead: Mile 4 of the Portage Glacier Road at the Williwaw Fish Viewing Platform.


The Williwaw Nature Trail hosts a delightful diversity of habitat, history, and human use. From the fish-viewing platform, pass under the highway bridge and travel along Williwaw Creek. The trail crosses Portage Road before connecting to the Trail of Blue Ice; be careful at the crossing. To complete the loop, follow the signs through the Williwaw Campground from the Trail of Blue Ice. Visitors with smartphones can pull them out to learn a bit more about local residents by playing the Agents of Discovery Mission Site ( Download the app before you arrive or at the Begich Boggs Visitor Center.

Palmer Creek

Distance: 1.5 miles to lakes, optional ridge and peak access beyond

Terrain: Gradual climb to lakes, possible stream crossings

Trail use: Hiking

Trailhead: Mile 15 of Hope Highway, turn south onto Palmer Creek Road, continue 12 miles to end of gravel road, last 5 miles are narrow and rocky.


Worth the drive or the bike in, this secret gem of alpine access gives glimpses of Hope’s past and present. There are both both gold mining remnants and a handful of current claims. Glaciers carved two hanging lakes, from which you may strategize a further ridge ramble.

Crow Pass

Distance: 24 miles to Eagle River trailhead

Terrain: Starts uphill with steep sections and switchbacks, some scree, alpine meadows, riparian, and one major river ford at approximately mile 12

Trail use: Hiking

Trailhead: Mile 2 of Alyeska Highway, turn left on Crow Creek Road, continue 5 miles on this gravel road to bridge and turn right uphill. The last mile of road to the trailhead is narrow.


Transition from temperate rainforest to alpine wildflower slopes in 3 lung-pumping miles that earn you 2,080 vertical feet. Variety is the spice of this historic and picturesque trail, one of the National Historic Iditarod Trail routes over the Chugach Mountains. Mining remnants are found 1.7 miles; at mile 3 is a Forest Service cabin along Crystal Lake; a bit farther along the trail is the summit of Crow Pass with tremendous views including Raven Glacier. This challenging trail is worthwhile as a day-hike to the pass or as a multi-day trip if you continue on to the Eagle River trailhead in Chugach State Park.

Beaver Pond

Distance: 2.5 miles

Terrain: Wooded, rolling trail with short, steep climb from northern access

Trail use: Hiking, biking

Trailhead: North: Mile 2 of Alyeska Highway, turn left on Crow Creek Road (gravel) and travel 1/2 mile, just before California Creek bridge; South: 1/2 mile west of Girdwood on the Bird-to-Gird Pathway, look for sign.


Find some quiet woods or a surprise view of Turnagain Arm just a stone’s throw from downtown Girdwood. This locally cherished connector trail has seen recent improvements stewarded by the Girdwood Trails Committee and weeks of additional work are planned for the summer of 2017.


As you explore old favorites, please keep in mind that other users you meet might be there for the first time. Demonstrate trail etiquette: treat others with courtesy; let slower users know when you are approaching; yield to horses and pedestrians. Be a sustainable friend to the trails; travel elsewhere if they are so muddy that you would leave ruts.


More trail descriptions can be found on KMTA’s bike trail map (biking-in-the-kmta-corridor), the Chugach National Forest website (, Kenai Fjords National Park (, and Chugach State Park (


Current trail conditions can be researched at Chugach National Forest Recreation Updates ( or contacting the local Forest District Office. Cross Country Alaska ( provides visitor-sourced updates.

Spring grants build bridges

April 23, 2017

Four Valleys Community School summer students will have increased scholarship access again this summer thanks to a new KMTA grant.

From a new steel beam bridge across California Creek in Girdwood to a storytelling project between elders and youth in Seward, Kenai Mountains Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area awarded grants to connect people to places and their stories at the April 12 Board meeting. National Heritage Area grants are designed to promote local participation in communities discovering their stories.

Girdwood and surrounding Turnagain Arm communities proposed three local projects approved by the KMTA Board for the upcoming year. Girdwood’s Town Square interpretative signs will be fabricated and installed this summer, the Four Valleys Community School, serving families throughout Turnagain Arm, will again offer scholarships for their youth summer Adventure Camps, and the Girdwood Trails Committee will lead the replacement of the failing California Creek Bridge.

Further south in the Kenai Mountains corridor, projects for Portage, Cooper Landing, and Seward were awarded funding. The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage is in the finishing stages to open a new indoor educational facility. The new Snug Harbor Pathway in Cooper Landing will see facilitated community design of an interpretation and user amenities plan. Seward students will have the opportunity to interview elders and share their stories by producing and publishing multimedia iBooks.

Community-driven partnerships

These six infrastructure and education projects serve KMTA missions of historic interpretation, education of the public, particularly youth, historic trail development, assistance to local interpretative centers, and community development. KMTA awarded up to $52,215 for the 2017 spring round of community grants, to be matched by at least $99,467 in support from volunteers donating their time, donations of building and educational materials, and matching funds.

KMTA will contribute $5,000 to help replace the damaged California Creek Bridge on the Lower Iditarod National Historic Trail. The new bridge will connect the old Girdwood Townsite to the new Girdwood Townsite, linking miles of trails that weave past beaver ponds and through dense forest on a route traveled by the Dena’ina people, miners and trappers, and current valley residents.

The Seward PTA will initiate an Elders Sharing project among Seward K-12 students, the Qutekcak Native Tribe, Seward Providence Mountain Haven, Seward Senior Center, Seward Boys & Girls Club, Jesse Lee Home alumni, and Seward individuals. Elder-student partners will compile photographs, videos, artifacts, and accounts to create interactive iBooks using iPads installed with the iBook Creator App. Finished iBooks will be published and freely available. Some will likely be shared on the KMTA website.

Renewed projects

The Girdwood Town Square signage project, Four Valleys Community School (FVCS) Adventure Camps, and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center’s (AWCC) Bison Hall completion are all follow-up investments by KMTA to complete or renew outstanding projects. Girdwood residents, including students, contributed to the design of four interpretative signs in the Town Square Park exhibit. The signs will be fabricated and installed this summer. Last summer, with KMTA scholarship support, 50 youth participated in FVCS Intensives, as well as an additional 18 in Field Sports and 23 in their Olympic Games. This summer’s programs will include Intensives in “Girdwood Goldrush Days” and “Rivers & Hydrology”. AWCC plans to complete Bison Hall this year, providing an indoor and sheltered-outdoor facility for furless, non-hibernating humans to learn about resident animals and habitat.

New Planning and Design

The Cooper Landing Walkable Community Committee led the effort to secure Federal Highways funding for a 1.8-mile bike/pedestrian path along Snug Harbor Road, improving the safety of non-motorized access to the Cooper Landing Senior Center and public recreational trails. The next step in this recently completed construction project is an interpretation, beautification, and waste management plan with local guidance and landscape architectural expertise. Community workshops are planned for this summer to develop a final design that can then be used to place amenities like benches, signs, and garden beds where desired.

These projects are possible because of strong community involvement and the rich geological and cultural landscape of this coastal mountain corridor. Future grant opportunities can be found on the KMTA website.

Public welcome at April 12 board meeting

April 10, 2017

The spring board meeting for the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area is open to the public. The Board will meet at the Anchor Inn in Whittier Wednesday, April 12, 1-4 p.m. The agenda includes grant applications review, nomination of a new Board member, and discussion of media and trail development plans. Please check tunnel times if you are driving from outside of Whittier.

Hope Highway Trail project getting off the ground

March 13, 2017

Cyclists on Resurrection Trail. Photo: Terri Semmler

Cyclists on Resurrection Trail. Photo: Terri Semmler

Once-hidden Hope is an increasingly popular destination for visitors in vehicles and on bicycles. Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area (KMTA) is working with Hope Inc., the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Chugach National Forest, and the Alaska Department of Transportation to develop a non-motorized trail along the Highway.

Planning is taking place now to establish what type of trail would meet user needs, who would maintain the trail, how to support visitor facilities, and how construction would be funded for an approximately 18-mile trail. A non-motorized, multiuse trail along the Hope Highway trail would provide safer travel alternatives, promote active transportation and recreation along Turnagain Arm, connect popular, long-distance National Forest trails, and support economic development.

KMTA is preparing the trail in phases to expedite construction and meet community needs. The first phase is planned to be an approximately 2-mile section within the community of Hope, allowing off-road pedestrian and cyclist to travel between the Old Hope Road in historic downtown and Mile 15 at Mud Lake. This path has been Hope’s highest priority capital improvement project for the past two years to improve resident safety. The proposed route is accessible from Hope School. Local contractors have pledged time and materials to carry out the project. KMTA is investing trail funds to secure permitting and defray construction costs.

Federal Highways Administration funding will be sought for the complete trail connecting to the Seward Highway pull-out and existing paved trail along the Seward Highway. The route, construction phasing, and design will be determined through a process of community input and coordination with various area land managers. The Hope Highway Trail is a strong national candidate because of improved access to public lands, including a National Recreational Trail, scenic vistas of Turnagain Arm along a branch of the National Historic Iditarod Trail, safety improvements, and community support.

The proposed trail will provide alternate transportation, recreational destinations, and dedicated trailhead facilities along the route. Long-distance trail connectivity is expected to promote tourism with increased spending on lodging and food.

Public process is integral to successfully build, maintain, and use the trail. The 2005 Kenai Peninsula Borough Comprehensive Plan documents public support for expanding roadside local trails, including within the community of Hope. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly passed a resolution of support for KMTA to plan and develop the Hope Highway trail at the February 14, 2017 meeting. Hope Inc. wrote a letter of support in September 2016.

Further local input on trail design, route, and facilities, will be gathered at the Hope Inc. meeting on April 1 at 4 p.m. in the Hope Social Hall. Proposed trail maps and updates are available at Hope Highway Trail Project.

New community grants welcomed: April 1 deadline

February 13, 2017
A recent grant helped support the Yaghanen Youth Program. Here, a researcher records the landscape that upheld her ancestors with its ecological abundance as part of her archaeology field work. Credit: David Guilfoyle

A recent grant helped support the Yaghanen Youth Program archeology research project. Here, a researcher conducts an ecological survey. Credit: David Guilfoyle

Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area (KMTA) is seeking grant applications for 2017 and 2018. Grants are meant to enable community groups to accomplish projects that strengthen heritage area identity and cultural resources at the grassroots. Past grants have supported a range of projects including support for local museums, book publications, school field trips, and trail volunteer initiatives.


Communities eligible for KMTA support include Indian, Bird, Girdwood, Portage, Whittier, Hope, Cooper Landing, Moose Pass, and Seward. Applications are due April 1st. Application forms are available online via the “Grants” link at the website.


Projects must include at least an equal commitment of resources, whether financial or in-kind contributions, as requested from KMTA. In-kind matches may include volunteer time, labor, and materials. Since 2010, communities have invested more than a million dollars worth of donations and time in projects supported by $562,000 in KMTA grants.


This mountainous crossroads region is rich in history and innovative people. Small grants throughout the region are an effective way to share the stories of this place. For more information, please visit “Grants” at Interested individuals may also contact KMTA staff or board members.

2016 Annual Report available

January 30, 2017

Please click the link for the to KMTA’s 2016 Annual Report. Please be patient – it is a large file!

2016 Local Annual Report FINAL_V2

final title

Today’s Iditarod Trail still poses winter travel trials at Turnagain Pass

January 24, 2017

A recently restored segment of the historic Iditarod Trail beckons travelers at Turnagain Pass, but is not without traditional navigational challenges. Six large bridges are yet to be installed on this 11-mile trail segment connecting the Johnson Pass Trail up and over Turnagain Pass down to Seward Highway Milepost 72.5. Winter travel affords the best opportunity to cross the creeks traversing the route.

Skier on Iditarod National Historic Trail Dec. 31, 2016. Credit: Will Brennan, USFS

Skier on Iditarod National Historic Trail Dec. 31, 2016. Credit: Will Brennan, USFS

Alaska’s Iditarod Trail is world famous for the endurance sled dog race from Willow to Nome and nationally esteemed as one of 19 National Historic Trails. The Iditarod National Historic Trail is not a single continuous trail, but a network of 2,300 miles of trails that served as the conduit for winter commerce from Seward to Nome, particularly during the gold rush heyday of 1880-1920. Gold was sent out and supplies brought in via regular, supported dogsled routes from the port of Seward. Winter travel afforded easier passage of muskeg and brush, although it also threatened avalanche risk in steeper terrain.


The first 186 miles of the Iditarod National Historic Trail, known as the “Southern Trek”, are on Chugach National Forest land. Chugach National Forest is incrementally restoring the trail for non-motorized and winter motorized travel from Seward to Girdwood. Piece by piece, hikers, skiers, mushers, or snowmachiners may travel the traditional route that followed Native Alaskan trails and sustained later Gold Rush communities.


Dena’ina travelers used frozen rivers for winter travel and gold prospectors of the 1896 Turnagain Arm gold rush followed their lead. In the Turnagain Pass area, prospectors followed Ingram Creek from Turnagain Arm up to the pass. On the southwest side of the pass, the trail followed Granite Creek to Sixmile Creek, access to the boomtowns of Sunrise and Hope.


The Granite Creek-Ingram Creek trails were used until 1951 when the Seward Highway was completed along roughly the same route. This traditional trail has been restored by Chugach National Forest, save for six bridges, which have more demanding engineering specifications today than existed in 1908 when the Alaska Road Commission formally surveyed the Seward to Nome Mail Trail. From the north, the Turnagain Pass Iditarod trail leads from the Muskeg Meadows Trailhead at Milepost 72.5 near the base of Turnagain Pass up to Center Ridge (approximately halfway) to the North Johnson Pass Trailhead. A parallel trail for snowmachiners runs between Granite Creek Recreation Area and the west side rest area at Turnagain Pass.


Experienced winter travelers can negotiate creek crossings when low stream flow and ice bridges open the rolling landscape around Turnagain Pass. Skis or snowshoes are best for the soft snow present on the route as of early January reported by Chugach National Forest Trail Crew Coordinator Will Brennan. The relatively deep canyons of Spokane and Bertha Creeks are among the more challenging crossings of this route. There are no signs marking the trail, nor much traffic, so the trail is best for self-equipped travelers seeking a backcountry tour. As such, it is also a little-visited gem for backcountry Nordic skiers accessible from the Seward Highway.


North of Center Ridge, the trail is exposed to avalanche paths. Current avalanche conditions and safe travel guidance can be found at the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center website, Also, if you make it to Girdwood on January 27th or 28th, you can join the Hot Dog and Ski Bunny party at the Sitzmark to benefit this invaluable organization.


If you explore Turnagain Pass this winter, you are tracing the same routes as potlaching Dena’ina, dog-running mail carriers, and pioneering road builders. Kenai Mountains Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area promotes and protects the heritage and continued use of corridors connecting Alaskan communities.

Forest Recreation Updates guide winter adventurers

December 16, 2016

As dynamic or deranged as recent winters have been in southcentral Alaska, hundreds of recreationalists can be grateful for timely, informative conditions updates from Chugach National Forest Seward Ranger District Forest Technician Irene Lindquist. Lindquist emails interested locals and visitors site-specific news of snow cover, ice thickness, mud levels, and downed trees.


“I wanted to get information out effectively,” Lindquist says of the listserv’s inception several years ago. “I meant it primarily for people in the local area, but interest grew to Chugach National Forest visitors throughout southcentral Alaska and other land managers.”


During the summer, Lindquist sends infrequent Forest Recreation Updates because trail conditions typically change more slowly. Last summer’s notifications included a warning of high fire danger and of a bear carcass found just off Carter Lake Trail. Recent winters have seen weather whipsaws that changed trails from ice to snow and back. Traditional opening dates for motorized use were delayed and sometimes cancelled due to insufficient snow cover. Many trail users plan winter travel based in part on Lindquist’s approximately weekly Seward District Recreation Updates.


Subscription to the Recreation Updates listserv has grown such that rangers in the Glacier District of Chugach National Forest and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge regularly share conditions reports and recreational announcements with Lindquist to help get the word out. Individuals interested in being added to Irene Lindquist’s Recreation Updates listserv should email her at


Research before setting out on a winter trip is essential, but even more so, Lindquist emphasizes, is each adult determining that they have the “right equipment, experience, and frame of mind.” Winter conditions can change rapidly. Ice thickness across a lake is not uniform. Equipment needs depends on group composition and type of trip. Lindquist notes that her first aid kid includes materials to care for her dogs and tools for releasing them from traps. Winter gear also includes extra layers, food, and hand warmers.


Terrain, weather, snowpack, and human decision-making all contribute to avalanche risk and every person traveling on or below mountains with snow should educate themselves on these factors. The Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center provides educational resources, weather reports, and daily advisories at Forecasters from the Center are offering a free “Fireside Chat” on avalanche awareness in Girdwood at the Glacier Ranger Station December 15th from 6:30-8 p.m. In Seward, a Center Forecaster will teach a free avalanche awareness class December 17 at the Seward Library from 1-3 p.m. Friends of the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center is the nonprofit partner for the center that helps sustain regular forecaster staffing all winter.


Chugach National Forest Recreation Updates are also available online at, although post time has varied. This site, also found by searching for “Chugach National Forest Recreation Updates,” provides a useful record of recent trends and announcements. Recreationalists can also call Ranger District offices to ask for available conditions updates.


The Kenai Mountain-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area seeks to preserve and promote the natural and cultural history of the region. One of KMTA’s key partners in interpretation, education, and recreation is Chugach National Forest. Learn more at


By snowshoe, sled, or snowmachine, Johnson Pass a storied route

December 1, 2016

johnsonpassbike_donnajeffersonJohnson Pass Trail allows backcountry access through spruce forests to striking subalpine lakes. Today winter visitors share the trail with recreating skiers, winter bikers, equestrians, and snow machiners (snow depth dependent). Travelers are expected to leave the popular trail unaltered. This was far from the case in 1904 when Congress summoned all men age 18 or older residing in Alaska to build roads two days a year or pay an annual $8 tax.


The recreational Johnson Pass Trail managed by Chugach National Forest today repeatedly overlaps the historic Johnson Pass Military Road built in the early days of United States infrastructure investments. If you know what to look for, cuts and fills north of Bench Lake provide clues, as does the older “corduroy” of logs laid across boggy sections of the roadbed mixed in with newer logs and aluminum culverts. If you don’t know what to look for, Chugach National Forest commissioned a survey of the historic road in 1991 with detailed maps. Winter was the original high season for Johnson Pass travel, when rivers froze for smoother travel and Cook Inlet shipping was interrupted by ice.


Predictably, the chaotic approach of a citizens’ labor summons did not open up roads through Alaska, but the 1904 law did signal a federal push to develop infrastructure in the seemingly open and yet intractably impassable Territory of Alaska. The Secretary of War oversaw federal funding and construction of roads, including the Johnson Pass Military Road in 1907, also known as Sunrise Road. This early road ran from Mile 34 of the Alaska Railroad through Johnson Pass, across Lynx Creek and down the west side of Sixmile Creek to Sunrise. The recreational Johnson Pass Trail managed by Chugach National Forest today follows much of the same southern route, and the Seward and Hope Highways follow much of the same northern route.


Travel in Alaska has long been a function of the season. Dena’ina people traveled extensively in winter, often for distant potlaches, by snowshoe, using frozen waterways. Most trails in Turnagain and Kenai originated from Dena’ina routes.


Gold prospecting drove the demand for year-round shipping routes. The Turnagain Arm gold rush kicked off with 3,000 gold seekers in 1896. For the next few decades, dog teams were the most reliable way to haul freight during the winter until supplanted by aviation in the 1920s. The Alaska Road Commission, under the Secretary of War, surveyed and constructed routes to Alaska’s gold fields. This network of trails became known as the Iditarod Trail.


Roadhouses along the Iditarod trail network sheltered mail carriers linking communities by dog team through snow, storm, and avalanches. At least three roadhouses operated along the Johnson Pass Military Road. In addition, prospectors built cabins near promising claims. The remains of a cabin noted on a 1910 map north of the Groundhog Creek bridge are indistinct, but evidence of another cabin and barn have been recorded at a site off-trail along the old road.


The Road Commission built three classes of road: wagon, winter sled, and pack and dog team trails. Wagon roads accommodated horse teams, which meant grading, crowning, and ditching the route. Johnson Pass Military Road was a wagon road, launching it as a key corridor to gold regions. The estimated cost of construction in 1907 was $13,000, including the hire of 25 men and a 40-foot-high, 60-foot-long bridge across Groundhog Creek. Big stumps were left in place to manage costs. Between June and October of 1907, the Johnson Pass route was converted to a 12-foot-wide wagon road. The 1909 Alaska Road Commission report recorded approximately 150 tons of freight hauled the previous winter.


As prospecting shifted, so did the fate of the road. By 1909, a trail leading northwest from Moose Pass to Quartz Creek was upgraded and travel shifted to this gentler, more sheltered route. At the same time, gold production in Sunrise and Hope were waning. A one-season boom in 1910 on Groundhog Creek revived use for a short period. Johnson Pass Military Road was maintained until 1920, when the southern section was abandoned. That abandonment contributed to its relative preservation, because it did not become a modern highway.


Today’s 23-mile Johnson Pass Trail is a modern trail, with Forest Service outhouses, bears boxes, and designated campsites. Snowmachiners need to verify if there’s enough snow cover before venturing into Chugach National Forest. The Avalanche Information site posts openings and closures at


The North and South trailheads are at mile 32.6 and 63.7 of the Seward Highway, although parking lots may not be plowed. From the north, winter non-motorized users should take the Johnson Pass Wagon Road at the western edge of the North trailhead parking lot rather than the hiking trail. The first 3.6 miles of trail, to the south side of Bench Creek Bridge, are closed to motorized users. Snowmachiners can travel up a mining road leading west from the North trailhead, cross East Fork Sixmile Creek, and head south to intersect the trail south of Bench Creek Bridge. From the south, when Upper Trail Lake is frozen, use it to connect to the Johnson Pass Trail at mile 7.9 via the Johnson Creek winter route.


The same perils encountered by earlier travelers exist today. Snowstorms can quickly obscure the route above tree line in the winter. There is a report of an uncomfortably curious wolf following a solo biker. Some sections of the trail pass between steep, avalanche-prone slopes and creeks. Snowpack and recent and forecast weather must be evaluated before you go. The Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center provides general conditions assessments, local weather, education resources links, and user-reported updates. This starting-point website is located at


If you explore Johnson Pass Trail this winter, you are passing through history as well as hemlock. Kenai Mountains Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area promotes and protects the heritage and continued use of corridors connecting Alaskan communities.