The Barber Cabin is a public-use cabin located in Chugach National Forest, on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. Nestled in the forest just off-shore of Lower Russian Lake, this rustic cabin is a well-built retreat and a wonderful place to go for a time-out. The cabin rental features a floating dock and a canoe to enjoy the lake with (life-vests are provided). Just off shore you can look south to an awe-inspiring view of Skilak Glacier and the icefield above it. If you explore the southern edge of the lake, you might even catch a glimpse of the crashed remains of an amphibious aircraft from a bygone era.
The cabin features a traditional wood stove, two bunk beds that will comfortably sleep 4 people (or more, if you’re friendly), a table and benches, and plenty of counter-space for meal preparation. Outside is a woodshed (with tools for gathering firewood but I highly recommend dragging in your own) and a surprisingly-well-maintained outhouse. Access is by an ADA-accessible trail approximately 3 miles from the trailhead in the Russian River campground.
The rental fee is currently $45 per night. The Forest is proposing raising that to $75 over the next three years, so you might save some money by going sooner rather than later. Still, at $75 it will still be quite a value.
– For our first family hike of the season, The Wife®, kids, and I were joined by my brother-in-law and his family, for the quick trek up the Bear Mountain Trail. Bear Mountain Trail has been the first family hiking trail of the season for the past couple of years, namely because it is short and not too steep; we figure it’s best for everyone to start out with something relatively easy for the kids (and us too!), than to get half-way into something more challenging and having a kid “hit their wall”. (The kids are getting bigger, and beyond the point that I would want to carry them for any significant distance.) After a precautionary brushing of any non-native plant material off our shoes at the trailhead (you’ll see these shoe-brushes installed at many trailheads), we began our quick trek east and up.
From the trailhead to the top of the trail is a scant .8 miles. It’s worth noting that you’re not actually climbing Bear Mountain. The trail takes its name due to the view at the top of Bear Mountain to the east. Moderate inclines are always followed by a level section, allowing you to slog through and catch your breath while still moving. The forest trail is abundant with different species of trees and other flora, including some remarkably large Birch. Following a long winter of particularly-heavy snowfall, I was surprised with the lack of snow on the trail. I suppose this owes to it’s many wide-open sections outside of the tree canopy coupled with the trail climbing on a completely south-facing slope.
We took our time as we climbed, allowing the kids to explore and climb on some of many rocky outcrops. We reached the top of the trail in about 35 minutes. We spent a few minutes up top, taking in the view and allowing the chill breeze to cool us off. I pointed out some of the geological features you can see from such a vantage point, 400 feet above the trailhead and 1,300 feet above sea-level. The expansive view contains everything:the braided streams of the Skilak River as it crawls through a gravel delta before dumping into Skilak Lake, the meandering path of the Kenai River before it joins Skilak Lake, and the tell-tale signs of a landscape carved out by glaciers. Skilak Lake itself is a beautiful sight, with its turquoise waters owing to its abundance of glacial sediments. Mountains peak all around to the south, east, and north, with the western view showing the lowlands of the western Kenai Peninsula and the Cook Inlet.
After taking some photos and taking it all in at the top, we began our descent. 25 minutes later, we were back at the trailhead.
Bear Mountain Trail is great for families or for when you don’t have the time for a longer hike. Depending on what pace you use to tackle it, it can be a heart-pumping workout or a leisurely stroll. It can be used as a good trainer for more ambitious hikes or coupled with other nearby trails for a day filled with multiple short adventures. Enjoy!
For more information about this trail, you can read this infosheet from the Fish and Wildlife Service (note that the map is incorrect, the top of the trail doesn’t circle around the top of the hill like that).
Skyline is one of those trails that instills a subtle intimidation in your soul when you first hear people talk about it; an intimidation that screams of irresistible challenge. A few years ago when I got into hiking, I had that feeling. Being out-of-shape and just getting my hiking legs, I knew Skyline would be too physically-demanding for my rookie-self. I hike other trails. Smaller ones. Less-strenuous ones. Those without as much intimidation factor. All the while, though, I was going on progressively difficult treks — consciously and subconsciously preparing for Skyline.
If at first you don’t succeed…
The first time I went after Skyline, it was just me and my dog, Diesel. It was early on a Friday morning and the parking lot was empty when I arrived at the trailhead. At that point, my concern drew away from the physical nature of the trail and towards the recognition of a few important facts: I was in bear country, at a time of day when they are most active and moving about, and no one else was already on the trail making noise, persuading the bears to disperse. I decided to make a go at it anyway.
At the beginning of the trail, I immediately noticed the sign of bear activity: tracks at the trailhead, and just a little bit further, a tree with deep scratches (bears commonly exhibit a behavior in which they essentially use a tree as a scratching post, possibly as a way of marking their territory in warning to other bears). Still, I wanted to push forward. About a half-mile in, my normally-complacent Diesel seemed a bit on edge. He was acting much more aware of his surroundings and exhibited a certain alertness. I was a little concerned as to how he would react in a situation with a bear. Would he go on the offense and try and chase the bruin away? Would he stand by my side, possibly antagonizing an attack? Or maybe he would just take off and leave me to fend for myself (there’s a common joke for those that travel into bear country, you don’t need to be able to run fast to escape a bear attack… just faster than the slowest person you’re with). I wasn’t quite sure that I wanted to find out, and when I heard some thrashing in the alders just ahead of me on the trail, I was quite sure I did not. Somewhat disappointed with myself, I turned back and called it a day.