May 19, 2012
– 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).