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Alaska State Parks Blog
Mt. Eklutna trail to Bear Point at Peter's Creek - Ann Dougherty
Tonsina Cabin - Kate Ayers
Mini-backpacker - start them young
Our latest cabin adventure was a milestone for our family – our oldest (5 years old) was able to backpack not only her toys, but also her clothes and water the two miles into the Tonsina Public Use Cabin. The trail goes through maritime rainforest featuring vibrant green trees towering above, bridges that cross over salmon streams and ends at the picturesque Tonsina Point in Resurrection Bay. The landscape variety kept her, and the entire family, entertained throughout the hike. We won’t expect her to backpack in ten miles anytime soon, but it does start to shift our thinking into what is to come in the next stages of our adventures in just a few short years.
Journal entries - a wealth of knowledge
One of the first things I do when I arrive at a public use cabin is search for the cabin journal, or logbook. The State of Alaska provides journals at each public use cabin for cabin attendees to share their cabin experiences and provide area insights. Reading the handwritten words from strangers on each page is a welcome replacement to scrolling through social media feeds. Each person has a unique story and own perspective about their cabin stay. Often the entries provide a wealth of knowledge, from directions to the nearest freshwater stream to the most recent wildlife to have made an appearance in the area (from baby otters to angry bears). On our trip to Tonsina Cabin, we would have never found the most incredible waterfall without the captivating journal entry and directions. You’ll also find humor, artistic masterpieces, and playing card scores scattered throughout most journals.
Cabin celebrations - celebrate in [rustic] style
Thinking of where to celebrate your next birthday? Although it may not be the first place to come to mind, consider booking a public use cabin for your next celebration or milestone - it’s bound to bring an extra ‘rustic’ flare to the festivities. For ease, book a drive-up cabin, close to town, to accommodate those that may not want to sleep on the cabin floor or in a nearby campground. If you are inviting people to stay, check the state website to confirm the cabin’s maximum occupancy. Alternatively, if that’s not your style, go big and hike in those 10 plus miles with your closest friends and enjoy the vista views through the cabin window. Each year I book one of the cabins at Eklutna Lake to celebrate fall-time birthdays, including my own. The fall colors at Eklutna get me every time. At our recent visit to the Tonsina cabin we presented our family member with a surprise birthday cupcake around the campfire – nothing tastes better than a surprise cupcake (squished or not) in the middle of nowhere. Don’t stop at birthday celebrations, others have used cabins for family reunions, retirement parties, marriage proposals and weddings. The only trick is to plan and book early!
About the Author: Kate Ayers has hiked, biked, skied, canoed, kayaked and water-taxied to more than 40 distinct Alaska Public Use Cabins. She developed her love of the great outdoors at a young age, while growing up in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Now she aims to introduce her children to the same adventures, beauty, and appreciation for the awe-inspiring Alaskan outdoors.
Nancy Lake Cabin #3 - Kate Ayers
Late February, early March, is a great time for a stay in a public use cabin in Southcentral Alaska. Lakes have frozen over, there is more daylight, and temperatures are (usually) warmer than in January. The Nancy Lake Recreation Area is our go-to spot since it's close to Anchorage and there are a lot of cabins to choose from. As always, we booked early and snagged Nancy Lake Cabin #3. This cabin is unique in that there is not a land trail to it because it is surrounded by private property. In the summer, cabin goers must travel by water, most often in a canoe, to the lakeside cabin. In the winter, you have the option to ski, snowmachine, snowshoe, or fat tire bike across the frozen lake. The mode of transportation is not only determined by the season, but also the lake conditions during your stay.
More often than not, public use cabins tend to be secluded, private, and off the beaten path. Cabins traditionally sleep 4-6 people, and at times up to 12 people. You can definitely travel with large groups, but if you prefer more privacy or a cabin of your own, it's difficult to find two cabins in close proximity (less than 1/8 mile) to one another. There are a few exceptions, such as the Byers Lake Cabin #1 and #2, K'esugi Ken cabins, and Bird Creek cabins (both located in campgrounds). Another exception was our experience with Nancy Lake Cabin #3 and Nancy Lake Cabin #4. Our "COVID-bubble" friends booked Nancy Lake Cabin #4 and it was great to hop back and forth between the cabins in less than a 5-minute ski.
Traveling with young kids always brings exciting and unpredictable adventures. It just so happened that this trip took place near the end of our toddler's potty training journey. He had been doing so well and we joked that we should bring his potty along. Soon the joke became reality and the next thing we knew we were placing his potty in the large sled. His "throne" acted as the perfect place for him to sit and enjoy the sled ride. It also came in handy for the middle of the night "nature calls" from our oldest. Overall, it was an unforeseen positive packing addition.
Out and Back
Since we knew our friends had cabin #4, we chose to park at the Trailhead to Nancy Lake Cabins #1-#4. We skied to cabin #4 and then over the lake to cabin #3. My husband had a backpack and a large sled (with a pulk system), filled with gear and our toddler. Our four-year-old skied in carrying her own 'activity' backpack. I had a backpack and a small sled filled with 4 bundles of wood. It didn't take long to realize that the small sled was not going to work. Not only was it tipping over in the new snow, but the thought of it running me over on the downhill (without a pulk system) was enough to ditch the sled with the understanding we'd come back to get it. The trail down to cabin #4 had just enough slope to it that we realized we would rather not ski up it with our heavy gear on the way out. Therefore, when my husband fetched the dropped sled, he also moved the car over to the canoe launch parking area. Although this was about 1/4 of a mile longer than going up and over, the flat approach across the lake made up for it. Heading out a different way than coming in was a nice change from the usual out and back, and presented another opportunity for the kids to be entertained by the new surroundings.
About the Author: Kate AyersKate has hiked, biked, skied, canoed, kayaked and water-taxied to more than 40 distinct Alaska Public Use Cabins. She developed her love of the great outdoors at a young age, while growing up in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Now she aims to introduce her children to the same adventures, beauty, and appreciation for the awe-inspiring Alaskan outdoors.