Eklutna Lake Trail: Year-round recreation for all

Generating enthusiasm among younger family members is always so much nicer when accompanied by a crowd of like-minded kids, isn’t it? We’re lucky – our circle of acquaintances is simply bursting with outdoor-loving, freewheeling families who value Alaska’s bounty of recreation as much as we. Add a glorious Alaska autumn day, and we struck gold, for sure.

Eklutna Lake Trail is one of those places where one can find family-friendly activities all year. From camping and hiking in the non-snowy months to skiing, snowmachining, and snowshoeing in the winter, Eklutna is Anchorage’s go-to destination for easy wilderness access. Perfect for families with younger children, or, as we had, a mix of olders and youngers, Eklutna’s most popular playplace is the sandy Lakeside Trail, a 12-mile stretch of outdoor goodness that delivers a sense of accomplishment for kids, time and time again.

While we often meander the bicycle/pedestrian side of the trail (there is an ATV section as well) on foot, Sunday found us packing wheels. Mountain bikes, panniers full of snacks, and a passel of kids and dogs for a bluebird sky afternoon among the brilliant yellow of Alaska cottonwood and birch trees.

Located off Mile 26 of the Glenn Highway, and back into the treed hills another 10 or so miles, Eklutna is managed by Alaska State Parks, and requires fee payment (or a pass) all year. Swing into the day use parking lot, and follow the crowd to the Tailrace bridge, then skirt the shoreline as far as you wish.

Take time, however, to savor this place. Driftwood appears scattered with no sense of rhyme or reason, thanks to early season storms; see how many cool shapes you can design out of the scraggly bits. The sand is warm on a sunny day; try dipping your toes into this glacier-fed lake that provides water for much of Anchorage. The hillsides are dramatic, any time of year; watch for eagles, bear, moose, and the occasional lynx as you walk, bike, or ski. Sit on a log near the lake, close your eyes, and listen. Do you hear the whisper of water along the pebbly shoreline? How about the scritch-scratch of tree branches rubbing together during a breath of wind. For all the people who visit, Eklutna is surprisingly quiet, as if everyone realizes the treasure of the location, and doesn’t want to spoil it.

If your kids have the moxie, bike the entire 12 miles and stay at the public use cabin; reservations are available HERE. Or, do as we did and pedal along until someone decides he or she is ready to turn around for the best part – the Picnic. Swing into a campsite and fire up the grill, or cozy up to the lakeside and let the kids play in the water while you and your grownup friends nosh on crackers, cheese, and good times.

Bring: Clothing for cooler temperatures. We always add an extra pair of boots, socks and more clothing due to the lake’s proximity to, well, everything. Of course we do.

Cash for the day pass, or remember to drive the vehicle with the annual pass affixed to the windshield.

Food and water, and perhaps a thermos of something hot for the colder days.

Note: There is NO cell service at the lake, and even though it is regularly patrolled by State Park rangers, please make sure you are self-sufficient for any emergency.

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