Family Fun at Eagle River Nature Center

Two guys enjoying the view from Rapids Camp along the Iditarod Trail in the Eagle River Valley

We talk a lot about goings-on at Eagle River Nature Center, the classes, events, and trail systems that have delighted locals and visitors for years. Located about 20 miles from Anchorage outside the small city of Eagle River, the Nature Center sits within the boundaries of Chugach State Park and is a sanctuary for families due to its accessibility and educational components. AK Fam took a day off yesterday from birthday celebrations, fall cleaning, and garage organizing to take a hike with other families, and found that late fall/early winter is a perfect time to bring the kids close to nature.

ERNC offers monthly guided family hikes, usually short in length and offering those with young children a certain sense of camraderie; whining kids, hungry kids, and slow kids are all welcome and encouraged, as we found out. Scheduled for a noon departure, hikes take off from the Center’s main building with a leader (yesterday a great mom of two whose husband is also a Park Ranger) and a passel of little hikers. Strollers are usually manageable and handy to have when tiny legs become tired, but kids are encouraged to walk as much as possible to collect treasures from Mother Nature.

Sunday’s trek took us out the Iditarod Trail/Cross Pass trail and to the Public Use Cabin, a delightful structure available for rent via the ERNC web site. We tripped and trapped along the boardwalks and gravelly, well-maintained trails and ended up alongside a little lake and the cabin, where the crew went inside with Leader Liza for a snack.

AK Dad and Kid wanted to pursue another rentable facility, the Rapids Camp yurt, so we separated from the group at that point and headed another .5 miles to the yurt, all the way at Eagle River proper. Set on a gorgeous knoll overlooking the water, Dew Mound, and the Chugach mountain range, the yurt will be home to AK Fam in December when we ski/snowshoe/hike our way to an overnight adventure. We were excited, now, to see our future lodgings and spent some time exploring the best hills for sledding and playing around the yurt.

Although a bit cloudy for the first half of hiking, the sun did peek out on the return trip, affording us a bit of warmth along the way, especially important due to AK Kid’s refusal to wear a coat even though temperatures hovered near 40 degrees. He climbed upon huge boulders left from the glacial years, played wild animal among the stubby spruce trees, and howled and yowled like a wolf (Leader Liza had told us we may hear wolves when we stay overnight), truly immersing himself in his wilderness home-for-a-day.

A four-mile round trip, the hike to Rapids Camp is worth the effort with kids. Take a break at the Public Use Cabin at 1.25 miles, enjoy the view and let the kids scramble on the rocks, then finish up the hike to the Camp and have lunch while listening to the sounds of the river nearby.

When you return to the Center’s main building, explore the hands-on exhibits inside and question kids about animals seen along the way (we saw a ptarmigan, some salmon, and tons of songbirds). Helpful Center staff are great with kids; asking questions and inquiring about special aspects of their day. We loved their engagement of AK Kid.

Access to the Eagle River Nature Center is free, but parking does cost $5 for those non-members. Membership runs around $40 and contributes to the plethora of classes available to the whole family, a worthwhile cost. Open year-round, ERNC provides special events during the holidays and even rents snowshoes for those who wish to try out the popular sport.

Join us tomorrow for the Alaska Travelgram Show, when Executive Director Asta Spurgis of the Eagle River Nature Center joins us to talk more about the trails and programs of this lovely facility from 2-3 p.m. on KUDO AM 1080. This is your chance to get the scoop on fall and winter events going on, including a spooky program this weekend!

Posted in Day Trips, Miscellaneous.