Most visitors arrive in Alaska with every intention of hiking at least one trail during their vacation. Hiking boots – check. Rain gear – check. Nerve – welllll, let’s just say Alaska’s wilderness can be a bit intimidating for the uninitiated. Not scary, mind you, just not exactly what some people expected, especially parents unfamiliar with bear aware tactics and map-reading, while keeping the kids moving along the trail. I get it.
Enter the guided hike. The perfect compromise for those who want to experience the wildness of Alaska’s environment with a bit of assistance, guided hikes and walks span the spectrum for nearly every age and ability. Also a fine way to learn more about Alaska’s diverse environments, animals, and cultural history, guided walks and hikes are always interesting, and most kids tend to listen to a leader more than they will their own parents <go figure>. Below are a few of our favorite places to pick up a guided hike at little or no cost to participants, from one end of Alaska to the other.
Sitka National Historical Park: Daily ranger-led walks covering a variety of topics in this culturally-rich area of southeast Alaska. Older kids may enjoy the “Battle Walk” tour through a lush forest, where Russians and local Native groups fought a fierce fight for land rights. Or, if totem poles are your thing, take the “Carved History” hike, where totems are displayed in hidden, and not-so-hidden locations throughout the park. Trails here are great for kids – level, wide, and jog strollers should do fine, here. Ask about naturalist programs, too, and the popular Junior Ranger books for self-guided fun after the hike. Free.
Eagle River Nature Center: This nature preserve near Anchorage, with miles of trails and a visitor center offering classes, naturalists, and displays, also offers nature walks from June-August, Wednesday through Sunday at 1:30. Allow about an hour to stroll the trails, ask questions, and learn a bit about this popular spot for local families. The center is also a great way to access Alaska State Parks yurts and public use cabins, too. So check out the list when you visit the facility.
Denali National Park: Tons of opportunities for ranger programs, kids’ activities, and popular guided hikes suitable for the whole family. We love the Horseshoe Lake, McKinley Station, and Eielson Visitor Center hikes, complete with naturalist/ranger. Upon arrival in the park, grab a current information sheet at any visitor center, where all guided hiking opportunities and other programs will be listed. Free programs, and if you wish, an equally free shuttle bus can get you to the trailhead. We love Denali, and think your family will, too.
Creamer’s Field: This delightful farm-turned-bird sanctuary is located in Fairbanks, and draws visitors from all over the world for its location, programs, and simple philosophy of peaceful existence between humans and nature. Programs abound all year long, but summertime brings guided walks Monday through Saturday from June-September at 10 a.m., and a Wednesday evening walk at 7 p.m. (one of our favorites, by the way). Learn about birds, trees, and farmland along the way, and find out just how special that nearby boreal forest is to the entire ecosystem of the field and farm. Listen to the birds, and take in the smells of hay and leaves. Ahhhh, I think I’m ready for a visit north. Free walks. Meet at the Farmhouse Visitor Center at the entrance.
For all hikes and walks, bring a small pack, bug spray, water, snacks, and put the kids in sturdy shoes. Encourage children to ask questions, and bring along a Junior Ranger book or nature journal, if they have one. It’s a great way to engage and exercise, at the same time!
None of these pique your interest? Check out my friends Howard and Noelle at Alaska Nature Guides. This company makes it their business to explore Alaska trails, no matter one’s ability. They have a full range of hikes near their offices in Talkeetna, and we’re grateful for their expertise.