This story originally appeared in the Anchorage Daily News on December 26, 2017. ~EK
Kids get restless over the winter break. I blame holiday hype and the whipping up of emotions in those days leading up to Dec. 25, when everything reaches its peak.
Then the day after Christmas comes, and I’m looking at a pile of wrapping paper and detritus the size of Denali that takes up nearly my entire living room.
In my mind, nothing is ever as over as Christmas, so I’ve learned to plan a busy Dec. 26.
After spending a day basking in the lazy glow of gifting and getting, of eating and smiling, I like to spend a day enjoying Alaska’s outdoor spaces, trying new gear or visiting a favorite place to change up the scenery a bit.
Of course, winter weather has been noticeably absent this year, making skiing or skating a challenge, and in the absence of gliding we’ve made peace with winter hiking instead.
With nine miles between the Potter trailhead at Mile 115 and Windy Corner at Mile 106 of the Seward Highway, families have several options for out-and-back hikes of varying distances.
Looking for a quiet place to savor the sounds of an Alaska winter day? Portage Valley’s Trail of Blue Ice is five miles one way and all flat, save for the occasional rough spot where snow has piled up.
It’s perfect for the family wanting to get out of town and into the forest, with plowed lots at Moose Flats Day Use Area and Begich Boggs Visitor Center (the center is closed for the winter).
While not technically a hike, I recommend a day trip to this beautiful facility with your children or holiday guests. Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. through December, it provides a close-up look at wood bison, wolves, moose, elk, musk ox and other cold-weather creatures. A nice bonus for kids is the opportunity to borrow one of several kicksleds and scoot around the property, burning some energy and having fun too.
If you really want to learn more about the animals, take the Walk On the Wild Side tour, offered daily for $100, which includes admission.
Regular admission prices are $15 for adults, $10 for kids, free for kids 6 and under.
The Knik River Access exit at Mile 30.6 of the Glenn Highway doesn’t look like it would offer much for a hike, but tucked away behind the tiny parking area is a beautiful trail for families.
Just over a mile, the Reflections Lake trail is short but just right for those short on time or hiking with short legs, and it’s easy to motivate kids to keep going with the goal of a viewing platform on the far side.
Look for browsing moose, birds and incredible views of the hay flats and surrounding mountains.
Find a wealth of other winter hiking options in your community by visiting Public Lands InformationCenters located in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Ketchikan and Tok.
Looking ahead to New Year’s Day, Alaska State Parks is participating in First Day Hikes, a nationwide initiative sponsored by the America’s State Parks organization with hopes of encouraging people to experience their park systems as much as possible in 2018.
Remember that winter hiking, with all its beauty, requires careful planning for maximum enjoyment.
Parents should always make sure kids are dressed in multiple layers of non-cotton clothing with a waterproof layer on the outside. Don’t forget sturdy boots that keep little toes warm, and mittens instead of gloves to ensure fingers don’t get frostnipped while walking.
Carry a pack with snacks and plenty of water. Even if kids say they aren’t thirsty, winter weather can dehydrate as quickly as summertime temperatures, especially if conditions are cold and dry.