How nice that my return to Alaska was punctuated by singing birds and snow-free trails! Here in Southcentral, anyway, spring has truly sprung (we know this by increasing daylight and an incurable itch to ditch the down jackets), and with it, thoughts of family camping. Here at AK Hacienda, our weekend will be spent throwing back the ubiquitous tarp covering the travel trailer and restocking the shelves and bunks with our favorite campsite goodies.
While most Alaska campgrounds operated by federal or state agencies aren’t open yet (usually mid-May is the time), there are options for families who just can’t wait to unpack the sleeping bags and fire up the stove.
Need some inspiration? Here are three campgrounds and three public-use cabins that might spark a bit of adventure in your kids while waiting for summer vacation.
The City of Seward, bless their hearts, opened a series of five locations along the downtown corridor today, within walking distance of family favorites like the community playground, Alaska Sea Life Center, and Kenai Fjords Tours and Major Marine Tours for whale-watching day trips. A pay station has recently been installed to accept credit cards (awesome), with rates starting a $10/tent – $30/full RV hookups. Don’t forget the bikes, scooters, strollers, and rubber boots.
In Homer, Karen Hornaday Park sits on a hillside overlooking the famous Homer Spit, and is adjacent to an incredible, well-loved, and fairly new playground. A favorite stop whenever we’re in Homer, this family camping choice will make parents extra-glad they stayed among the trees instead of on the often-noisy Homer Spit (FYI – much of the spit is still closed for the season, so it will be quiet through mid-May). $15/RV, $8/tent.
Denali National Park is still in late-winter mode, but beautiful Riley Creek Campground is open all year, with FREE camping through May 15. Plan for any sort of weather, including snow, rain, wind, and sleet, but oh my, what fun your family will have exploring the quiet trails and savoring the resurgance of another spring in the park. The park road is now open to Savage Creek at Mile 15, too, so there’s lots of room to roam.
Yuditnu Cabin at Mile 3 of the Eklutna Lake Trail is an excellent, currently snow-free choice for families who wish to hike or bike out to an off-grid location. If the tent isn’t quite ready for use, or your family is still in transition mode, a cabin like this might be a nice place to relax. You provide the gear, they provide bunks, a stove, and solid walls. $60/night, reserve HERE.
Interested in a short drive for your family camping experience? The Bore Tide Cabin at the north end of Bird Creek Campground, is a big space for larger family groups. Up to 12 people can take over this fairly new cabin, enjoying the quiet campground in which to play, ride bikes, and explore Turnagain Arm and the surrounding area. At $95/night, it’s also the most expensive, but with a few families splitting the cost, the fun will outweigh the fee. Reserve HERE.
Eagle River Nature Center’s yurts and one cabin are always popular with families due to their accessibility and location, and while it can be difficult to secure a spot (sometimes impossible on weekends), it is worth the time to consider a weekday trip. Depending upon your kid’s hiking abilities, the cabin and yurts are great choices for first-timers looking to learn more about Alaska’s backcountry within a well-traveled trail system. Find out more, HERE. $65/night for non-members of ERNC, $55/night for members. And, parking passes are included for non-members.
– Be bear aware. Keep all stinky items, including trash, personal products, food, and clothing you wore while cooking – stashed far away from your sleeping area in bear-proof containers, a hard-sided vehicle, or up a high tree. Make lots of noise when playing outside, and make sure kids are in groups of at least three, with one adult within arm’s reach at all times.
– Pack it out. Take your trash home with you, and don’t leave any food behind in a public use cabin or yurt, even if you know someone else is staying after your party.
– Dress for any sort of weather condition. Springtime in Alaska is bi-polar; lovely one minute, snowing sideways the next. Bring layers of non-cotton clothing, and put kids in toasty fleece or wool long underwear for sleeping. Bring high-energy food items for meals, and plenty of water for each person’s consumption AND cooking.
– Do not start campfires unless permitted by the individual site. Bring your own wood or use what is provided; refrain from chopping down trees or shrubs. Please.
– Relax. Have fun. Break out the trail games, journals, or scavenger hunt lists. This is your family camping time.