**We interrupt your regularly scheduled Iowa to Alaska blog posts for a bit of Alaska-themed insight before the Memorial Day weekend begins. Enjoy! ~EK
by Danielle Benson
Memorial Day weekend is a special time for families. While it is the unofficial kick-off of summer, our family reflects on military deployments we’ve survived and years spent apart. We tell stories of soldiers we’ve lost and the families still serving, and also pledge to spend as much time together as possible to remind ourselves about how lucky we are. It is also the ideal weekend for an inaugural camping trip, and a great time to shake out the tent, double check the gear, and replenish the stockpiles of bug spray, bear spray, fire starters and propane tanks. It’s time to get out there.
Here are Team Benson’s Top 5 Camping Destinations on our Memorial Day list this year:
Eagle River Campground– Eagle River. A quick drive from Anchorage, Eagle River Campground is perfect for novice camping families who don’t want to drive hours away from home. With 57 sites, it is close enough to town to reassure nervous parents, yet scenic and wooded enough to provide a true Alaska camping experience. The paved roads are perfect for strollers or bikes, and the nearby South Fork Trail is one of the Nuggets’ favorite year-round hiking trails. The hill from the parking lot is the most difficult part for little legs, but views farther along the trail are worth any effort. While the entire trail is 5.5 miles one way, the jaunt to the bridge and back can take a few hours and is the perfect way to enjoy the outdoors and tire kids out at the same time.
Williwaw- Portage Valley. It has been mentioned here before, but any family camping list would be incomplete without it. It is that good, and a hands-down favorite. Williwaw is just over 50 miles from Anchorage, but feels like its own Alaska destination. Parents and kids alike are happy in this campground with 60 sites, and paved roads connecting surprisingly private campsites. Mountain and glacier views are the perfect backdrop for families walking, biking and scootering up and down the Trail of Blue Ice. For a quick day trip, kids love hiking to nearby Byron Glacier. The flat and level 1-mile trail leads to bubbling Byron Creek and the surprisingly close Byron Glacier, including its permanent snowfield. Remember to respect the glacier, as avalanches have been known to occur even into June.
Porcupine Campground- Hope. Good things come in small, remote packages. Consisting of only 34 basic sites, Porcupine Campground is a special treat. Laid out in a loop, the campsites are well-spaced, pleasantly sheltered and private. Overlooking Turnagain Arm in spectacular fashion, this campground is close to the sweet, historical town of Hope and connected to local hiking trails. Families can enjoy trying their hand at nearby gold panning areas, which initially made the area famous, including Resurrection Creek.
Trail River Campground- Near Moose Pass on the way to Seward. Gloriously placed between Trail River and Kenai Lake, Trail River Campground makes snapping wanderlust pictures a breeze. Prepare to fill up your camera memory card or social media account with inspiring photographs worthy of postcards. A large campground near mile 24 of the Seward Highway, there are 91 basic sites divided into 4 different sections. The campground has several trails weaving through the woods to facilitate hours of family exploration along the rocky lakeshore or river. There is fishing access, a volleyball area and horseshoe pit available. This campground is also the perfect base camp to spend a weekend exploring nearby Seward.
Byers Lake Campground- Talkeetna. This campground at Milepost 147 on the Parks Highway takes Memorial Day Weekend to the next level due to close proximity to the Alaska Veterans Memorial at Milepost 147.1. The campground has 74 basic sites in the thick forests next to serene Byers Lake. Boasting spectacular views of Denali, the campground also connects to five different camping trails. For a short hike, take the trail counterclockwise from the boat launch. After a little more than a mile, the Byers Creek suspension bridge is a fun treat. For heartier adventurers, the entire Byers Lake trail is a 4.8-mile easy loop. If the snow is cleared, the campground is traditionally open by Memorial Day, although it still may be chilly. If the lake is fully thawed, Denali Southside River Guides (907-733-7238) offers on-site canoe and kayak rentals. The Alaska Veteran’s Memorial will host a Memorial Day service on Sunday, May 29th at 2 p.m. The Alaska Vets Motorcycle Club will roar onto the grounds in conjunction with their annual Memorial Day ride to the site. Plan on attending according to children’s age, maturity and noise level threshold.
UPDATE: On May 10, Alaska State Parks made the following announcement regarding the bridge at Byers Lake:
“The main foot bridge crossing Byers Creek on the Byers Lake Loop Trail collapsed recently and we do not anticipate it being repaired or replaced for at least a year. Currently, the outlet bridge on the Byers Lake Loop Trail is the only access to Cascade or Kesugi Ridge Trails from the Byers Lake Campground, public use cabins or day use areas. All Kesugi Ridge trailheads will be posted immediately, and the Alaska State Parks website updated.” <—- Stay informed; the bridge may be repaired, or maybe not.
Keep in mind… Alaska weather can be tricky and sometimes wicked, especially this early in the season.
Bring several non-cotton layers for chilly temperatures. Winter hats and gloves are always a good idea.
Extra thick warm sleeping socks are real treat. Hand warmers are in our camping kit, even in summer.
Rain gear is a must. Rain pants, jacket and good warm, water proof boots will keep the good times rolling, even in the rain.
Sunglasses, bug spray, bear spray. Double check campground status before you leave. The Park Rangers at Alaska Public Lands Information Center are the best resource. The Anchorage office number is (907) 644-3661. The office at 605 West 4th Avenue, in the Federal Building, is also an excellent place to pick up maps and other area tips.
Need more ideas? Check out Erin’s Alaska Dispatch News article from 2014 for some other favorites.