The next stop on our list is Seward, a coastal community in the Southcentral part of the Kenai peninsula. Seward is famous for its fishing charters and wildlife viewing cruises in the Kenai Fjords National Park, most of which is only accessible by boat. Seward is a small place with perhaps no more than 1,500-2,000 people, and even less in winter when many businesses close for the season, but it brings many visitors in the summer looking to enjoy the beautiful waters of the Resurrection bay or head out to a kayak or a SUP excursion around the Bear or Ayalik glaciers. Seward has a few restaurants downtown, a Sealife center, a large library, and a prison across the bay. There is even one large grocery store, but other than that the place feels small even for Alaska.
We have no definite plans for Seward and play it by ear, considering a wildlife cruise or an ice climbing adventure, or at the very least an 8 mile hike to the Exit Glacier, the only one accessible by foot. We get in Seward just in time for a late lunch at a local Thai place, Woody’s kitchen, which is no different than any other Thai food place but is certainly on a pricey side as every other eatery in town. Right after lunch we meet with our host in downtown, a local librarian who grew up on the Kenai peninsula and spent here last two years in Seward, enjoying the summers and battling cold and lonely winters.
Thanks to the windy, cold, and worst of all foggy weather, we have to give up an idea of going to a cruise this evening and only make a quick stop at Kenai Fjords National Park to view the Exit Glacier from a distance and then return to downtown for a light dinner at the brewing company. The next morning the weather is no better, the rain only intensified and the fog never receded. Strong winds prevent the tour boats from venturing too far out of the Resurrection bay and disappointed, we go back on the road. Seward must be a great place to visit when the weather is right, perhaps in July or June but we had no such luck.
Just as we leaving Seward behind and move inland the rain stops and the sun comes out with only occasional clouds and a light drizzle. We continue on the Sterling highway to Cooper landing where we grab a quick lunch at the BBQ place and shortly after turn off the highway to the dirt road going through the Skilak Wildlife Recreation area.
Skilak lake road is an 18-mile gravel road going through a series of lakes including its namesake – Skilak, a large glacier formed lake with strong winds, freezing waters, and salmon carcasses thrown out on the shore. There are several Forest Service cabins in the area, most of which are accessible only by boat or a float plane. We stay in one of the few accessible by foot with just a short walk from the parking area, an Upper Ohmer cabin. Similar to the Caribou creek, the cabin is rustic and includes just the basics: bunk beds, table, saw, and a fire ring. The cabin overlooks a small Upper Ohmer lake, known for occasional dolly varden and trout, and has a rowboat with oars and PFDs tied to the front porch.
It gets rather windy by the evening and instead of trying out the boat on the lake, we start a fire, fix up dinner, roast marshmallows, and put up a hammock behind the cabin, listening to the loon calls and enjoying the sunset colors once the clouds move away and the sky clears up. The next morning the winds die down and we take the boat to a short tour of the lake, almost reaching the other side. By noon we are back to the trailhead and continue the drive to junction with the Sterling highway only stopping by the Skilak lake boat launch. The glacial lake looks completely still with no signs of life except a few fish carcasses lying by the shore. Soon a boat approaches and a group of people and a dog hop to the shore. soon on Sterling highway.
Back on Sterling highway we stop by a local deli for a chicken sandwich lunch and take a detour to an oil community of Kenai to pick up another set of telephoto lens that I ordered from FedEx.
Once back in Sterling, we rent a canoe mounting it to the car roof and take a gravel Swanson River road that travels 17 miles into the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, a prime moose habitat. The road passes through several small lakes forming a canoe trail and culminates in Swanson river. Several miles in we catch a glimpse of a moose and her calf crossing the road in front of us and disappearing into the thick brush. We drive for 13 miles and park at the Dolly Varden campground to begin the paddle to the Dolly Varden cabin. Dolly Varden, one of the forest service cabins, similar to the ones we stayed in previously, is located on the northern tip of the Dolly Varden Lake and is accessible only by boat requiring about a 1 mile trek in a canoe or a row boat. No motor boats or jetskis are allowed on the lake.
Considering we lack a topo map of the area and only know the general direction the cabin is located at, it takes us almost an hour to finally reach it in a canoe, scaring a couple of swans on the way. The effort is worth it however. Completely secluded and surrounded by birch and spruce trees, the cabin overlooks dark blue calm lake waters. We start a fire and set up a hammock close to the shore drinking hot chocolate, watching the sun slowly setting over the basin, and enjoying the beautiful, warm -as warm as it gets this time of year in Alaska, and sunny weather with only occasional loon calls disturbed the evening silence.
The next morning we make the same canoe trek back to the Dolly Varden campground and continue on to the end of the Sterling hwy south.