By Amanda Sassi
When driving through the variable roads between Turnagain Pass and Kenai Lake, you could likely zoom past the Devil’s Creek Trailhead. There are brown Forest Service signs that direct you toward the turn, but I inevitably miss it half the time. It is a worthy stop, about halfway between Anchorage and Kenai or Seward, to get outside and stretch the legs. I used to stop year round because there is a nice outhouse and the Devil’s Creek Trail allows for a nice walk. Sometimes I’d bring my classic skis for a swift downhill to the first major bridge on Devil’s Creek Trail, about a mile in, and a subtle uphill to warm back up for the continued drive. The pull out is also large and tucked away to enjoy a little privacy from the highway unlike the pull offs around the Summit Lake area.
Last year that beloved trailhead parking area began hosting a more refined experience for those outdoor enthusiasts traveling through the area. The Cooper Landing Nordic Ski Club has secured the use of a defunct US Forest Service timber cutting area that ended in 2018 to groom and maintain winter trails. It is a fun two loop system that travels through a gate at the back of the parking lot and down a single lane road to the cut zone. The trail then meanders through bare and papery birch trees leftover from the cutting and gives sweeping views of the Kenai Mountains along the Seward Highway. It seems like a good place for wildlife viewing and the tree cutting may have been to promote moose habitat in the area.
The Cooper Landing Nordic Ski Club started in 2009 “with an aim to improve winter recreation opportunities around the Upper Kenai” according to their website. It is a volunteer run organization full of passionate people looking to create an outdoor experience for many user groups and people of all ages. They have grown to over 15 miles of groomed Nordic skiing including the areas of Russian River Campground, the end of Quartz Creek Road, and the Devil’s Creek Trailhead. Depending on the snow, they set classic tracks and groom wide enough for skate skiing when possible.
At this time all modes of travel are allowed on their groomed trails including; classic and skate skiing, skijoring, snowshoeing, fat tire biking, walking, and dog walking. The grooming report webpage has great information about the conditions and some education to help folks understand how to use the trails sustainably and conscientiously for other trail users . Good trail etiquette includes the following practices:
- Think before you sink
- Non-skier traffic please stay to one side of the trail
- Downhill skiers have right of way
- Pick up your dog’s poop
- Avoid freshly groomed trails for a couple hours while they set up
The two loops are similar: one is long and narrow at 2.3 miles (yellow) and the other is short and stout at 2 miles (orange). At the back of the 2.3 mile trail is a quick and swift downhill. The total climb and descent for the longer trail is about 180 vertical feet, not all in one go, it’s more of a rolling trail. The 2 mile trail shortcuts the longer one with an exhilarating downhill before a short climb back to the trail alignment. The shorter trail has a total of 130 vertical feet up and down. Jim, from the Seward Ranger District, felt that when going counter clockwise, the uphill does not feel like it is the same amount of climbing as descending, it is so gradual. Both trails brought me great joy, beautiful weather, and stunning scenery as I traveled to and from Kenai in early February.
The Cooper Landing Nordic Ski Club is supported through membership and brings these opportunities to the public free of charge. You can choose your own adventure en route depending on the conditions by visiting the grooming report.