State parks in the Valley are getting ready to welcome visitors to seasonal trails while cozy public use cabins are booking up, even as temperatures have become decidedly wintery over November.
As the season shifts, snow falls and lakes and trails freeze, park staff are busy performing last-minute maintenance and trail preparation, said Stuart Leidner, state parks superintendent for the Mat-Su region. That means by the time enough snow has fallen and temperatures have been right to create a usable base for snow machines, the trails will be more than ready to go.
Among those will be a brand-new, 15-mile multi-use trail specifically designed for fat bikes and snow machines in Denali State Park. Running from Kesugi Ken to Byers Lake, the trail is designed to give direct access between the two areas, he said.
“That will be a very long groomed trail,” he said. “Bow we’re just waiting for snow to fall so they can start to get it packed.”
Kesugi Ken and Byers Lake are two of the locations in the Mat-Su Borough that host public use cabins available for booking all winter. The Byers Lake cabins require access by foot, ski or snowmachine over at least a mile, depending on which cabin is booked. While only one of Kesugi Ken’s cabins is nearly drive-up, the other two are a short but typically snowy haul from the parking lot. A sled for moving gear is recommended.
At the time of this writing, winter trails across Valley lakes and waterways are not yet open. Users should act with extreme caution around any iced-over water.
All-told, the Valley is home to 20 state-operated public use cabins, with an additional cabin near Matanuska Glacier managed by Long Rifle Lodge. Another seven cabins are within close use for MatSu residents at Eklutna Lake just down the Glenn Highway, or Bird Creek campground, south of Anchorage.
Cabins, which range from $60 to $100 per night depending on location, book quickly during the winter and Leidner recommends early planning to secure the most desired spots and dates. Visitors should also plan to bring their own wood and supplies, as the cabins are not stocked with anything, including water. Cabins do, however, offer nearby maintained latrines.
While there the state park system this year has no new cabins available for use this year, some have received regular maintenance such as painting, while others have received small upgrades. For example, the Dolly Varden cabin at Eklutna was outfitted for the season with a new wood stove, replacing the slow-heating propane stove installed previously.
“We go out before the winter, make sure that stove gaskets are good. There’s been some painting done at various cabins, we’ve dug multiple new latrines in areas,” he said. “Just getting and keeping up with basic maintenance type things.”
Meanwhile in Hatcher Pass, a heavy October snowfall contributed to excellent early-season cross-country skiing conditions. Still, extreme cold and no recent snow at the time of this writing means the base isn’t quite ready for Hatcher Pass snow riders to hit the trails.
“In Hatcher Pass we’ve had 20-some inches of snow,” he said. “So people are chomping at the bit, but it’s not settled, it’s not set up.”
Users can keep an eye on the State Park social media pages and the Hatcher Pass Snow Riders club Facebook page for updates.