The official start of spring was March 19, and the season in Alaska can be unrecognizable to both new residents and visitors from outside. Budding blooms are replaced with on-again, off-again snow dumps, melting cycles and the dirty, endless-seeming cycle of break up.
For Alaskans with children it can seem like a never-ending trip to the end of the long road of winter, plus a whole lot more dirt. But with air temperatures rising and the new found, ever increasing sunlight making everything seem better, it’s the perfect time to encourage outdoor adventures. And hitting the open space is a great mental health help for those filling time created by the many virus-inspired cancellations. Plus Alaska has plenty of land to facilitate that social distancing.
For residents who have grown wary of the same old, same old or are looking for spaces where they can be alone, it can also be a great time to head out and explore a new-to-you area. That, at least, is the suggestion of several outdoor experts.
“Spring — always an interesting question on when it’s going to happen,” said Stuart Leidner, superintendent of Mat-Su-area Alaska State Parks.
“As we continue to get longer daylight hours and we will get some warmer temperatures, it’s a great time to be getting out with kids on trails that you might not think about when it’s negative-20,” he said.
A great place to start could be Nancy Lake, he said, which has a wide variety of trails that Mat-Su residents may not have yet explored. He said visitors should always check the ice conditions before heading out on the winter trail, but noted there’s plenty of open space to go around.
“As these days do get longer and warmer, there are plenty of other opportunities that we don’t think about,” he said. “Get out on the trails there and explore a park you haven’t before.”
For a fun overnight excusion, families should check out the State Park public use cabins in the Mat-Su region. With three cabins at Byers Lake, three in Denali State Park, 14 at Nancy Lake and one at the Matanuska Glacier operated by a contractor, the cabins, which can be booked through the Reserve America website, could offer an awesome overnight escape.
There are plenty of day trips and short adventures families can take, said Erin Kirland, author of AK On the Go and a local kids and travel expert.
“Talekeetna is on this big push to get folks to come up there this time of year,” she said. “Get your kids, rent fat bikes — it’s awesome and so much fun.”
She also suggests a visit to Government Peak Recreation Area for some snowshoeing or skiing, followed by a drive-thru hot chocolate stop at a nearby coffee kiosk.
Mat-Su residents are used to driving by Reflections Lake or the Eklutna exit on their way down the Glenn, but Kirkland suggests taking the time to drop by.
“Go up in the observation tower by Reflections Lake because it’s so cool,” she said. “Then I would also suggest going out to Eklutna, you can stay in one of the public use cabins and enjoy the sunshine.”
The Palmer Hay Flats, adjacent to Reflections Lake, is also a great place to explore, said Ellen Kazary, executive director of the Alaska Great Land Trust. She also said residents could check out the new park area at Settlers Bay, which had its official ribbon cutting in September.
“A loot of people think ‘Settlers Bay golf course,’ so this is a new way to think about that,” she said.
She also suggested heading out to the Dale Saunders Cran Sanctuary near Trapper Creek to see the migrating cranes.
“The sandhill cranes love that spot,” she said. “It is just so cool to see when they’re migrating.”
Outdoor Events in the Mat-Su:
Most public gatherings have been canceled for the remainder of March.