By Zack Fields
Water adds a whole other level of complexity to kids’ exploration, but the joy of marine wildlife, fish and beaches can be incomparable. Taking kids out on the water requires a little more creativity than just going for a hike, but there are almost limitless destinations near Anchorage that are practical for families to explore. Here are a few ways to get started.
Go fishing on your local lake or creek. Kids love the excitement of catching fish. Follow the ADF&G stocking report, and call the sport fish office (267-2218) to ask for tips about where and how to fish at any given time during the spring and summer. Many local fishing destinations like Westchester Lagoon, Cheney Lake, Jewel Lake, or Delong Lake are accessible walking or biking from nearby neighborhoods. Others like Beach Lake in Chugiak are a short drive, but often have outstanding sport fishing with pristine views. If you like to get out on the water with kids, it can be worth buying a canoe, which also makes kid-friendly camping excursions possible at the Nancy and Swan Lakes systems. Canoes also help access prime fishing habitat in our urban lakes. Many people catch fish casting from shore, and some lakes like DeLong have nice docks that reach out into the water for better access, but a canoe gives you access to deeper water with more fish.
Take a boat taxi to Resurrection or Katchemak Bay. The best way to see wildlife is on the water, and it is an incomparable experience to show your kids the wonder of whales breaching, sea lions churning the waters in search of salmon, and otters leisurely eating while floating on their backs. Prince William Sound’s boat taxis from Whittier are outrageously expensive, but Seward and Kachemak Bay have affordable options to beaches with great camping and hiking. A couple top choices include North Beach/Caines Head in Resurrection Bay, and beaches near Grewingk Glacier in Kachemak. Young kids love to play in the rocks and sand, and both areas have outstanding options for short hikes. North Beach at Caines Head can be very busy in the summer, but South Beach has far fewer visitors. Both North and South Beaches are a short hike away from Fort McGilvray, an installation designed to defend Seward from attack in World War II. Grewingk Glacier presents a tough choice: Camp at the beach at Kachemak or hike the easy three miles and camp on the lake with panoramic views of the glacier? Either location has outstanding camping and scenery.
Get out on a local river: The most kid-friendly river floats are the easiest, and therefore less well known among active outdoors people. Eagle River above Briggs Bridge (the Eagle River Loop Road crossing) is flat water, though it is somewhat fast moving with sweepers along the banks. To packraft Eagle River with kids, walk down from the trailhead that accesses Barbara Falls on Eagle River’s South Fork, putting in on Eagle River at the confluence with South Fork. With a car shuttle to the Barbara Falls trailhead, it’s an easy walk downhill, mostly on wide multi-use trails. The trail crosses South Fork twice, first at a bridge and second at a shallow ford that is safe and easy to carry kids across when the water is low. Alternatively, put in at the road-side put in off Eagle River Road, but be prepared for a roughly three hour float with breaks and naps as necessary. Other options to consider including flatwater portions of the Little Su in the Valley, or Portage Creek south of Anchorage.
The Municipality of Anchorage does a great job stocking kids’ life jackets at many local lakes, but it’s worth buying a correctly sized PFD. There are different models for kids under thirty pounds, thirty to fifty pounds, and above fifty pounds. The right sizes make a big difference in childrens’ comfort, and it’s important that the PFD fits correctly so it doesn’t fall off. If you’re out on the river or at a beach drop-off, clearly it’s necessary to have a dry bag with spare clothes, hand warmers, and fire starter to warm up kids who fall or run into the water on a cool day. Otherwise, dressing kids in the Tuffo rainsuit with rubber or neoprene boots, and synthetic or wool layers underneath, prepares them to play and get damp without getting too cold.
Water brings the majesty of creation right up to children, whether it’s a fish on the end of their line or a porpoise leaping from the water in front of them. There are many more places than you might guess to give them this joy of discovery, either at a local lake, nearby river, or an ocean beach that’s a short drive from Anchorage.