Alaska Excursions

Alaska Excursions

A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.

Iditarod 41

Photos and stories from the last great race.

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Cooper Landing keeps yesteryear near through fishing, culture and community

Rich in gold mining, early settlers and Alaska Native history, Cooper Landing has long been a destination for serious anglers wanting easy access to the Russian and Kenai rivers and Skilak and Kenai lakes for trophy salmon, trout and a host of other species.

Located two hours south of Anchorage in the Chugach National Forest, Cooper Landing is home to about 500 year-round residents along an 11-mile stretch of two-lane highway meandering by Kenai Lake, past the Russian and Kenai rivers and around the Kenai Mountains, with all the fishing, wildlife-viewing and other outdoor activities a visitor could ask for. From the Russian Gap Subdivision at Mile 44 to the Russian River Ferry crossing at Mile 55, there's a lot to experience.

Your history lesson for Cooper Landing can start at the Cooper Landing Historical Society Museum at Mile 48.7 on the Sterling Highway.

Inside the museum's two historic buildings -- Jack Lean's late 1920s cabin, which is the local post office today, and the 1955 schoolhouse -- you'll find the skeleton of a brown bear, information about early settlers and the Alaska Native communities and vintage medical instruments used by two area physicians from 1896 to 1980.

On permanent exhibit is a 600-year-old Montague Island (Sitka) spruce slab, thanks to a federal grant managed by the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm Corridor Communities Association, a group that promotes the enjoyment of public resources in the area. The tree slab is a photo opportunity not to be missed, and its signage links the tree's rings in years to historical events in Cooper Landing and the surrounding region. Highlights include early transportation routes used by Natives, miners and the railroads, and the starting point of the original Iditarod trail back when it was more than a sporting challenge but rather, a critical mail and medical supply route.

Alaska's Dena'ina Athabascans are a vital part of Cooper Landing's past. Their Native culture and traditions can be experienced by visitors to the K'Beq' Interpretive Site at Sterling Highway Mile 52.6. At this archeological destination, you can take part in tours illustrating the history and lifestyles of these Native Alaskans as presented by descendants of the people who made and used the 500-year-old artifacts and who continue to embrace a deep connection to -- and respect for -- the bounty of nature surrounding them.

The Cooper Landing Community Library is another source of information about the area, and support for its continued growth comes from an annual catered fundraiser and a recent generous grant from the Rasmuson Foundation for improvements to the children's book section and energy-efficient upgrades. Library Director Kate Thomas can help with information about Cooper Landing and the area.

Gwin's Lodge opened on Jan. 1, 1952. As a Cooper Landing icon, its location and website warrant a visit for more history, plus historical photographs of one of Alaska's oldest traditionally crafted log roadhouses and cabins, along with scenic shots of some of the peninsula's most beautiful spots.

The Kenai River Drift Boat Regatta, held annually at the end of May or early June, marks the start of fishing season. Anyone with a drift boat is invited to enter, and this regatta is fun for the entire family.

For hikers, the best trails are the Russian Lakes Trail to the Russian River Falls, where you'll see salmon jumping up a waterfall to reach their protected spawning area (handicap accessible for humans); Resurrection Creek Trail, where you can take a cross-country hike of a lifetime through 38 miles of scenic mountains from Cooper Landing to Hope (overnight camping required); the Crescent or Fuller Lake Trails; and at Mile 58, with a turn onto Skilak Loop Road, lots of easy-to-moderate hiking trails to the Kenai River.

Whatever your passion, be it fishing, hiking, rafting/kayaking, sightseeing, exploring Alaska culture or hanging out with the local folks, you'll find it all in Cooper Landing.

COOPER LANDING ATTRACTIONS

Cooper Landing Historical Society Museum

Historic Cooper Landing buildings snuggled up to the Kenai River contain a brown bear skeleton, Native and early settler artifacts, a 600-year-old Sitka spruce slab with the age rings linked to various Alaskan events -- a great photo opportunity -- and a resource center for all the area has to offer.

WHERE: Mile 48.7 Sterling Highway

WHEN: 1 to 6 p.m. daily except Tuesdays, May 15-Sept. 15

COST: Free (donations appreciated)

PHONE: 907-595-3500

WEB: www.cooperlandingmuseum.com

Cooper Landing Community Library

A hub for local information and great resources for visitors.

WHERE: Mile 0.8 Bean Creek Road

WHEN: Varies Mondays through Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; check website for specific days/times. Closed Sundays

COST: Free

PHONE: 907-595-1241; for Library Sweepstakes fundraiser, contact Kate Thomas, 907-599-1643

WEB: www.arctic.net/~alibrary/

K'Beq' Interpretive Site

An archeological site providing interpretive tours by Alaska Natives raised in the culture and tradition of the Dena'ina Athabascans, who were early river-front inhabitants of the region. A gift shop offers Native and local crafts, specialty foods, jewelry and books.

WHERE: Mile 52.6 Sterling Highway

WHEN: Beginning June 2, 2011, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday; open daily in July

COST: Free

PHONE: 907-398-8867; office phone, 907-335-0669

WEB: www.kenaitze.org, or www.kenaitze-nsn.gov/cne/kbeq/index.html

Gwin's Lodge

Historic landmark, traditionally crafted log roadhouse and guest cabins, full of local history and a good source for what to do in Cooper Landing

WHERE: Mile 52 Sterling Highway

WHEN: Memorial Day to Labor Day. Call for availability on other dates.

COST: Call for rates

PHONE: 907-595-1266

WEB: www.gwinslodge.com

Russian Lakes Trail/Russian River Falls

Watch salmon make their way up a waterfall to a protected spawning lake. An easy day hike, just 2.4 miles to Russian River Falls viewing platforms from spur trail (handicap accessible) at Mile 1.4

WHERE: Mile 52.6 Sterling Highway (Russian River Campground)

WHEN: Call or check Forest Service/Chugach National Forest websites for dates

COST: Free; trailhead parking is about $11/day for 12 hours, check website or call

PHONE: 907-743-9500 (in Anchorage)

WEB: www.fs.fed.us/r10/chugach/trails/Russian-lakes.html. Local trail map available at http://www.cooperlandingchamber.com/map.shtml

COOPER LANDING CALENDAR OF EVENTS

Kenai River Drift Boat Regatta

This event kicks off the fishing season in Cooper Landing. Anyone with a drift boat is invited to join the fun.

WHERE: Registration at Kenai River Bridge in the center of town; race begins at the Kenai Lake Boat Launch/Eagle's Landing

WHEN: Last weekend in May or first week in June; registration at 10 a.m.; race begins at noon

COST: $20 entry fee per person, donated to charity (varies each year)

PHONE: Alec Lamberson, event host, 907-595-2126

Cooper Landing Community Softball Tournament

To meet possibly everyone in town, don't miss the excitement of a "locals" double elimination softball game. Proceeds support Cooper Landing Emergency Services.

WHERE: Softball field at the community center off Bean Creek Road

WHEN: Starts the last weekend in May and lasts 10 days

COST: $75 entry fee per team

PHONE: Dan Michels, 907-595-1425 ext.1301

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