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By ALAINA BARTEL
Daily News Staff Writer
The summer solstice was on Thursday, and Ketchikan saw more daylight than it has in months. This is something to celebrate. Just a few months ago, the sun was setting at 3 p.m.
More daylight means more time to get on the trails after work. Whatever your reason might be — to relieve stress, to get some exercise, to enjoy time with friends, or to enjoy the beauty of Alaska — here are five trails that you can do in four hours or less.
I’m a novice hiker myself, never having trekked anything like the backcountry of Southeast Alaska before last summer. Here are five of my favorite trails, ranked from what I thought was the easiest to more challenging. Two of them I consider destination hikes.
More detailed information about the trails, such as the estimated time it takes to hike and the mileage, is from the U.S. Forest Service Ketchikan Area Trail Guide.
1. Ward Creek Trail, 2.5 miles one way, about two hours one way
Why this trail: There are several trails in the Ward Lake Recreation Area that are often overlooked. The Ward Lake Trail is heavily trafficked and is, of course, beautiful, but just a few minutes down the road you can try the Ward Creek Trail to spice up your hiking.
It’s not as populated at the Ward Lake Trail and it provides some stellar views of a waterfall. Many people hike the Ward Lake Trail, going around the lake a few times to get a long walk in. The Ward Creek Trail is 2.5 miles one way, making for a longer, but still easy, adventure.
It’s a gravel trail with only a few steep inclines. There’s a bridge overlooking a creek, and several lookout and platform areas for fishing and relaxing. If you need a break, there are also a few benches along the way. In my opinion, it’s the perfect trail to escape a busy recreation area and be in the wilderness within minutes. It would make for a good trail run because of the well-maintained, wide trail with a few small hills.
I’d say it’s also a wonderful trail to hike even when it’s a little wet outside because it’s mostly gravel. There are only a few areas of the trail with wooden paths, such as the bridge and platforms, which can become slippery.
How to get there: There are four trailheads. There are two obvious ones for me, the first one being the paved parking lot off of Revilla Road. It’s about 0.5 miles past Ward Lake Road on the right side of Revilla Road. The other way I’ve reached a trailhead was by parking at the main parking lot at Ward Lake and walking back towards Revilla Road on the right side of the road. Shortly, you will see a trail going off into the woods. Follow it!
2. Salvage Trail, 1.5 miles one way, about 1 hour one way
Why this trail: I never hear anyone talk about this trail. The Salvage Trail is also located in the Ward Lake Recreation Area. The one time I did this trail after work, I didn’t see anyone on it.
If you want to try a new and easy trail without driving too far out of town, try this one.
It’s a gravel trail with a few inclines along the way, making it a good trail to try even when it’s wet outside. The first incline is walking only a short distance up the trail. A few minutes after that, you will have gorgeous views across the valley toward Brown, Dude and Diana Mountains.
Along the way, there are many signs about the ecology of the trees, which have obviously been cleared and thinned a few times. The second-growth regeneration was a new and different sight for me with its small trees that flourish in the rainforest.
Unlike a lot of trails in Ketchikan, you can see where the Salvage Trail is headed for quite a distance in front of you, because of its flat and mostly straight path.
There might only be two good lookout points on this trail, but the scenery was different for me. I wanted to try something new a while back, and I definitely got it on this trail. It’s a great distance and easy walk or run through the forest.
How to get there: There are two trailheads. Here’s the one I use: Instead of turning right on Ward Lake Road when you get to the Ward Lake Road junction with Revilla Road, turn left and pull in a parking space on the left-hand side. The trailhead is behind your car on the right-hand side of the parking lot.
3. Coast Guard Beach Trail, 1 mile one way, 45 minutes one way
Why this trail: I consider the Salvage and Ward Creek trails a nice, long walk. If you want to get your heart rate up a little more, try the Coast Guard Beach Trail. It’s the perfect mix of log stairs, gravel, wood bridges and several inclines through thick western red cedar and western hemlock trees.
The only time I hiked this trail, it was in the winter and covered in snow. It was an absolutely beautiful hike, providing glimpses of the deep blue Tongass Narrows through the trees, pulling you to the last section of the trail on the coastline. Coming back up from the beach, there are a few steep inclines.
I enjoy trails like this more than others. It’s a destination hike. There’s something waiting for you on the other side. In this case, that something is Coast Guard Beach.
It’s a rocky beach that provides views of Guard, Gravina and Prince of Wales islands. It’d be a perfect place to whale watch, eagle watch, or have a picnic on a sunny day. If you want more of a longer hike, add onto the trail by walking along the beach.
Unlike Salvage Trail, the view does not stay the same and you might not know what’s coming around the corner — a bridge or 20 log stairs? When you start the trail, you’re hiking through open muskeg, yellow cedar and shore pine trees. Then you enter the thick forest. Before you know it, you’re on a beach. This hike is beautiful and photogenic the entire way. I can’t say enough good things about this trail.
How to get there: Drive to Point Higgins Elementary School. Park on the side closest to the playground. The only trailhead might be a little difficult to find at first. Walk towards the woods to the left of the playground and you should see the trail.
4. Lunch Falls Trail, 0.5 miles one way, 45 minutes one way
Why this trail: Enter Settlers Cove State Park. It might be busy and loud with campers, families and dogs. But in a few minutes, you could be in complete silence in the backcountry of Southeast Alaska on the Lunch Falls Trail.
As you begin, there will be several access points to the beach on the left side of the trail. It starts as a wide, gravel trail and then increases in difficulty and narrowness. Once you’re across the bridge over Lunch Creek, there is a waterproof book to sign your name. Looking through it, you will see hikers from all around the country.
Like Coast Guard Beach Trail, there is always something to look at on this trail — whether that be the Lunch Creek, Lunch Falls, large western red cedar, Sitka spruce, or western hemlock trees.
There are many boardwalk steps up and down that can be slippery when wet, but there are also a few benches along the way for a rest with great views of the waterfall. The trail goes in a loop, making for a short, but not too simple of a hike. It has beautiful views of the lush green rainforest throughout the hike.
If you’re wanting a short hike with an opportunity to run up some stairs and get a good leg workout, try the Lunch Falls Trail.
How to get there: When entering Settlers Cove State Park, keep going down the road until you reach the campground. The trailhead is located at the parking area within the campground loop.
5. Perseverance Lake Trail, 2.4 miles one way, 1.5 hours one way
Why this trail: This is one of the first trails I did in Ketchikan. As a complete novice, I was worried when the Area Trail Guide from the U.S. Forest Service said “more difficult,” simply because some of the easy ones were hard for me (the boardwalk stairs always get me).
I recommend this trail to everyone. What I again like about this kind of trail is it’s a destination hike. I kept pushing to get to Perseverance Lake — because who wouldn’t want to see a lake nestled in the mountains? A lake that you walked an hour and a half to get to. It was a great feeling to finally reach it.
What I enjoy most about this trail is there aren’t many stair steps. It’s mostly natural tread with a few switchbacks. It’s not a wide trail; there were several times people passed me. You’re constantly going up, but at a very slow rate. It was a great workout, given its length and incline.
There are some challenges on the trail, like broken boardwalk towards the end, a huge tree you have to climb over or under, and slippery conditions when wet. I fell in a mud puddle, but these are all things that make you feel even more accomplished when you reach the beautiful lake.
You can see just how high up you are on this trail, staring down the length of hundreds of trees. The first part of the trail is the natural tread then the last part of the trail is boardwalk leading to the lake. The trail is a bit rough in patches, so I’d recommend bringing trekking poles.
How to get there: It’s also in the Ward Lake Recreation Area. Head down Ward Lake Road, past the main parking lot to a smaller parking lot on the right, and park your car. Follow signs to the Perseverance Lake trailhead. It’s on the left side of Ward Lake Road. Enter the trail and start going up!