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Visitors and Alaskans alike flock to the Kenai Peninsula to enjoy the great outdoors, but most drive right past the Hope turnoff without knowing what they're missing. This quick detour lets you explore the history of Alaska's first gold-rush town, try your hand at panning for gold, and enjoy an array of outdoor activities.
Currently home to fewer than 200 residents, Hope was once packed with 3,000-all drawn by gold fever. In 1889, a few years before the Klondike gold rush began to lure people north, a miner discovered nuggets in nearby Resurrection Creek. Soon prospectors found gold in nearby Six Mile Creek, and the rush to Turnagain Arm began. According to local lore, this growing community of tents and cabins chose to name their town after the youngest rusher to step off the next boat-17-year-old Percy Hope. Whether or not the story is true, the name certainly evokes the optimism of every prospector who arrived in Hope in search of a fortune.
Want to try your luck at gold panning? There's a 1.5-mile access area along Resurrection Creek that's open to the public; pan the very streambed where the gold rush began.
During the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, part of the town was lost to the rising water-now a tidal meadow. The 100-year-old Hope Social Hall still stands, a weathered log cabin that hosts community meetings, dances, and weddings. The Hope and Sunrise Historical and Mining Museum (907-782-3740; open 12pm-4pm M-F, Memorial Day-Labor Day) offers another view into the past. Check out historic objects and photographs, a barn, a smithy, and a miner's bunkhouse. Many artifacts are located outside of the museum, and the curator can advise you as to which spots you won't want to miss. Mingle with locals at the popular Discovery Café (907-782-3274) and enjoy a generous burger. This much-loved eatery burned to the ground a few years ago and was rebuilt almost entirely by volunteer labor.
Once a lucrative gold-panning spot, Six Mile Creek now lures people with challenging Class IV and V rapids, winding through a stretch of canyons to Turnagain Arm. Named by rum-soaked prospectors, this extraordinary waterway is neither 6 miles long, nor a creek (go figure). Class V Adventures will take you on a guided rafting adventure.
You'll find numerous hiking and biking trails around Hope, ranging from easy to strenuous, from leg-stretchers to extended treks. To start off slow, head to the parking area of Porcupine Campground, where you'll find Gull Rock Trail. This fairly mild five-mile hike (one-way) offers scenic views along Turnagain Arm, with an elevation gain and loss of 700 feet. Cross rockslides, an avalanche gully, old, cathedral-like forests, and an old sawmill ruin. The trail ends at Gull Rock where you can stay and camp overnight, but there are no facilities.
Also accessible to mountain bikers, Gull Rock is considered a moderate-to-difficult ride. The Hope Point Trail also begins at Porcupine Campground. This 2.5-mile hike climbs a steep, un-maintained trail up Mt. Hope, with an elevation gain of 3,600 feet. Your effort pays off with spectacular views of Turnagain Arm, plus wildlife sightings such as mountain goats, moose, and bears. For a multi-day adventure, hike or bike the Resurrection Pass Trail, which extends from Hope to Cooper Landing, some 19.5 miles one-way. This popular path passes over forested and alpine terrain, with an elevation change of about 2,000 feet over the course of the trail. Off-trail campsites are available along the way, as well as a number of forest service cabins, which are available by reservation only (877-444-6777; www.reserveusa.com).
If you prefer to enjoy breathtaking views without breaking a sweat, take a scenic drive up Palmer Creek Road. Bring your camera to capture Turnagain Arm and the Resurrection Creek Valley. You can access Palmer Creek Road half a mile down Resurrection Creek Road, which branches off the Hope Highway about a mile and a half out of town.
To get to Hope, head south from Anchorage down the scenic Seward Highway to mile 56.7. Hope lies another 16.5 miles down the Hope Highway, at the end of the road.