Why Take This Hike
More a gated road than a trail, this hike largely remains a local secret among the residents of Cooper Landing, the fishing mecca located some 105 miles south of Anchorage on Sterling Highway. Many in this town consider it their personal getaway, which makes it quite a popular secret. A foreman for Chugach Electric (the company that manages the dam on Cooper Lake) said he often experienced congestion while driving to the dam, due to the heavy volume of families, hikers, and bikers who come here. But no matter what your purpose, this trail, which ends at the Cooper Lake dam, makes for a fine excursion into the Kenai Peninsula’s high country.
You might think it a bit mundane to suggest hiking a dirt road, but this particular road may change your mind. The hardest part may actually be finding it, as there’s no name and no sign. Here’s how to do it. Drive through Cooper Landing on the Sterling Highway. A few miles past the Kenai River bridge, look for Little Jim Circle on the right (north). Turn left up the unmarked dirt road just across from Little Jim Circle and follow as it climbs steeply up the embankment.
To save a mile or two of hiking, you can drive the entire 2 miles to the gate, but this one-lane road often proves quite steep and offers few places to easily turn around. Instead, consider parking under the power lines that cross the road about 1 mile in, and then walk the steep road to the gate from there.
The road climbs a to small rise just beyond the gate, then gently rolls along the upper flank of the valley for the next 2 miles. Though it never ventures above tree line, it does stretch into open country. There you’ll find many unobstructed views—across Cooper Creek to the bare ridges above its far side, and up the valley as far as Cooper Mountain.
After rolling over one last knoll, you can look down on much of the 10-mile-plus length of Cooper Lake. From this last knoll, the road descends another 0.5 miles to the lake and ends next to the dirt and rock dam.
Here you can wander at will—across the dam, up the new pipeline road almost 2 miles to the Stetson Creek Valley, or down the road a short way to the far side of the lake. Or maybe you just prefer to sit and relax. Watch the shadows of clouds move across the valley’s ridges, or wait for a moose to amble out of the brush and feed in the lake’s shallows.
(For more, see Walk-About Guide to Alaska, Volume One by Shawn R. Lyons)