When we were planning our family activities for May we had decided that Memorial Day would be perfect for our first real camping trip of the year. It wasn’t until Friday night that I remembered why we usually go earlier in the month, but I am getting ahead of myself.
We were getting all excited to go camping. Earlier in the week, Rebecca and I had bought a cargo carrier that attached to our towl hitch. You wouldn’t think a Ford Expedition would need more cargo space but it fills easily with five kids and all their gear. The blankets and stuffed animals alone take up a huge amount of space.
The car was mostly packed so when I got off work early on Friday we were on the road before 5 PM. I think that was a personal best for us. The traffic was surprisingly light.
We drove north to Eklutna Lake. The turn off is about 26 miles north of Anchorage, but then it is another 10 miles up to the lake. The road is paved but narrow and very curvy. The max speed on the road is 25 miles per hour so it will seem like a crawl after the Glenn Highway, but the scenery is really spectacular. I would have taken a picture but I had to keep both hands on the wheel.
Eklutna Lake is nestled in the mountains of Chugach State Park. Eklutna Glacier carved out the valley and when it receded long ago it left a 7 mile lake with steep mountains surrounding it. It is a really pristine place and you can see why Anchorage gets 75% or so of their water from it.
Eklutna Lake has something for everyone. There is fishing and boating on the lake, though no motorized crafts are allowed. There is even a kayak rental place. Eklutna also offers miles of trails. The main trail is a 13 mile (one way) packed gravel trail along the north rim of the lake. For the first 8-miles it is wide enough to drive down and easy enough for a stroller. For the more adventurous there are several trails which offer steep hikes to the summits of the surrounding peaks, some only 5 miles long. There are also park cabins at the other end of the lake for extended trips.
The Eklutna Lake campground has 50 regular sites with 15 overflow sites. I have never seen the campground full . . . until Friday night. When we finally got to the campsite every site was filled. It looked like we had missed it by 20 minutes. Well, we had to make a quick decision after that. We decided instead of driving for another two hours trying to find an open campground on Memorial Weekend, we would head over to the day-use or picnic area. We were the only people there. Since the day-use area is separated from the campsites, it made for a lot more room and privacy. We were able to let the kids run around and yell more than if we had been over at the other place.
We roasted our hotdogs and made our s’mores. The kids got to get filthy and play with fire. After we cleaned up we all headed down to the lake. Instead of hiking the north trail like we usually do we headed east along the shore to the spillway. The water level in the lake changes a lot over the summer. We hiked along the high water mark where all the driftwood had been pushed up on the beach. The kids were having a great time exploring and picking up neat sticks. William started talking about giants in the mountain. I then mentioned that all the driftwood looked like ogre clubs. That set the kids’ imagination off. Ben and William were clamoring to tell me about the ogre battle that must have gone on. They imagined that the old wooden piles sticking out of the ground were the tombstones of the fallen heroes. They had great fun with it, even Gwenna got in to it.
Once we got to the spillway, we saw a nesting pair of golden eyes and a small beaver. There was a small ice chunk still floating near the edge of the lake, which provided an excellent target for the kids. After the kids were tired of throwing rocks they moved on to building a fort out of the spillway stones. That went along pretty smoothly until Tim walked out onto some stepping stones and dunked himself in the lake.
Luckily, since we had been planning to camp we had brought extra clothes. It still ended up being a good stopping point for the night. Once Tim was dry we packed the kids into the car and passed out the chips. The drive back was uneventful and later that night while Rebecca was soaking in a bubble bath she commented, with a relaxed smile, that it wasn’t the worst camping trip she had been on. It actually was pretty good, all of the fun stuff and not having to sleep with five kids in one tent.
(P.S. I uploaded additional photos on my Flickr site, see side bar,)