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Properties

By Bill Lasher, Jr.


Traveling through Alaska can be as luxurious as

you’d like, but adventurous souls may choose

to hike through the wilderness and make use of

its accessible public-use cabins.


Traveling with a disability requires

an open mind and the desire to do

things slightly outside your comfort

zone, but what a small price to pay

in return for such wonderful and

fulfilling rewards!”

Wild, historic, vast, pristine… it’s difficult to

describe Alaska in a word, or a sentence to

someone who has never been. With its name

based on the Native Alaskan word for “the Great Land,”

Alaska certainly lives up to its name. The largest of the

50 States, it is more than twice the size of Texas yet has

a population of roughly 650,000 people. With half living

in Anchorage, the state’s largest city, there’s more than

enough space to find yourself in the middle of nowhere

without another person for hundreds of miles—though

you will encounter an abundance of wildlife.

When asked, most people profess a desire to visit

Alaska “one day.” However, Alaska still has the mystique

of being a far off, even exotic land. One can hardly be

blamed for this common misconception, as most schoolage

geography books spend at most a page or two describing

Alaska—Russia owned it, the United States purchased

it for $7.2 million dollars (a bargain), there was

a gold rush, there is plenty of oil, bears are everywhere,

it’s dark all winter, and it’s sunny all summer. Then, toss

in a photograph of an igloo—a temporary Eskimo hunting

shelter carved out of ice—and maybe one of a dog

team pulling some rugged, parka-clad individual across

a snow covered landscape to really show off the “true”

Alaska. Well, as a resident, that’s not the Alaska I know.

Sure, you can still find an igloo in the winter, generally

carved to edify the tourist hoping to see one in person,

and dog sledding is still a wintertime activity—though

it’s only undertaken by a small group of individuals—but

Alaska is so much more than your geography textbook

conveyed.

On or Off the Beaten Path

Getting to Alaska is the easy part, and it can also be

the most fun. It is said that, in life the journey is more

important than the destination, and in this case I would

certainly concur. You can take the easiest route by flying.

In fact, you can catch a direct flight to Alaska from

Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago, and

Salt Lake City, and international flights arrive from destinations

including Frankfurt, Germany, Seoul, South

Korea, Taipei, Taiwan, Tokyo, Japan, and Vancouver,

Canada. Plan on a three and a half-hour flight from Seattle,

a five and a half-hour flight from Los Angeles, and

10 hours of flight time with at least one stopover if flying

from the East Coast. This is your best bet if your time in

Alaska is limited.

Many visitors choose to do their sightseeing by cruise

ship, enjoying a beautiful view of the Inside Passage

through Southeast Alaska. Cruises depart from Seattle

and Vancouver, but they can be pricey. Also, you’ll get

a healthy dose of what can only be deemed “Alaska

for the Tourist.” You’ll arrive in a town such as Juneau

(population 31,000) along with a couple other ships, and

thousands of tourists will disembark and take over the

town. You’ll be able to partake in prepackaged Alaskan

activities, shop in “Alaskana” trinket shops, and drink

Alaskan ale in the “local watering hole.” While this is

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exactly what many travelers enjoy,

there are other ways to tour the area

as well.

An alternate way to journey

through Alaska’s Inside Passage is to

take the Alaska Marine Highway ferry,

which departs from Bellingham,

Washington. It is definitely a less expensive

way to see Alaska, especially

since they also have disabled rates,

but it doesn’t come with all the frills

of cruising. You have the option of

stopping at any of the 30-plus cities

or towns that are part of the Alaska

Marine Highway, but unlike a cruise

ship you can stay overnight wherever

you’d like and then catch another

ferry when you’re ready to leave. You

can also bring your car, truck, RV, motorcycle,

bicycle, or even your kayak

with you. For the cost-conscious, and

definitely the more adventuresome,

this would be the transportation of

choice.

Finally, for those who prefer a road

trip in a loaded class-A motorhome—

or even a humble SUV—fear not, for

Alaska is connected with the “Lower

48” states via the Alcan (Alaska/Canadian)

highway. Built during World

War II by the Army Corps of Engineers,

the Alcan was little more than

a dirt “road” scraped through desolate

Alaska and Canada and enjoyed

little maintenance. Today the Alcan

is paved in its entirety, though it may

be a bit rough in spots. For those

who truly want an authentic experience,

a drive takes you to some of the

most remote and picturesque parts

of Alaska and Canada, and it’s completely

worth it. Be warned, however,

because this is a long journey of some

2,400 driving miles from Seattle to Anchorage

that will take a mind-boggling

amount of driving. It’s best to attempt

this trip with people who you know

you’ll be able to tolerate in a car and at

a campsite for many days. It can theoretically

be done in 48 hours of steady

driving, but this completely defeats the

purpose of the trip. It’s best to allow for

at least five days each way. Also, pick

up a copy of The Milepost. It’s a travel

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July/August 2009 | 021


Clockwise from top left: the cabin’s interior at Byers Lake;

the cabin at Big Indian Creek; red tulips on the mountaintop; the

A-frame cabin at Johnson’s Pass; a fine front porch at Devil’s

Pass, with a ground-level entrance at the rear; the

accommodations at Chena River.

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guide to the highways, roads, ferries, lodgings, recreation, sightseeing

attractions, and services along the Alaska Highway that

you will rely on heavily.

Life-Changing Experiences

Now that you’ve gotten to Alaska, you need something to do. As

I’ve stated, there are plenty of things to do along the beaten path

that are completely worthwhile and fulfilling. Take a sled dog

ride, summer or winter—it really is fun, and you’ll be amazed

at just how powerful those dogs are. Ride the train to Denali

and take a gander at North America’s largest mountain—for the

statisticians, it’s 20,320 feet at its peak—and enjoy the unending

parade of wildlife while in Denali Park. Or, better yet, take a

small plane from the town of Talkeetna and fly around Denali.

You can even land on a glacier on the mountainside if you’re the

adventurous type. Take a daylong glacier cruise from Whittier

or Seward, or you may choose to fly north of the Arctic Circle

to Barrow, the state’s northernmost city, and take a polar bear

expedition. There are so many diverse and life-changing experiences

you can partake of in Alaska that you’ll never run out of

exciting things to do.

However, you may be the type of person who wants to avoid the

crowd. If you appreciate nature, have a budget to keep, and prefer to

experience things on your own terms, allow me to point you toward

Alaska’s public-use cabins, which fall into four categories: drive-up,

short-distance, semi-remote, and remote.

As I’m sure you are aware, traveling with a disability often requires

an open mind, a willingness to find a “workaround,” and a healthy

desire to occasionally do things that are slightly outside your comfort

zone. This is the price you pay to experience life, but what a small

price in return for such wonderful and fulfilling rewards! And that’s

exactly what these cabins offer.

Pack In, Pack Out

First and foremost, in order to make your trip go smoothly, be sure to

plan ahead. Alaska’s public-use cabins are a bargain at $10 to $65 a

night—for as many as 10 people, which is as little as a dollar each—depending

on popularity and time of year, but rentals can be handled

online up to six months in advance. The most-popular cabins are

completely booked far in advance, from May through September, so

if you show up in June you’ll be out of luck. Again, plan in advance.

There are six public-use cabins around Alaska that are considered

wheelchair accessible, which basically translates to ramped access

into the cabin. However, most of them are in wilderness areas, so getting

to the ramp at the cabin door may be a challenge. Some cabins

can only be accessed by water taxi—accessible boats are available—or

by small plane. Generally, these are not accessible, but Alaskan pilots

are usually up for the challenge.

A popular, secluded, and relatively accessible site is the Spruce Glacier

cabin, which is located a short boat ride from Seward in Thumb

Cove. This is considered a remote cabin, as it can’t be accessed by car

or footpath. To get there you can head to Seward via car, train, or the

Marine Highway, explore the town for the day, tour the Sea Life Center,

have a bowl of seafood chowder at Ray’s, or take a glacier cruise.

Then head out to Thumb Cove, which is approximately seven and a

half miles south of Seward via water taxi. Spruce Glacier is a 16’ x 16’

cabin that sleeps eight, with a ramped entry and a boardwalk down to

the beach. However, the cobbled beach must be crossed from the boat

v e n t u r e t r a v. c o m

Alaska Sites

Alaska Travel and Tourist Information

www.travelalaska.com

www.alaska.com

Alaska Marine Highway

www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/index.shtml

The Milepost

www.milepost.com

Talkeetna Air

www.talkeetnaair.com

Glacier Cruise

www.26glaciers.com

Alaska Public-Use Cabins

dnr.alaska.gov/parks/cabins/index.htm

www.recreation.gov

www.fs.fed.us/r10/ro/recreation

kenai.fws.gov/cabin.htm

Resurrection Pass Trail Info

www.trailmonkey.com/USpages/alaska/akbike33.htm

ADA Facilities, Alaska Parks and Outdoor

Recreation

dnr.alaska.gov/parks/asp/access.htm

Accessible Alaska

www.ebility.com/articles/access-alaska.php

landing to the boardwalk, which may require

some assistance.

Like all of Alaska’s public-use cabins, Spruce

Glacier is very sparse. The sleeping surfaces

are made of uncovered plywood, and there is

a wood-burning stove—some feature oil-burning

stoves—and generally only an outhouse for

a bathroom. The cabins have no electricity, no

lighting, and usually no running water. You’ll

need to bring all of your provisions with you,

from water and sleeping gear to food and entertainment,

and oil for the stove, if necessary.

You will also need to pack out any trash that

you generate. You’ll need to bring your own

lighting, as well, but that’s not as critical in the

summer months when the days are long. The

Park Service does a good job of having firewood

on hand, but if none is available you may

have to cut your own. But that’s part of the true

Alaskan adventure, of course.

Once settled in you’ll want to look around

your campsite and local area. You should only

expect dirt footpaths to travel on, so it’s highly

recommended that a wheelchair user have a

dedicated all-terrain wheelchair, or that their

chair be modified with mountain bike-style

wheels and oversized casters. At the Spruce

Glacier cabin you can go hiking, salmon fishing,

enjoy spectacular scenery with the Porcupine

Glacier nearby, and go wildlife viewing.

July/August 2009 | 023


You could easily stay a few days

there, lost within your own secluded

world.

Lasting Memories

If the Spruce Glacier cabin isn’t

remote enough for you, perhaps

you’d prefer a bit of a challenging

trek to get to your cabin. If that’s

the case, and you have a dedicated

all-terrain wheelchair, I would

suggest the nearly forty-mile hike

The stream flowing from Byron

Glacier, top left; the author on Winner

Creek trail, at center; and a sample of

the wildlife you’re sure to encounter at

every turn, at right.

along the Resurrection Pass Trail,

and the six public-use cabins along

the way. This is considered a moderate

hike, with hikers, bikers, and

horseback riders sharing the trail.

A wheelchair user who is in relatively

decent shape can do this trail

comfortably in four to six days.

The trail winds from Hope to the

Sterling Highway, and it’s essentially

a footpath that has been widened

through use. It offers some of

the most beautiful, secluded, and

scenic terrain that Alaska has to

offer. Though sparsely appointed,

the cabins are a welcome sight at

the end of an eight-mile hike. You’ll

need to pack everything with you,

and for the Johnson’s Pass cabin

you should carry stove oil since

it’s located above the treeline and

there’s no wood around to burn.

This cabin is an A-frame chalet

located at the pinnacle of the pass,

high in the mountains. There’s an

outhouse located about 50 yards

away that has a spectacular view

of Johnson’s Pass and the valley

in the distance—this is the only outhouse

with such a grand view that

I’m aware of.

When planning your Resurrection

Trail hike it’s important to

orchestrate your rentals so that

each cabin will be available on the

appropriate day. There would be

nothing worse than showing up

after a day of hiking only to find

someone else in the bed you were planning to sleep in. The most interesting part

of experiencing the Resurrection Trail Hike is how different the environment is

from one cabin to the next. Your first cabin, beginning from the Hope side of the

trail, is in a wooded valley, surrounded with lush foliage and a stream running

past it. You may even see a moose foraging in the woods. The cabin located at

Johnson’s Pass, halfway along the Resurrection Trail, is in the high mountains,

which often have snow on their peaks just a few hundred feet above you. The

cabin is surrounded by rocky terrain, moss, and lichen, and the keen observer

may notice marmots keeping watch in the distance. The pass can get chilly at

night, so don’t forget your stove oil.

As you continue on the trail to the Sterling Highway, you’ll come across a cabin

in a wooded area on Juneau Lake. The cabin has a canoe for your use, and the

lake offers good trout fishing, so don’t forget your rod and reel. An early-morning

paddle across the misty lake is so peaceful that it’s sure to become a lasting

memory.

Finally, as you finish your Resurrection Trail hike you’ll pass Juneau Creek

Falls. It’s a beautiful sight, framed by rocky outcroppings and lush pine-laden

woods. From there it’s only a moderate hike to the Sterling Highway. Afterwards

you’ll be craving a hot meal at the nearby Gwin’s restaurant, which is a perfect

ending to a great Alaskan hiking adventure.

Lights, Lodges, and Bears

If I were to sum up an Alaskan vacation in just one word… well, I couldn’t. Alaska

offers a different experience to all who choose it as a destination, and it can be as

“touristy” or as wild as you’d like—choosing between a lavish and decadent vacation,

or a rustic wilderness getaway. You can spend $8,000 a week at a remote fishing

lodge, complete with a professionally-trained gourmet chef, or you can stay

in a public-use cabin for $10 a night and fish in a nearby river. You can go bear

watching and literally see 50 grizzly bears gorging on salmon, and later watch the

Northern Lights dance across the sky. The secret is that Alaska is whatever you

make of it.

So move Alaska from your “one day” to your “this year” destination list. You’ll

be glad you did, and you’ll be a different person when you get back home.

024 | July/August 2009 v e n t u r e t r a v. c o m

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