Web posted Wednesday, May 8, 2002

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Hiking the shoreline of Kachemak Bay on a low tide is among the loveliest walks in the world.

Hiking and biking: A natural way to see the Homer area

Exploring Homer's beautiful shoreline and scenic backcountry is easy via beaches, a growing network of trails, and gravel roads accessible to the hiker and mountain biker. Maps are available at local stores and the Alaska State Parks office, 235-7024.

Beach walks

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers guided beach walks and talks all summer. Check at the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge visitors center, or call 235-6961.

Those who want to go on their own beach hike should plan on walking during the low tide. Use the tide tables on Page 24 of this guide, on Page 2 of the Homer News every week or check tide books available locally to determine the best times to walk. You'll enjoy beautiful views of Kachemak Bay, seabirds and collecting shells.

A good place to start is at Bishops Beach Park. Head down Main Street toward Kachemak Bay, turn left onto Bunnell Avenue, then take a right on Beluga Avenue to the parking lot.

Walking west on the beach is the same route Homer's pioneers used to get to Anchor Point and beyond. That's about 15 miles. A seven-mile hike takes you to Diamond Creek, where there is access to the Sterling Highway. At about three miles, you'll pass a sea otter rookery a few hundred yards offshore.

A walk of about one mile to the east of the park takes you to the base of the Spit. Cross Beluga Slough only during low tide, then stay to the outside beach to reach the Spit.

The beach is also accessible from Kachemak Drive, where numerous air services have their offices. Park in the airport longterm parking area and walk down the old access road to the beach. A three-mile walk to the east offers good views of glaciers and takes you to a trail at a creek next to Miller's Landing. Follow the trail up to the intersection of Kachemak Drive and East End Road, or continue walking up Kachemak Bay, following the footsteps and wagon tracks of homesteaders years ago.

Homestead Trail

The Homestead Trail is a good way to see the backcountry behind Homer. It offers outstanding vistas of Cook Inlet, Mount Iliamna and Mount Redoubt. The six-mile trail starts at a well-marked trailhead on Rogers Loop Road -- take the Sterling Highway out of town to the top of Baycrest Hill, and turn right onto Rogers Loop. From the trailhead it winds through the forest, meadows of grass and fireweed, and finally climbs up to Diamond Ridge Road. Songbirds, moose and other wildlife inhabit the area. Plan a picnic or rest along the way at the Reuben Call Memorial, dedicated to Homer's best-loved walker.

The trail crosses Diamond Ridge Road at Rucksack Drive, where additional parking is provided. To reach the trailhead by car, drive up West Hill Road, turn left onto Diamond Ridge Road, and after two miles watch for the trail and parking signs on your left. It's a good place to leave a shuttle car for the ride back to town.

Otherwise, continue across Diamond Ridge Road and another mile downhill to Bridge Creek, and then through the forest for two miles and up to Crossman Ridge. Tunnels through the alders identify the historic homesteaders' route along the ridge. Follow the signs down to the city reservoir and parking area. By car, it's about 0.8 miles east of the West Hill Road intersection.

You may want to take two cars to shuttle hikers from one end of the Homestead Trail to the other, or plan an all-day round trip. Bring a water bottle and lunch.

The Homestead Trail skirts private property in several places. Respect the privacy and the property of residents who live near the trail. Keep dogs on leashes and pick up any trash you see.

Other trails

The Calvin & Coyle Trail is close to town and an easy walk that provides great views of the Beluga wetlands' flora and fauna. Take East End Road about one mile out of town and turn right on Mariner Drive. Park at the trailhead. The area is often wet, so wear appropriate foot gear.

Meadows teeming with wildflowers are just part of what visitors will see at the Carl E. Wynn Nature Center on Skyline drive. This beautiful 126-acre site was donated to the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies and has several trails, including a wheelchair-accessible trail -- a rarity in Alaska -- that take the visitor through spruce forests and grassy meadows to an observation platform. Also on the site is a 30-acre wildlife refuge.

The center is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. every day all summer, with guided tours at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. A self-guided tour is now available for a small fee. Free weekly preschool and family programs as well as evening lectures are offered. Group tours are welcome with advance notice.

Contact the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies at (907) 235-6667 or PO Box 2225, Homer, AK 99603. To reach the center, drive up East Hill Road to Skyline Drive, and continue on east Skyline Drive for about 1.5 miles; the Nature Center is well-marked on the left.

Bicycling galore

The gravel roads above Homer, particularly Skyline Drive, offer delightful views and minimal traffic. The Homer Spit now has its own pedestrian trail, which allows the bicyclists the luxury of stopping to soak in the scenery without fear of creating a traffic hazard. Those who want a good hard pedal can ride back up Baycrest Hill on excellent wide shoulders to take in the view that first greeted them to Homer. And for those with an adventurous bent, consider taking a ferry to Seldovia. A gravel road runs about seven miles to Jakolof Bay, then continues up to the spine of the Kenai Mountains. The road once continued to Rocky River, but now is virtually impassable.

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Mountain bikes seem to have been built for the gravel roads around Homer and across Kachemak Bay.