Worth a Trip: Tern Lake Junction to Cooper Landing

From Tern Lake Junction it’s only 58 miles to Soldotna, not much more than an hour’s drive. Yet this stretch contains so many hiking, camping and canoeing opportunities that it would take you a month to enjoy them all. Surrounded by the Chugach National Forest and Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, the Sterling Hwy and its side roads pass a dozen trails, 20 campgrounds and an almost endless number of lakes, rivers and streams.

Mileposts along the highway show distances from Seward, with Tern Lake Junction at Mile 37 the starting point of the Sterling Hwy.

During July and August, be prepared to stop at a handful of campgrounds before finding an available site.

At the roadside Sunrise Inn & Cafe there are 10 cozy rooms facing the parking lot. The bar and restaurant – with its gorgeous patio – are worth a stop.

Around the corner on Quartz Creek Rd, Alaska Horsemen Trail Adventures gives you the full cowpoke treatment, with big stetsons and trail coats for guests, a mess hall, basic spruce cabins and horseback rides along Quartz and Crescent Creeks (per half-/full day $129/229). Pricier guided overnight trips include rafting (called the ‘Saddle Paddle’) and/or flightseeing or custom fishing trips.

Just past Sunrise Inn, Quartz Creek Campground on the shores of Kenai Lake is crazily popular with RVs and anglers during salmon runs. The campground is so developed that the sites are paved.

The Crescent Creek Trail, about half a mile beyond the Crescent Creek Campground, which is itself 3 miles up Quartz Creek Rd from Alaska Horsemen, leads 6.2 miles to the outlet of Crescent Lake and the USFS’s Crescent Saddle Cabin. It’s an easy walk or bike ride and has spectacular autumn colors in September. Anglers can fish for Arctic grayling in the lake during the summer. The Carter Lake Trail connects the east end of the lake to the Seward Hwy, with a rough path along the south side of the lake between the two trails.

Worth a Trip: Turnagain Pass

After it leaves Turnagain Arm, Seward Hwy heads for the hills. Near Mile 68 it begins climbing into the alpine region of Turnagain Pass, where there’s a roadside stop with garbage cans and toilets. In early summer, this area is a kaleidoscope of wildflowers and there's good skiing here in the winter.

Bertha Creek Campground is just across Bertha Creek Bridge. This primitive first-come, first-served campground is understandably popular – site No 6 even has a waterfall view. You can spend a day climbing the alpine slopes of the pass here, or head to Mile 64 and the northern trailhead of both the 23-mile Johnson Pass Trail and a paved bike trail that runs 8 miles along the highway.

Granite Creek Campground is reminiscent of Yosemite Valley: wildflower meadows, dramatic mountains – the works. Reserve ahead – sites fill up fast.

The Seward Hwy heads south of the Hope Hwy junction to Upper Summit Lake, surrounded by neck-craning peaks. The lakeside Tenderfoot Creek Campground has 35 sites that are open enough to catch the view but wooded enough for privacy. There's a boat ramp here, too.

Within walking distance of the campsite is Summit Lake Lodge. This lakeside complex has refined log cabins, more basic motel accommodation and a bustling restaurant. We only wish it were a bit further from the road.

The Devil’s Pass Trail is a difficulty, very well signed, 10-mile hike over a 2400ft gap to the Resurrection Pass Trail.

At Tern Lake Junction – also known as ‘The Y’ – is the turnoff for the Sterling Hwy, which runs another 143 miles to Homer.