Rediscover Little Campbell Lake at Kincaid with kids
Swimmers jump off the floating dock on Little Campbell Lake on a sunny Wednesday, June 12, 2013. From left are Trevor Steele, Will Balcao, Hunter Keffalos, Simon Keffalos and Derek Steele. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News file)
Visitors to Anchorage's Kincaid Park often miss the sign for Little Campbell Lake. It's not very big, and the dirt driveway doesn't look like the paved road to the popular outdoor center and stadium. Little Campbell even has a bad reputation among some longtime Anchorage residents who remember the late-night teenage partying and drinking that became so bad at one point the community started referring to Little Campbell as Beer Can Lake.
I admit that stigma prevented my family from visiting for a long time. What could parents with small children possibly glean from a shallow, swampy lake that jockeys for position among Kincaid's nordic trail systems, stellar views and a playground?
Our latest visit to Little Campbell Lake was on a blue sky afternoon with temperatures warm enough to play without a jacket and the cottonwood leaves turning pale. The dirt road leading to the lake was a pleasant quarter-mile from busy Raspberry Road, and nobody followed as we made a right turn into the cool green forest.
Little Campbell originally was designated for winter use through an agreement with Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, the entity that owns the land, since the surrounding trails link to others in the web of Kincaid's extensive system. Summer vandalism kept airport and Anchorage park officials from expanding the area, but in 1995 a lease was signed that opened Little Campbell Lake (also known as Point Campbell) for summer activities.
Since then, Little Campbell has grown into an accessible spot for year-round recreation, including fishing, paddling and hiking in the summer and skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. During our stay, several cars unloaded mountain bikes, kids and dogs to use the bumpy trails criss-crossing the lake's perimeter. Youngsters giggled as they tossed fishing lines from the small floating dock, stopping now and then to watch a bald eagle swoop from one end of the lake to the other.
Unlike many lakes in Anchorage parks, Little Campbell somehow feels more remote — save for the regular arrival of aircraft landing at Ted Stevens Anchorage International. But even that seems to fit the overall picture here; a landscape of pure Alaska, filling the senses in every way.
Since Anchorage's fall weather seems to be stretching late this season, Little Campbell Lake is an excellent place to extend a family's recreational boundaries. Try these outdoor options with the kids before it's time to switch from hiking to ski boots —from paddles to poles.
Canoeing is a popular activity on Little Campbell Lake. (Erin Kirkland)
The loop trail surrounding Little Campbell Lake consists of rooty and uneven tread that passes through a wetland at the south end. Look for all kinds of interesting things, such as mushrooms, twisted trees, birds, and lots of moose. Be prepared for muddy conditions. Trails can be accessed from the parking lot.
Little Campbell is a great place for new paddlers, whether aboard a canoe, kayak, raft, or stand-up paddleboard (SUP). At its deepest point, the lake is only 17 feet deep, but don't let that deter everyone in your party from wearing a personal floatation device (PFD). Kids can find PFDs at the dock from the Kids Don't Float kiosk. No motorized boats are allowed on the lake, another bonus for many families.
Whether you're a fat-tire biker or traditional mountain biker, trails from Little Campbell Lake offer plenty. Watch for other people, and stick to trails designated for bikes. It never hurts to make lots of noise given that the bears are still wandering around and moose are in the midst of their rut.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game stocks Little Campbell with trout, arctic char, and king salmon, and it's the ideal location for new fishers looking to learn the ropes. Kids 14 and under do not need a fishing license. Be sure to fit kids with a PFD if they will be fishing from the floating dock.
Besides the bald eagle, we also saw other species flittering around Little Campbell Lake. The Audubon Society has a great website discussing the types of birds hanging around during the late fall and early winter. With a pair of binoculars and a bird book, kids can enjoy this fun way to spend a few hours in the forests of Anchorage. http://www.anchorageaudubon.org.
Maeve Nevins, senior park planner for the Municipality of Anchorage, told me in an email that Little Campbell is one of her favorite places to unwind after a busy work day. Nevins is in the midst of projects to benefit several Anchorage parks, including Little Campbell Lake. She said the area recently received a $40,000 improvement grant from the state through the Anchorage Park Foundation, much of which was used for a long list of upgrades. The remaining $10,000 will complete a wayfinding and trail corridor improvement project that should improve how people navigate through the area, Nevins said.
In the meantime, visitors to Little Campbell Lake can spend their time enjoying this little corner of Anchorage that deserves our patronage. Bundle up, grab the walking stick and camera, and get away from it all.
Erin Kirkland is author of the book Alaska On the Go: Exploring the 49th state with Children and publisher of AKontheGO.com, Alaska's family travel and outdoor recreation resource. She lives in Anchorage.Read the full article here