I come from a big family and since I was little my parents shared their love for the outdoors with their kids through hiking and camping. After my folks moved down to the sunny, warmer state of Utah, whenever we all get together for a visit (which is never often enough being landlocked in Southeast, Alaska) we like to plan a hike! Sometimes it is revisiting a beloved trail or traveling down a new path. For Christmas this past year my family came up to Alaska to spend the holidays all together (minus my sister who lives in Wisconsin, I should mention there are five siblings, me being the oldest). I wanted to share with them the amazing hiking trails that are available in Juneau, even in the winter and my family being an adventurous bunch was up for an overnight trip to Cowee Meadow Cabin.
Cowee Meadow Cabin is part of Point Bridget State Park about 40 miles north of Juneau, nestled along the treeline, looking out onto beautiful open meadows and surrounding cliffs. During the summer the 2,850 acres lends to excellent access to salmon spawning streams and rocky beaches with views of the Chilkat Range. The Point Bridget trail is 3.5 miles from the road to the ocean. The partly planked path passes through muskeg and a Spruce filled rainforest, grassy fields, and eventually winds toward the beach for a panoramic perspective of the bay. There are two cabins available to the public that can be rented for the night or used to enjoy for lunch or a quick break along the trail, Cowee Meadown Cabin and Blue Mussels Cabin. These cabins are maintained by the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation through the state of Alaska. Now, there is a distinction to be made, overnight cabins are available through State Parks and the Forest Service and each have different standards of cabin upkeep and regulation.
I chose Cowee Meadow Cabin for our family trek because there were going to be 8 of us plus 2 toddlers hiking and the trail was listed to be an easy, reachable 2 miles to the cabin. I was excited for our outing and booked the cabin! We decided to go the day after Christmas, packed all the necessary supplies, and left at a reasonable hour to have enough sunlight. The day was gorgeous, not a cloud in the sky which for residents is seen as a rarity! The drive along the highway was unbelievably beautiful with amazing mountain views and a whale sighting! However, with clear skies comes cold temperatures so having the right warm layers is key. Parked at the trailhead we geared up, strapping on our heavy packs with food, water, and fuel for the stay and bundled up the kiddos and strapped them into a sled. We were ready to go!
The weather the week before was temperamental; snowfall to warmer temperatures, then rain to cold, yielding ice. The hard packed snow crunched underneath our feet as we made our way through the woods, plodding along. We realized it was colder than we had anticipated and the trail was very slick. My brother was falling every few feet and my niece and nephew were screaming and crying from the sled, chilly and uncomfortable. An easy, short hike turned into much more of a challenge. Being from a family of problem solvers, we decided to carry the kids and move quickly. My husband ran ahead to the cabin to hopefully get the stove lit and heat going inside. Once we all made it to Cowee Meadow we discovered getting the stove going was not a simple task and ended up taking everyone’s persistence and effort to get the heat flowing. The gas stove is the primary source of heat, fueled by kerosene that hikers must provide and a tiny emergency wood stove. I began gathering twigs and cutting small logs for the wood stove with the hand saw we brought with us. The wood was wet from being out in the frosty snow so we had to wait for the kindling to dry. It took about three hours to finally get the cabin to comfortable temperatures. An important hint I would suggest is keeping the doors closed to the gas stove. For some reason having the door closed really helps the heat funnel through the top more quickly and efficiently. While waiting for the heat to kick in, my family unpacked their sleeping bags and kept the kids bundled. We tidied up the cabin since past campers left old food and trash behind and started cooking some stew. After being warmed by a big bowl of soup and some hot chocolate we all hundled by the fire and played games. We endured through the night and hiked back early in the morning to our cars where we blasted the heat vents and awarded our journey with waffles at a local diner!
Some Tips from the Trail
- The description online is pretty accurate, the cabin sleeps at least 8 people and the trailhead is around the 39 mile marker off of Glacier Highway.
- Checking the weather throughout the week is helpful when determining the conditions of the trail and what gear to wear on the day of your trip.
- Bring ice cleats and/or trekking poles along just in case the trail is super icy.
- When hiking with children make sure to have a Plan B for when your preferred method of transport becomes a bust!
- Make sure to read the directions on the gas stove carefully and follow the instructions. Igniting the stove can take some time so be patient but persistent. 1 gallon of kerosene was plenty of fuel for a one night stay.
- Bring a hand saw to help gather kindling and small logs for the emergency stove. Two fires going is better than just one when it is cold! If possible leave some drying wood for the next guys!
- Please make sure to take ALL trash and personal belongings with you when you hike out the next day. It is disrespectful and irresponsible to other hikers to leave behind food and can attract insects and animals.
- Remember to sweep and tidy the cabin before leaving so that others can enjoy the space too!
- Enjoy the hike!