Teen Travels on Alaska’s Peterson Lake Trail

Tag along for this teen’s perspective on her hiking adventure along the scenic and slippery slopes of this beautiful northern trail.

The second I saw the old frame backpack during our Alaska vacation, I knew I wasn’t going to like it. It was an ugly shade of olive green, manufactured sometime in the ‘70s, 20 years before I was even born. Once I put it on, my dislike grew 10 times more. It was heavy, filled with supplies for our overnight Alaska hiking trip to Peterson Lake.

Peterson Lake

Peterson Lake is a beautiful, narrow lake just north of Juneau, Alaska. It’s about a mile long, surrounded by a spruce and hemlock forest and has deer and black bears, as well as and blue jays who like to screech and cause trouble early in the morning—but I’ll save that for later in the story.

The only way to get to Peterson Lake, an outing I agreed to take with my mom, my best friends from grade school (Nick and Zach), and their mom (Liese), is to hike. The Alaska Peterson Lake Trail that more or less follows an old tram route is about five miles long. In other words, it takes a while to get there, at least to a teenager.

The good news is that once you do arrive, there’s a tiny cabin, 12 by 14 feet, where you can stay. However, because it’s a half-day’s hike, we had to pack everything we needed—from sleeping bags to frying pans to bear bells that Liese, a Juneau native, insisted would keep less-than-friendly varmints away.

The Adventure Begins

The trailhead at mile 24.5 on Glacier Highway started with moss-covered log stairs. I was so excited, I practically flew up them, but then that ugly, olive green backpack began to weigh me down. We trudged on and on as Liese pointed out devil’s club, skunk cabbage, ferns, beaver dams and blueberry bushes that were not yet in bloom.

The only thing that kept Nick, Zach and me going on our Alaska backpacking trip was the promise of Snickers bars, buried deep somewhere in Liese’s backpack, a much more modern version of the one I was carrying.

When we arrived at the lake, I was so happy. Peterson Lake was amazingly beautiful—edged by floating pond lilies and Sitka spruce. There was just one problem: Where was the cabin, and why did the trail keep going? Turns out, we still had another mile before we would arrive at the cabin that an old Alaskan trapper named John Peterson had built, sometime around 1899.

Finally, we reached the end of the trail, put our packs on the porch outside the cabin and got out the Snickers bars. Like Liese promised, they really did taste like the world’s best Snickers bars. After our feast, Nick and I made our way to the private boat dock in front of the cabin where a small metal rowboat, complete with oars, was waiting.

Playing With Stones and Spoons

Since I had no idea how to row, Nick, who is 12 and has a tendency to trip over things, was in complete control—not a very comforting proposition. He rowed us over to a little beach of skipping stones. After we explored the beach and had a skipping stone contest (Nick won), we discovered that our boat, the only transportation back to the cabin, had floated to the shallow side of the beach and gotten stuck. We pulled, got soaked, pulled some more and finally got it out. We jumped in and rowed as fast as we could back to the dock.

We had a lot of time at the cabin, and when the fire didn’t light, because we didn’t have enough wood, we decided to play spoons. It’s a crazy game, sort of like musical chairs where, there’s one less spoon than people playing. When one person matches up all his playing cards, he quietly grabs a spoon until other players notice and grab a spoon until there’s none left. The person who doesn’t get a spoon, gets an “S,” then a “P” until the word “spoon” is spelled out, like the basketball game of “horse.”

Eventually, the cards got too sticky (we were eating roasted marshmallows while we played) and we ended up burning one of the plastic spoons and breaking another one, so in the end, we decided that, instead of having a winner, we would have a grand loser. That was me.

By the end of the day, we were tired from the hike, so I changed into my long johns and crawled into my soft, warm bed. Just kidding. I crawled onto a hard, cold bunk. The bunk beds didn’t have mattresses and even the sleeping bags didn’t help much.

Tales Around the Campfire

Before we went to bed, we told a story in a circle. One person starts the tale and then everybody adds to it. It was about two couples on a honeymoon who were stranded in Questa Rica, a made-up island north of Madagascar, with a bratty 4-year-old. No one on Questa Rica, by the way, has any hair.

Our story grew more exciting by the minute, but every time it came to Liese, she ruined it by bringing it back to reality. For example, Zach said, “Then they saw something black and orange quickly darting through the trees” and Liese would add, “But it happened to be a hot air balloon from the festival.” She was very intent on giving the story a happy ending.

Finally the story ended (don’t worry, the couple and their child got rescued, thanks to Liese) and we went to bed ... or should I say board? It was very hard to sleep comfortably on a hard board with only a sleeping bag over it, but somehow we all managed a little bit. I say a little bit, because in the very early morning, before it was even light, we were awakened by those blue jays I mentioned who were scolding an eagle.

For breakfast, we had what we what we called “raspberry goo” (it was dehydrated and we cooked it in a bag) and beef jerky. And just when I was feeling smug about our loads being so much lighter on the way down, Liese explained that we’d have to pack all our trash, mainly to prevent the next night’s campers from having to deal with bears.

Slipping and Sliding

Apparently, while we were sleeping, it had rained, because the trails were covered in mud and the boards on the trail going down were slippery. Every five minutes, it seemed like somebody slipped and fell. A lot of times that somebody was me. One time, Nick fell down, then Zach fell down and as I turned to ask if they were OK, I slipped and fell, too. It was like a chain of dominoes. In fact, the only person who didn’t fall at least once was Liese.

When we got to the bottom of the Alaska hiking trail, I threw off my pack as fast as I could and sat down on the curb to start scraping off mud. Nick and Zach and I were completely covered and finally had to take off our shoes and socks and roll up our jeans. I’m surprised we were allowed back in the car at all.

As for that drab, olive green pack? I hope to never lay eyes on that old thing again. 

Destinations: Juneau

Themes: Mountain Vacations, Outdoor Adventures

Activities: Hiking, Camping, Sightseeing, Boating