Log Cabins, Horse Rides, and Gold Panning in Alaska
Alaska, North to the Future, The Land of The Midnight Sun, The Last Frontier, the location of one of our favorite family trips of all time. While we absolutely used hotel points to keep the cost of the trip to a minimum, we weren't about to go to the Last Frontier and only stay in traditional chain hotels. There is a time for hotel points, and there is a time for a log cabin. Our two nights in Cooper Landing, which is about 100 miles south of Anchorage and 30 minute north of Seward, were spent in a free standing log cabin with no plumbing, and we loved it. Not only did we love the cabin, but also the other activities both on the horse ranch and in nearby towns.
Alaska Horsemen Trail Adventures offers all sorts of horseback experiences ranging from day trips to guided pony rides through a wooded trail to log cabins. We rented the 12 x 16 Iceburg Cabin that is out-footed with a double bed, a twin bed, a small wood stove, and a little table. It rents for $150 a night June - August and $100 per night outside of peak season.
The property has a couple of cabins of various sizes available - you can also opt to rent all of the cabins for a big family reunion. Just like everywhere we stayed in Alaska the cabin did not have anywhere near adequate blackout drapes to counteract the nighttime sun, but otherwise the little cabin was perfect and cozy for our family of three for a few nights.
We made our reservation for the cabin online, but apparently the online system is brand new to the ranch and they hadn't noticed our reservation until we got there. They had given our cabin to another couple, but they were able to move them to their actual assigned (smaller) cabin and give us the cabin we reserved. I can imagine this would have been a stickier situation if they were sold out. My advice if you stay here is to either book over the phone, or at least call and confirm your online reservation until they get some more time with the online reservation system under their belts.
While there is no plumbing inside the cabin, the cabin was only 20-30 yards or so from two updated bathrooms that the cabins share. I'm a little prissy, so this concept really freaked me out ahead of time, but honestly it wasn't bad at all. The bathrooms were quite clean and updated and since there are only a couple cabins, you virtually have your own bathroom anyway, or at least that is how it was when we were there. Somehow I ended up with no photos of the bathroom so you will have to take my word for it, but I can assure you I get freaked out easily and this wasn't a big deal at all as they were pretty nice. Also, since it is bright almost all night during the summer even walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night isn't freaky since it is bright the whole time.
The staff on the ranch were all very nice, but do note that this is not a full service hotel. You have access to a fridge and basic kitchen, but you are responsible for bringing stuff in and feeding yourself. There is a cafe within walking distance off of the property, but you probably wouldn't want to do more than a couple meals there. I recommend using their outdoor grills and campfires to cook some food and eat it by the campfire (that they will help start for you if you ask).
While we are on the topic of food, we also very much enjoyed our one "fancy" meal and the view at nearby Eagle's Nest Restaurant.
One thing that was a bit tricky for me personally at Alaska Horesman Trail Adventures was the wireless internet situation. It was only functional in the main office - or in my case sitting on the porch of the main office. Hopefully most folks aren't working on their vacations, but if you have to stay somewhat connected like I do, it is a bit tricky and limited here. I would love to see improved internet coverage as well as some blackout curtains the next time they do some minor updates.
Whether you stay here or not, you can take advantage of their various horse riding options that range from a pony ride, to a two hour ride, to a full day ride, to an overnight trip. We did their 90 minute ride through wooded trails along a creek and to a beautiful lake.
We were there just before peak season so we were able to get private rides for our group both times, but I don't know if that is common when things pick up by mid-June. The very best part of these trips were the guides, and that they let our 4.5 year old ride on the train rides. She has done many pony rides, but it was such a game changer for our family to do such an amazing activity all together. It was like we graduated from baby and little kid activities and jumped into full fledged family fun as she climbed up into that saddle.
The guide attached a lead to her smaller horse and she stayed firmly in the saddle with a smile on her face almost the whole time.
Oh, and did I mention the views were insanely breathtaking??
The prices for the horse rides were very reasonable for what we got - I think the rides were about $69 each and well worth it. I would not hesitate to stay here again or at least come back for another ride through wooded paradise. in fact they said in a year or two they would be happy to take our little family up the mountain instead of "just" through the pretty flat wooded trails! We are now officially spoiled and don't want to go anywhere that won't let us all ride together, which will be tough because many spots require kids to be 6, 7, or even 8 before they can be on their own horse outside the pony corral.
The beauty of staying on the grounds was that we could stay after the ride and help brush down the horses, feed them, and pet them in their corral.
While the Alaskan Horseman Adventures ranch does have gold panning as a listed activity, I don't think it was really up and running while we were there so we drove about 10 minutes to Prospector John's to do some really fun gold mining. This was another activity that we were all three really able to do together.
We bought one bucket of pay dirt gravel that we ran through the sluce box over the course of about an hour (we were kind of slow). Prospector John showed us how to do it, and we happily followed his lead looking for gold!
Little C was able to help shovel in the pay dirt that we were going to sluce for gold.
Spotting the gold was a ton of fun and a little addictive (kind of like searching for miles and points), but after we finished our bucket we were able to pan to find the gold we hadn't spotted and pulled out of the sluce by hand.
If you don't want to look for gold, he has some gem stones and fossils you can look for instead. Prospector John himself was almost an attraction as he is a larger than life character who happens to sell some tasty beef jerky in addition to gold.
In addition to the activities we participated in, there are tons of fish and float trip companies in the Kenai Peninsula. We had a blast and would do every single one of these activities again. As I have said before, don't wait until you are retired to head to Alaska. Use your miles and points to get there as soon as you can, and stay tuned for the final post in my series on Alaska where I will outline some tips on how to do just that!