Before having Elliott my favorite thing to do every summer was plan a good backpacking trip. I loved packing up my gear, hiking into the middle of nowhere, and setting up camp in a gorgeous location that couldn’t be reached by car. I also loved doing it with really awesome friends and having an entire weekend to unplug and get off the grid. It’s something I’ve missed since having Elliott, and even though I’ve backpacked and camped with him I’ve missed doing harder trips with friends. As Elliott gets a little older and my body gets stronger (and farther away from the craziness of growing a baby and giving birth) I’ve been thinking about getting back out there again, but wasn’t sure which adventure to pick and how I’d make it happen.
On our last trip down to Homer we took a boat across the bay to hike to Grewingk Glacier and I fell in love with the gorgeous views and exciting experience of getting dropped off by a boat in the middle of nowhere to hike for the day. On the boat ride back to Homer the captain was chatting with me about other good hikes in the area and he suggested Grace Ridge. I’d heard of this hike before and everything sounded amazing: insane views, a long day of hiking, and no crowds because of its remote location. It sounded like such a good hike that I immediately put it on my Alaska bucket list. I wasn’t sure that I’d ever actually do the hike – I mean what mom has the ability to leave her son at home for days to do a long road trip and then a boat ride over to a remote trail? But when I suggested the hike to some of my friends they actually thought it sounded awesome. And my husband immediately offered to solo parent for the long weekend because he had a few days off work anyways. So within 24 hours of suggesting the hike we somehow already had a water taxi booked for 4th of July weekend, camping/backpacking plans, and a room booked for the end of the trip. It was actually happening! Our plan was to drive down to Homer the night before the hike, hike Grace Ridge on Saturday and camp that night at the end of Grace Ridge, get picked up to go back to Homer on Sunday, and spend the night in a rental before driving home on Monday. I was so excited to get back out on the trail and share a tent with some friends for the long weekend!
Day 1: Traveling to Homer
On Friday afternoon after lots of packing and planning, my friends and I headed down to Homer to finally start our adventure. We stopped at St. Elias Brewing Company in Soldotna for pizza which was the perfect way to carb load before the hike (or at least that’s what I told myself!). We arrived in Anchor Point at our campground for the night at 9:00 pm and immediately set up camp. My friend and I had packed a large car camping tent to camp in for the first night so that we could keep our backpacking tent packed up and dry for our night camping at Grace Ridge. This was super helpful and definitely cut down on our packing time the next morning. We had a pretty relaxing night in our tent, although we were definitely nervous about the hike ahead.
Day 2: Hiking Grace Ridge
On Saturday we woke up around 6:30 AM and started our day with some coffee, breakfast, and final packing decisions. Our water taxi was leaving at 9:00 AM and we wanted to give ourselves time to drive down into Homer and get ourselves ready. As we drove into Homer all I could focus on were the dark grey clouds covering the mountains in Kachemak Bay State Park. I had been hoping for sunny warm skies for our hike but it looked like it might be raining over there! I was immediately nervous and wanted to get confirmation from our boat captain that the ride over would be okay and that it was safe to hike across the bay. Water taxis are weather dependent (mostly due to the wind), and if the boat ride or the hiking conditions were dangerous they would let us know. But after checking the wind speed/direction for the day they determined that we would be okay to travel over there and do our hike. We rushed around getting our gear ready and down to the boat, and then we were off on our adventure!
Our plan was to hike starting at South Grace Ridge Beach and end on Kayak Beach, a distance of about 9 miles with 3105 feet in elevation gain. Instead of getting picked up that night to go back to Homer we decided to camp on Kayak Beach. Because we would be hiking all day we didn’t want to carry our gear the whole way, so we were excited to find out that we could ask our captain to stop for a few minutes at Kayak Beach to drop off our backpacking gear. We put anything that was scented (food and toiletries) into a large bear box located at the trailhead, and stashed our backpacks under a nearby tree. Then we jumped back onto the boat and continued our boat ride through Tutka Bay to the other side of the trail. As we rode along our jaws dropped – not only at the gorgeous scenery but also at the height and length of Grace Ridge! We had heard that this hike was long and difficult, but it looked very long and difficult from down below. So as we jumped off the boat onto South Grace Beach at 10:00 AM we were a bit more nervous than we were excited. But the time had come to start this huge adventure and ready or not, we were now in the middle of nowhere with no option but to hike to the other side!
Everything that we had read about this hike said that it was difficult and steep. Some reports said it was “doable”, some said that it was straight up dangerous. So we had no idea what to believe, but prepared for the worst just in case. So we were pleasantly surprised when the trail up to the treeline was gradual. Eventually we started to see sneak peeks of the ridge through breaks in the trees, as well as views of Tutka Bay. Finally we began hiking up a steep section of trail. As soon as I started feeling tired and over the slippery steep trail, the trail flattened out and we realized we were finally above the trees and on the actual ridge line of Grace Ridge! The views were absolutely incredible and we couldn’t believe how far we’d come – and how far we still had to go!
For the rest of the ridge the trail alternated between short and steep sections and long and gradual sections. There was never a moment where I was too exhausted or scared to continue on and with each steep section the views got better. We started to see views of Sadie Cove on our other side, and the views into the mountains around us were incredible. There was one part of the trail where we had to do some rock scrambling and a few sections where we had to cross snow (in July!). Because there were still lots of clouds we could see that the summit of Grace Ridge was in the clouds, but we hoped that by the time we got there the clouds would blow away.
And luckily that’s exactly what happened! We made one final steep uphill push and as we crested the top of the highest part I could see the summit marker sticking up out of the rocks. We did it! It was crazy windy up there, but we still managed to take lots of summit pictures and I even did a summit dance to celebrate! The views up there were incredible – we could see all of Kachemak Bay and Homer, and if there had been less clouds we would have seen the volcanos across Cook Inlet.
From here the trail made a gradual return to the treeline through a gorgeous hilly area. We stopped here for a big break and then continued down to the treeline. By the time we made it to the trees we still had miles (and hours) to go and we were getting pretty tired. When we finally made it to the trailhead at 7:00 PM and saw the gorgeous beach waiting for us we were thrilled! After setting up our tents we made dinner and chatted for a few hours before bed. It was pretty cold (or at least it felt that way to me after such a tiring day in the wind), and I was wearing a down jacket and had to have a few cups of tea to stay warm on the windy beach. We stayed up to watch the sun “set” at 11:30 PM and then headed off to our tents to finally get some sleep.
Day 3 and 4: Homer
The next morning was sunny, warm, and gorgeous! We weren’t getting picked up until 10:30 so we had a lazy breakfast before breaking down camp. Our water taxi arrived right on time, and because the water was so calm our captain offered to take the long way back across the bay to look for whales. We saw lots of otters and finally got views of the volcanos on our way back over.
Earlier that morning we’d set a to-do list for when we got back to Homer: hit up the bathrooms to clean up a bit, change out of our hiking boots, get some coffee, and then eat pizza at Finn’s! We were on cloud 9 from finishing our big adventure and we decided to take full advantage of the perfect weather to walk around town and explore all the cute shops on the Homer Spit. By the time our rental was available to check into we were definitely ready for showers and dinner. We had a relaxing evening celebrating our accomplishment and taking in the views of Kachemak Bay State Park from this side of the bay. The next morning we slept in and then hit up a few more shops before driving back home.
I’m so glad I decided to hike Grace Ridge! It’s definitley in my top 5 hikes and I’d recommend it to anyone who is a moderate hiker and can handle a long day of hiking. Difficulty levels are so subjective so please consider your own abilty level and comfort on ridge lines! It’s definitely a difficult hike due to the length and the remote location (help is a long way away), but I wouldn’t call it hard, scary, dangerous, or sketchy. I’d compare it to hiking Harding Ice Field – it’s a long day with a lot of elevation gain and loss, but the trail is easy to follow and only has a view tricky areas. If you’re considering this hike I’d recommend doing the whole thing instead of an up and back from one side because the views changed so much during this hike and you’d miss so much if you only did one side of it. I’d also suggest doing it the same direction we did because it meant that the downhill was more gradual and we saved the views of Homer for last. Even though we did this hike on a holiday weekend we only saw about 15 people, and 8 of those were in the same group. So you’ll definitely have some solitude over there! We saw no bears or wild animals except for otters and seals.
Overall this trip was incredible and was exactly what I needed! This was my first big adventure after having Elliott and it was the perfect one to start with. I had really great and supportive friends with me who knew Homer well, the hike wasn’t as difficult as we expected, and not having to carry our backpacking gear all day was a game changer. I missed my son terribly and I kept thinking “Elliott would love this”, but it was so nice to not have to think about anyone’s needs and wants other than my own for once (especially when I was cold and tired). Sometimes moms need solo adventures and that’s okay! This was a form of self care for me and I really appreciated it. Also, it was a great reminder that hiking without a kid on your back is really nice! I could tell that all of the “weight training” I had done carrying Elliott on hikes paid off because I wasn’t as tired or sore as I usually am. I’m also more hesitant, unsteady, and anxious when he’s on my back and I’m doing something steep or sketchy, so it was nice to hike through those areas with confidence again. This trip made me feel like the old me in the best ways and I was so glad I had the opportunity to do this while Andrew got a little time at home to bond with Elliott. I’m definitley doing more trips like this, and I’m already excited to come back and do Grace Ridge again in the future!
What’s one hike you have on your bucket list? Would you ever get dropped off by boat for 24 hours to hike and camp?