A Snowy Backpacking Trip to the Dale Clemens Cabin

I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad time on the Lost Lake Trail down in Seward, AK. This 15 mile point-to-point trail takes you from the Primrose Campground all the way to a trailhead in Seward. You travel up through a fairy forest, cross 5 miles of rolling hills covered in tiny hidden lakes, and hike down through a forest with gorgeous views of Seward and Resurrection Bay. The first time I hiked it I was still new to Alaska and I was absolutely blown away by how gorgeous the trail was! Since then I’ve hiked the trail with all of my favorite people, done a backpacking trip along the trail, ran the Lost Lake Run, and even landed on Lost Lake in a float plane a few years ago on my birthday. But I’ve never done the trail in the winter, and I’ve never been able to book a night at the highly sought after Dale Clemens Cabin located on the Seward side of the trail.

This year I’ve discovered that if you check for cancelations on cabins pretty frequently you can actually find some! And that’s exactly what happened two weeks ago when I casually checked open dates for the Dale Clemens cabin. I saw that last Saturday night was available and after checking the weather and seeing that it was going to be sunny I immediately booked it! Some of my friends were able to join me and we were all so excited to finally get the chance to stay in this cabin. And I was super excited for a kid-free weekend in the mountains! Everything was going well until we got over a foot of snow a few days before the trip. I called the Chugach National Forest office and the ranger said that we would most likely have a packed down trail to follow even though it had just snowed. So even though we knew there would be a lot of snow, we headed down to Seward excited to finally cross this cabin off our bucket list!

It snowed for part of our drive down to Seward, and it began snowing again as we arrived at the trailhead and geared up for the hike. We parked on the Seward side of the trail and had to take the winter trail 2.5 miles up to the cabin. It’s steeper and more direct to get to the cabin, but the good news is that the trail was easy to follow and packed down by snowmachines and other hikers who had already headed out on the trail after the big storm. We started our hike using microspikes instead of using snowshoes because the snow wasn’t too deep at the start. As we walked through the forest while snow fell all around us we couldn’t stop commenting on how magical and beautiful it was! Even though it was a steady uphill climb we were having so much fun hiking through the snow.

Eventually it stopped snowing and the sun started peeking through the trees. We occasionally saw glimpses of the mountains all around us, and eventually reached three meadows that gave us open views of Resurrection Bay and the town of Seward!

The meadows were the most beautiful part, but they were also the toughest part. The trail was steep and the snow was deep, and we had to carefully pick where to put our feet to keep from breaking through waist deep snow. We all took more rest breaks at this point, which was perfect because the views were so good! Eventually we reached the third meadow and finally saw the cabin waiting for us at the edge of the woods. Even though we could see the cabin, it took us forever to get there because the snow was so deep and fluffy that we were basically swimming in it, even in snowshoes. After a lot of effort we finally made it up to the cabin and could take a moment to enjoy the sunset and gorgeous views.

The Dale Clemens Cabin uses a kerosene heater, so each of us had hauled up a container of kerosene to keep the cabin warm. It was pretty easy for my friend to start the fire, and we used our sleeping bags and handwarmers to speed up the process of thawing out after the hike. At one point as I was making my Mountain House dinner I had the brilliant idea to put the super warm bag inside of my sleeping bag to warm up my feet. What could go wrong? Well after I was nice and toasty I went to pull the bag out and ended up spilling it all over the inside of my sleeping bag! We used all of our paper towels and doggy poop bags to clean it up and somehow it was actually dry by the time I went to bed later. But lesson learned: don’t ever use your dinner to warm up your sleeping bag!

After a toasty night curled up in my dinner-scented sleeping bag in the loft, I woke up the next morning around 8:30 and came downstairs to the most incredible sunrise I’d ever seen! Sunrise is such a long and gorgeous event in Alaska and we spent at least an hour watching the colors change and the sun rise over the mountains while we ate breakfast and hot chocolate. The stove had run out of fuel by the time we woke up, and it slowly started to cool off in there until we finally decided that it was time to head back into town for a warm lunch. After hiking downhill for about an hour and a half we finally got back to the trailhead and headed into town for brunch at the Highliner. The drive home was gorgeous and we even got to see the sunset from the highway as we came back into town!

Things to know about the Dale Clemens Cabin:

  • This cabin can be booked on Recreation.gov for $75. But be quick because on the weekends it books up instantly! Keep checking back for cancelations and if you’re lucky you can grab this cabin last minute like I did.
  • The cabin is located 2.5 miles up the winter trail which can be accessed on the Seward side of the trail. In the summer the cabin is a 4.5 mile hike on the summer trail. It isn’t actually near the lake so if you’re planning on hiking up there after reaching the cabin it will be a couple more miles of hiking before you get there.
  • The cabin is heated by kerosene. The ranger recommended that we bring at least one gallon at the bare minimum but that two gallons would keep us comfortably warm. We thought we did the math right and had 1.5 gallons, and we even said that having that extra half gallon would have made a huge difference. However, it turns out we were wrong and somehow we only brought 3/4 of a gallon! We were fine in single digit temperatures but don’t make the same mistake that we did.
  • The trail is heavily used by hikers, skiers, and snowmachines so even after a big snowfall it should be packed down enough to travel. However, call the ranger for accurate conditions and bring snowshoes just in case. We definitely needed them!
  • In the winter, keep in mind that Seward has significantly less things open than they do in the summer. Your favorite restaurant or place to stay may be closed down so do some research before arriving.

Overall this was my favorite winter adventure to date! I want to get this cabin every year now and I definitely want to try to grab it in the summer (which is so hard to do!). Between the easy and short trail, the views, and the gorgeous location it was the perfect weekend getaway.

Have you ever gone backpacking in the winter? What’s the craziest thing that has ever happened to your sleeping bag?

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