By Kurt Jacobson
This sprawling outdoor paradise includes Kachemak Bay Wilderness Park, and at nearly 400,000 acres combined, offers untold adventures in the wild.
With no roads to speak of, the only sensible way into the park is by bush plane or boat out of Homer. Some of Alaska’s best wildlife encounters can be had here.
Halibut Cove is one of the best base camps for venturing into the Kachemak Bay State Park. This tiny village has about 25 year-round residents and is known for its artists and scenery. The Sidelinger family owns and operates Ridgewood Wilderness Lodge in Halibut Cove.
The family’s patriarch Kevin used to guide big game hunters in Alaska’s wilderness some 30 years ago. He met his wife Lucinda during his time. Both Kevin and Lucinda know a lot about wilderness excursions and share this knowledge with guests.
A stunning lodge
Ridgewood Wilderness Lodge is a wonder in itself. Kevin built the 8,000+ sq. Ft. lodge without any building plans. His wife Lucinda told me: “Kevin said I’m going to build a lodge on our land and it’s going to have a three-peaked roof.”
When Lucinda asked him what it would look like, Kevin drew a rough sketch on a napkin and that was the only form of building plans used in construction! The impressive lodge sits atop a hill on Ismailof Island near Halibut Cove with 360° views of Kachemak Bay and the coastal mountains.
Ridgewood Wilderness Lodge can accommodate parties of up to 12 and provides guests with delicious home-cooked meals by Lucinda, Wi-Fi for those who have to be connected, rustic comfort, and a wide selection of activities. Two of the most popular family activities is hiking and fishing.
This is the ultimate family wilderness vacation without sacrificing comfort. Each day, Ridgewood Wilderness Lodge offers several half or full day trips to take in the wildlife and scenery. High above the tree line hardy Mountain goats graze while down below is a haven for numerous black bear, moose, and wolves.
Ridgewood Wilderness Lodge offers guided hikes into the Kachemak Bay State Park daily during the summer season.
Their Glacier Hiking trip provides a moderate hike from the beach to a glacial lake. The first part of the hike winds through a lush forest of cottonwood and spruce trees.
At the end of the trail, a sparkling lake affords a perfect setting for kayaking to the face of the Grewingk Glacier. Few places in Alaska offer such intimate glacial kayaking on fresh water. On any given day bald eagles or black bear might be seen on this hike.
If you wish, grab a chunk of glacier ice for your cold drinks later that day. There’s nothing like a piece of 10,000-year-old ice chilling your drink to let you know you’re in Alaska. Where else can you forage glacier ice?
For those who are in great shape, take the Alpine Ridge Hike. If I had more time, the ridge hike would have been an excursion I’d want to go on.
This scenic trail goes high above Kachemak Bay and provides views to Homer, Diamond Ridge, the Kenai Mountain Range, and beyond.
On clear days see far off mountain volcanos including Augustine, Iliamna, and Redoubt. High above tree line find the hardy mountain goats appearing like snow drifts on green mountain meadows. Guests should plan on a full day to get the most out of this thrilling high-country hike.
One of my favorite things to do in Kachemak Bay is tidepooling. Tide pools offer a glimpse into a miniature world of sea life.
On any given day you might see an octopus hiding in a tide pool full of colorful starfish. Crabs are also occasionally seen in tide pools scurrying about trying to eat, but not get eaten among odd-looking sea cucumbers.
Not to be confused with a vegetable, sea cucumbers are a delicacy in Asia and are increasingly harvested in Alaska for export. Sea anemones are also commonly seen in tide pools. These living pincushions are a favorite of sea otters and sushi lovers like me.
Take a hike
Another activity worth mentioning is the Moose Valley Hike. The Sidelingers list this as one of their favorite places to spend family time. Hike through old-growth forests of giant cottonwood trees and grassy meadows that burst with wildflowers.
Explore an old settler’s cabin built of logs, chinked with moss, just like the famous Sourdoughs built during the gold rush era.
Ridgewood Lodge also offers fishing in the waters near Halibut Cove for pink salmon, king salmon, and silver salmon. Kevin and Lucinda’s son Bowman takes lodge guests out in their sturdy fiberglass boat at no additional costs.
Bowman knows these waters well and often sees guests catch their limit of king or silver salmon.
The day Bowman took me out fishing we hooked into eight king salmon in just over an hour. This was the best king salmon fishing I’ve had in years!
Halibut fishing too
Bowman cleaned and filleted my fish and then took me across the bay to Homer where I had Coal Point Seafood Company process, vacuum pack, and freeze the salmon for the ride home the next day.
If guests want to pursue halibut fishing the lodge refers them to a local guide at the going rate, typically around $330 per person.
Bear viewing and other wildlife tours take guests all over Kachemak Bay. Black bear are often seen by the shoreline scavenging for an easy meal. When the salmon are running up nearby creeks, it’s possible to view bears fishing.
Observing bears from the safety of the lodge’s boat is a great way to get up close for a memorable photo of Alaska’s most famous wildlife. China Poot Bay and Sadie Cove are two scenic boat tour options available. With luck, you might get to see killer or humpback whales in the area.
Bird watchers hotspot
Several drop-dead gorgeous bays and coves are teeming with birds of all sorts. See Steller’s eider, Pacific loons, Pigeon guillemot, horned puffins, bald eagles, and tufted puffins on any given day.
In the spring the Homer Shorebird Festival brings avid birders from around the world to see thousands of migrating waterfowl pass through on their way to the Arctic.
A must see hike is the tour of Halibut Cove. This hike takes guests on an outing of approximately three miles to view the sea arch, lighthouse, art shops, and boardwalk.
Take time to shop for some unique local artwork at one of two art galleries in Halibut Cove. Enjoy the views from the arch or lighthouse area on blue-sky days.
A family affair
What makes Ridgewood Wilderness Lodge truly special is the way the Sidelingers welcome guests into their home.
Bowman and his wife Jessica live nearby with their two delightful sons Talon and Chase. I was lucky when Chase offered me a tour of the boy’s fort.
Chase delighted in showing me this wilderness fortress in the trees that most boys would be envious to own.
Kevin and Lucinda shared tales of the early days in Alaska when they were working for big-game hunting outfitters. They know and love Alaska and make time to talk with guests without being over-bearing.
Not everyone can afford to stay at Ridgewood Wilderness Lodge at $650 per night. For a few lucky, young, men, or women, they offer volunteer positions.
Kevin hopes the volunteers are tough enough to hike the high country with him. He said, “It’s hard to find anyone that can keep up with me on the trail.”
This I found amazing as Kevin is 68 years old! If you think you have what it takes to volunteer, give them a call and you’ll get a trip of a lifetime working in one of Alaska’s most scenic places.
Kevin and Lucinda told me “We keep in touch with several past volunteers and have fond memories of time spent with the youngsters who made the cut.”
Access to Ridgewood Wilderness Park is surprisingly easy. Take a short flight to Homer from Anchorage or drive the Sterling Highway to the end of the road.
Mako’s Water Taxi in Homer is the recommended way to get to Ridgewood from Homer. Pulling into Halibut Cove is like being in an outdoor adventure movie. The whole town is so utterly charming it looks more like a movie set than an Alaskan town. This is Alaska at its best.
I was sad to leave after a two-day stay but happy I’d found the Sidelinger family and a new Alaskan paradise. I’m already planning my next trip to Alaska hoping to catch another stringer of salmon and a story at Ridgewood with my new friends.
Although Ridgewood Wilderness Lodge hosted the visit, the opinions are the author’s own.
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Kurt Jacobson lives in Baltimore, Maryland, and spent many years as a professional chef. Now he travels the world and shares his stories here and on other travel websites.