Southeast Kenai Locations:

Ptarmigan Creek

Notable Species

  • Sockeye salmon
  • Black bear
  • Brown bear
  • Dall sheep
  • Mountain goat
  • Spruce grouse
  • Merlin
  • Hairy woodpecker
  • American three-toed woodpecker
  • American dipper
  • Varied thrush
  • Yellow-rumped warbler
  • Wilson’s warbler
  • Golden-crowned sparrow

As many as 30,000 sockeye salmon spawn in the lower reaches of this Kenai River system tributary. From the viewing platform at the creek, watch for their distinctive green heads and red bodies as they do their swirling spawning dance: females dig out redds (shallow depressions) in the gravel, males sidle alongside. Look for American dippers in the creek. Above the water, warblers, sparrows and other songbirds search for bugs in the alders and cottonwoods, and conifer-seeking birds such as varied thrushes can be seen in the Sitka spruce. A pair of merlins often nests in the black cottonwood across from the trail parking lot. Black bears and brown bears inhabit the valley, but rarely make appearances—though you may find scat and prints on trails. The 7.5-mile trail to Ptarmigan Lake climbs through spruce forest to reach views of alpine slopes along Ptarmigan Lake. Spruce grouse emerge early in the morning and late in the day. Mountain goats and Dall sheep can sometimes be spotted on the slopes above.


Ptarmigan Creek offers ideal spawning habitat for sockeye salmon, just upstream from rearing habitat in Kenai Lake. The riparian area supports black cottonwoods in transition to Sitka spruce, with alders and willows growing along the edges. The trail into the mountains traverses a mature Sitka spruce forest before shifting to subalpine brush and then alpine meadows above Ptarmigan Lake.

Historical Connection

Ptarmigan Creek flows into Kenai Lake only a few miles from the community of Moose Pass. Gold miners pioneered the trail to the lake and the remains of a cabin can be seen along the shore.


Viewing Tip

Explore the creek bottom for bird and animal sign along the first third of the 3.5-mile trail to the lake. Bring polarized glasses to view salmon attended by Dolly Varden and rainbow trout.

Helpful Hints

This trail is considered unsafe for winter travel due to avalanche danger and ice.

Getting There

Seward Highway milepost 23. USFS: