When I first looked at a map of the Kenai Peninsula, there was a small dot on the northern edge labelled Hope. I looked a bit more closely and, sure enough, there was a road to it. Ok, we have to go there. Hope there’s something to see…
A few weeks ago at Salmonfest, we of course saw a lot of people wearing T-shirts. About 50% of the festival-goers understandably were wearing their t-shirts from prior Salmonfests, but the next largest group had shirts from the Seaview Cafe & Bar and Campground in Hope, AK. Hmm… We asked around and yes, downtown Hope has a cafe and bar with live music daily, there’s a campground, and yes, we should check it out. Then Duncan highly encouraged a visit to Hope. Good advice!
Hope Highway is a pretty, 17-mile ribbon of road following Resurrection Creek through a deep valley in the Chugach National Forest, ending at the town of Hope on the Turnagain Arm. Like many of the end-of-the-road towns we’ve visited, Hope (pop 182) was a hopping mining town at the turn of the last century, its heyday lasting less than ten years. As the mines closed, or larger and more profitable mines opened in northern Alaska and the Yukon, the population dwindled, remaining in the 10’s through the ’70s. Around that time, the road to Hope was connected to the new highway to Anchorage reducing travel time to the city to 90 minutes, and the population quickly doubled – from 50 to 100 – and soon rose to around 150, which is how it’s been, more or less, ever since.
We turned onto Main Street in Hope and both exclaimed ‘Whoa, cool!’ A handful of small log structures lined the wide, unpaved street and drew your eye toward the building with the large ‘Cafe’ sign. Everything looked like it was preserved from the mining days, as if time stood still after the miners left around 1910. We checked into the Seaview Campground, just steps from the Seaview Cafe & Bar. And we confirmed that yes, Thursday was open jam night. Nice!
We poked around town a bit, marveling at the historic log homes, artisan shops, and the World’s Greatest Gift Shop. Some of the original buildings (c. 1890) from Hope and the nearby town of Sunrise (which is no longer a town) were moved onto the museum grounds fairly well intact, with a bunch of artifacts that had been left behind when the miners moved on.
Back at the Seaview Cafe, the open jam was a blast! Two tunes in, Andy the host asked if there was a bass player in the house. Doug stood up and Andy’s expression went from surprise (it’s not often that any bass players show up) to delight as Doug joined the jam. Doug sat in for the entire first set, nearly an hour. Unfortunately there were no drums in this tiny venue, so I was unable to participate. However, I loved listening to the organic jamming while chatting with a handful of locals. A delightful evening out!
Hope has mountains all around it. One in particular, Hope Summit, was calling us. The trail started with a series of switchbacks (ok, you’re rolling your eyes and thinking they ALL start with switchbacks, but this one’s different, I promise…) to help us gain elevation on the north side of the mountain, then continued with a series of switchbacks on the east side to the top of Hope Point – a rocky knob with amazing views across Turnagain Arm of the Chugach Mountains to the north. After traversing across the long edge of Hope Ridge, the trail started another endless series of tiny switchbacks to get us across a knife edge, then to the top of Hope Summit. In addition to the Chugach, we could also see the Kenai Mountains to the south, Cook Inlet and Anchorage to the west, and the end of Turnagain Arm to the east. Views were somewhat obscured by smoke from wildfires still burning just north and south of us, although favorable winds allowed for interesting views through the haze.
Our last night in Hope, we decided to head back to the bar to hear the band and enjoy the local live music scene. Once again, delightful. The band playing outside on the deck, with plenty of folks dancing along – some in sandals, shorts and t-shirts, others in muck boots, jeans and down vests. Dogs waited patiently outside for their dancing humans. Lively chatter spilled out into the street. We continued conversations with people we’d met at the jam night.
That’s when we figured out why we like Hope so much. There was a comfortable mix of people enjoying life together… Locals, smiling because they get to live in this special place. Regulars – 2nd home owners or regular visitors from around Anchorage – happy to be back in their getaway oasis. Irregulars (like us), smiling because we took the time to find and explore this great little town and be a part of it for a few days. It kind of reminded us of a certain ski town in VT. Great vibe!