Caines Head Part One: Getting There!

I’m gonna break this entry up into two parts, since it’s become very thorough and long(maybe too much so). The first half will be about the trail to Caines Head and the second will be focused on the North Beach campsite and the trails around the area. So, here we go!

Lowell Point to Caines Head

The Basics:

Total Miles: 4.5 miles one way. 2.5 of those miles are tidal.

Total Time: This obviously depends on your level of fitness and how leisurely you decide to be, but just for reference, it took a relatively fit and not so fit couple with a toddler strapped to us about five hours. We didn’t make many stops along the way, but it was pretty slow going.

Difficulty: Many rate this hike from moderate to difficult. I would consider it to be difficult. Maybe that’s just because I haven’t gone on a serious hike in a couple of years, and we had a 17 month old with us, but while it’s no Harding Ice Field, it’s no Flat Top either.

Kid Appropriate: I would consider this hike to be kid appropriate either if you go at a negative tide and have enough room to walk along the rocks in the tidal zone, instead of on them, or if you get a water taxi in and just enjoy the campsite and hike the Fort McGilvray and South Beach trails. It’s also probably a lot easier to walk from Caines Head, than to, as most of the scary rocks are close to the campsite.

Dangers: This hike has many of the same dangers that any hike in Alaska offers. There’s lots of bears in the area, both black and brown, so be on the lookout. Make lots of noise while hiking and be aware of your surroundings. It’s good to be on the safe side and carry some bear spray and maybe even a horn. The only other major dangers have to do with water. Often, one or more of the bridges along the trail are washed out, meaning you’ll have to ford across them. First, find the safest place to cross. If the water is above your knees, make sure you have good footing and think about crossing with a group of people. Secondly, the tidal area of the walk, while beautiful, can be potentially very dangerous. The tide in this area moves fast, and your only option may be to cross slippery, jagged rocks along the way. Make sure you leave Lowell Point with a couple of hours to spare before low tide ( I would recommend at least three). When you reach Tonsina Creek, make sure that you have at least an hour before low tide (I would say no less than two). If you get stuck at the rocks and still want to cross, I would really recommend abandoning any dignity and just getting on your bottom and scooting across. You’ll have a green butt for the remainder of the hike, but at least you won’t have a big gash on your hand from falling on the rocks! Always make sure to check out the local tide chart before undergoing this hike.

Reasons to do this hike: I’m sure there’s different reasons for everyone. There’s beautiful scenery, both woodland and coastal. There’s abundant wildlife (lots of birds, sea life and terrestrial mammals, such as bears… Did I mention you can fish right from the beach for Dolly Varden and Salmon in season!) It’s a bit of a challenge, which makes it rewarding… The list goes on. Also, though a popular trail, it never seems to get too crowded. Many people who make it to the campsite are like-minded individuals who enjoy the outdoors. Make some friends along the way!

The Journey

Going in page order of our hiking book, the second hike was determined to be Caines Head, located in Seward. It’s described as moderate, weighing in at 4.5 miles round trip. Being someone who hasn’t gone on a good hike in a while and has never carried an overnight bag, I would call this hike strenuous, and barely achievable with a baby on board when the tide isn’t negative. The trail starts at Lowell Point parking lot, about a ten minute drive from downtown Seward. If you already have all of the camping and hiking gear needed, a trip to Caines Head is relatively cheap. There’s a $5 a day fee for parking, but that’s about all you have to pay for!

As we started off, we were already somewhat exhausted. Our plan to wake up early and finish up housework so our house sitter didn’t walk in, look around and leave straight out the door in horror, resulted in Nick waking me up at 8 a.m., when we had wanted to be out of the house. The one time my alarm doesn’t go off… I was prepared to just say the heck with it and sleep in, but Nick was determined, so we did some light cleaning, packed everything up and were headed out the door in about an hour!

The trip to Seward is long, but beautiful. Most of it drifts along ocean coastline, with mountains in the background. The rest winds through inland blue and green lakes, waterfalls and small towns full of personality. It takes about four hours (depending on the driver) from Wasilla and about three hours from Anchorage (although Nick managed to make in in two. Hmm…) We made our ritual stop in Girdwood (about an hour from Anchorage) for gas and pastries at the Bake Shop. Nick actually went in this time and bought something to eat. Surprising since he never has anything nice to say about their cookies (while not always soft and delectable, I happen to enjoy them). He brought out an M&M’s brownie, which has more the consistency of a cake, but still delicious and conducive to sugar highs; Exactly what we needed for this trip!

The best thing about our mini vaca, besides family time and wildlife sightings… It was sunny in Seward!! That rarely happens, but on Friday, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky! It was simply amazing. After a quick stop downtown for a bathroom break and a minute gawk at the cruise ship in the deep harbor, we headed straight for Lowell Point, parked, cashed our money and headed out. I carried the main overnight bag with our tent and sleeping bags and Nick carried Silas, along with a backpack full of food and toddler goodies.

Right from the start, I was having a hard time. It went uphill fast, but it was still doable. The first (about) two miles started in the woods and soon I forgot we were right next to the sea. The whole time I panicked each time I heard a twig snap. We had bear spray with us, but I just don’t have much faith in that stuff. After about two hours of forest greenery, we had made it through the first leg of our journey and stumbled (for me it was seriously stumbling) out in to the open. I was surprised to see people once again, some crossing the marshy area nearby, while others kayaked under the bridge and down the clear blue-green stream.

This area was also where one of the bridges had been washed out, so we had to cross the stream by foot. The water wasn’t extremely deep, but it was enough to where we had to take off our shoes and wade through the water. That water is cold! I suppose all glacier fed rivers are, but about ten seconds into it, I was definitely feeling the cold pangs in my feet. I’ll shed any image you might have of me as a brave hiking warrior right here and paint the mental image of a slobbering, sweaty, barefoot woman crossing a (not really that scary) stream in an extremely awkward manner. I don’t know what was up with me. Normally I’d take the long way around in order prance through some mountain water (especially given the fact that I was sweating so much… I could have thrown some water over me and pretended that I was never really sweating in the first place. That wetness on my back? Just the result of a heroic water passing.)

Tonsina Creek

Tonsina Creek: The end to the first leg of our journey!

Creek Crossing

This is the ice cold water we had to cross in order to keep on the trail.


And... Ocean!


We were so excited to reach the ocean that we even stopped for a family picture!

Sea Otter

Sadly, out of the (seriously) about twenty pictures that I took of this sea otter, this was the best one...

I began to become nervous after we had crossed the river, as I realized this was sort of the point of no turning back. Once the tide came up, it would be nearly impossible to cross back over the stream. Luckily, there’s the Tonsina campsite right on the other side! I didn’t see anyone camped out at that time, but it seemed like a nice area, right by the stream and beach and tucked away in the green washed, moss carpeted forest. We continued on, following another couple that had just crossed along with us. I love seeing people on the trails. Maybe it’s a false sense of security, but I feel safer knowing that there are people ahead and behind me, making noise, keeping the bears and moose away.

After our first small trial on the trail, I felt somewhat reinvigorated and on the other side of the beach, we saw some sea otters lazing on the waves, right next to the shore. Later on, we peeked at some sea lions that would revisit us at North Beach the next day (yes, spoiler alert! We made it to the campground!) I was feeling good about the hike and ready to take on the next part of the trail: the coastal two mile trek to the North Beach campground.

Tonsina Creek Campground

Nick and Silas, back in the woods, near the Tonsina Creek campsite, after a quick meeting with the ocean.

Though we went back towards the stream to find the trail again, we found out later that we could have easily just followed the beach to reach the tidal part of the hike (heads up, it saves about fifteen minutes!) After about a half an hour, we reached the part of the hike that can only be attempted at low tide (there’s even a little warning sign). We decided that we would keep going, as we had just about enough time, according to all the research we had done in our book and online. Wrong! First off, let me say that unless you’re brave and good on your feet, I would give yourself at least two or three hours from the Tonsina area. In fact, I really wouldn’t recommend going unless there’s a negative tide forecasted. We were told not to go above four foot tides. That day, the tide was at three and we had to climb our way over slippery, algae covered rocks (did I mention they were sharp).

Looking back, we probably should have just waded through the water. We were already soaked anyway and it would have saved a lot of stress and break downs on my part. Every time we climbed over a rocky patch, I wondered what would be on the next side. Would we have enough time to get to North Beach (the next camping site) before the tide came in? Would we get stuck in a small cove with no way out except to climb a rocky cliff? I had no idea and neither did Nick. I was just hoping we wouldn’t need to call for help!

After about an hour of hiking along the water and false hopes of promising looking beaches, we finally reached a sign next to the trail that would lead to the campsite! I’ll admit, by this time, I was dragging my feet and ready to just lay down on the beach and call it a night. The campsite wasn’t far from this point, but it went straight uphill into the woods and eventually led out onto North Beach. About ten minutes into the woods, we ran into a couple who said we were almost there. That just about made my day! Finally, we saw the light from an opening in the forest and heard the waves crash on the shale rock. I finally began to feel comfortable again, thinking about how nice it would feel to change out of my saltwater soaked, algae invested pants and just relax on the beach and stare out into the pristine ocean.

As we walked on the beach, we passed the couple we had started out with on the second leg of our journey. They were surprised we had made it, maybe a mix between the fact that they had barely made it and because we showed up probably about an hour later than them, even though we started out at the same time. I’ll blame part of that on false security on my part, taking lots of pictures of sea otters and being all too happy to relax for a minute on the beach area at Tonsina. Also, there was that break down along previously said algae covered rocks…

As soon as I reached the beach, I parked my butt right down on the rocks, to take a breath and relax. Afterward we started looking for a good campsite (pretty much anywhere, there’s not much competition). We found a place in the woods, near the picnic shelter (I later made Nick move the tent, because I didn’t like the idea of sleeping right next to all the food particles and cooking utilities. Remember? Bearanoid). So began our next leg of getting comfortable and falling asleep (or keeping watch ALL night).

I’ll leave off here for now. Next up is all about camp life and one of the trails in the area! I’ll depart with this picture of Silas anxiously awaiting his first camping meal!

Silas ready for his first yummy gourmet camping meal of baby fruit jars and MRE veggie burger!


2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Mom said,

    Really enjoyed reading this Meg. I have a hard time envisioning you in some of these predicaments, or maybe I should say I can totally envision you and what your reactions were. And I do hate to say I’m not really sure that your going to sell anyone on doing this hike! But I’m glad you did it, and had a good time all in all.

  2. 2

    Dad said,

    Proud of you guys. You will remember that for awhile. Glad you didn’t meet up with any forest critters. Nicely written!! You had me in stitches 🙂 in some spots as I could just see and hear you

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