Caines Head Alpine Trail

Rolling tundra
Submitted By Phil Beske
Difficulty Somewhat Difficult; considerable elevation gain. The trail is never extremely steep but is a constant 3 mile uphill climb up to about 2,000 ft.
Connects With Caines Head
Miles One Way 7
Miles from Anchorage 120; just below the town of Seward
General Vicinity Caines Head Recreation Area
Season June to September
Ratings
Hike rating
This trail was rated 5 moose hooves for hiking.

Description

Let me first say that in my opinion the Alpine Trail is the most under-rated and under-used hike in the peninsula. I spent the entire summer volunteering as trail crew out at Caines Head and this was by far the best kept secret. I also had the opportunity to backpack throughout the peninsula on my time off and would best compare this hike to Lost Lake.

To reach the Alpine trailhead from North Beach, head .25 miles back towards Derby Cove. A small sign and a kiosk mark the starting point.

The trail soon thereafter starts the slow climb up to the alpine area. It weaves throughout the gorgeous forest crossing numerous streams and a large waterfall. Panoramic views of Resurrection Bay and its gorgeous mountains begin at about mile 1.5.

After ascending a series of switchbacks and weaving through the waning forest, the hike breaks through the treeline into the alpine area. From here, un-limited views await as your jaw drops at the beauty of the scenery below. Excellent views of Callisto Canyon, Callisto Peak, Thumb Cove (Spruce and Porcupine Glaciers), Caines Head, and the numerous islands that dot the entrance to the bay and the Northern Pacific beyond.

The trail then follows a series of rock cairns weaving past the alpine ponds and streams up to the base of Callisto Peak. For the truly adventurous, it is possible to ascend the valley to the south (left) of Callisto Peak and view stunning Bear Glacier below as it spurs off of the Harding Icefield into Ailak Bay. No trail is marked up the mountain, but it is unnecessary as it is fairly gradual and well above the treeline. The hard work is definitely rewarded.

On another note, as of August 2004, I cleared a new trail linking South Beach and the Alpine trail. If heading up on the Alpine, watch for signs pointing south (left) towards South Beach after about 1.25 miles. The trails weaves through some really cool sections of forest, past/across numerous creek chasms and waterfalls, and ends up at the south end of South Beach. The trail is easy and is about 1.5 miles from the junction down to South Beach. If starting at South Beach, head towards Rocky Point and look for a bright orange trail “T”. Soon thereafter another sign indicates direction and distance. The trail is nice as it creates a loop around the park, so as everything doesn’t have to be a straight out and back hike.

The following was added by the webmaster on June 28, 2005:

This past weekend I finally got to do this hike. I got into North Beach late Friday night. After a lazy, dawdling Saturday morning, I put together a daypack and headed up this trail.

Phil does not lie! If he hadn’t given this 5 Moose Hooves, I would have bumped it up. This is a great trail! If I had to choose between the fort and this trail, there would be no contest. Even the forest, canopy part is beautiful as well as very peaceful and relaxing. As the views open up, there are fields of lupine. However, the top is sooooo cool! The views really are incredible and 360° to boot. While up there I saw eagles and hummingbirds up close. You could spend hours up there checking out all the cliffs and ridges, with different views and terrain. In fact, I plan on coming back in August and backpacking up there so I can spend more time to explore. I’m guessing that since the tarns up there are so shallow, they would be warm enough to swim that late in the season.

Listen to Phil and me and PUT THIS ON THIS LIST!

Important Information

Since Caines Head is a fairly popular destination for backpackers (especially North Beach), if one wants true solitude, I would highly recommend the Alpine. Water sources are abundant as there are countless streams and ponds. Flat mossy areas for tent sites are also infinite. However, as one is camping above the tree line, they must realize they will be extremely exposed to any incoming weather, so pack accordingly. I have set up camp on a cloudless night up there, only to wake up in the morning in the middle of a rain cloud with limited visibility.

Speaking of which, I wouldn’t recommend this hike on a day with low cloud cover, as the views will all be obscured. The Fort or South Beach would be a better hike when low-cloud cover is around. And if one is planning on hiking up to the Fort, DO IT FIRST! If hiked later, it will be extremely anti-climatic as one stares down at the Fort 1,000 ft below when on top of the alpine.

Bear safety must also be a priority when up in the alpine area, as it is not rare to see 3 or 4 bears. All have acted appropriately when encountered, but be aware and practice strict bear safety.

Snow remains in the alpine area until mid-June, and the trail can be hard to follow when snow cover is deep.

Etc.

I have spent the entire summer out at Caines Head and have learned of some gorgeous/secret nooks and crannies, grottos, waterfalls, and scenic lookouts throughout the park. One such point includes a small board that serves the purpose of a bridge over a 200 vertical ft. crack/chasm in order to access a scenic cliff side lookout known as the “Dog’s tooth.” Not recommended for those with even the slightest fear of heights, but I secretly marked the path and will let you know where to look for it if interested. Simply shoot me an e-mail at beskph01@luther.edu and title the subject line “Caines Head?”.

Webmaster’s Note: A big shout out to Phil for, one, informing me of these trails. I was unaware these trails even existed.

An even bigger shout out to Phil for doing this volunteer work. Alaska owes a big load of thanks to these young people who come from all over the country (including Alaska) to do this grueling work. Phil sent me the below note when he sent the photo above:

“I also cleared a new trail system out in the Yakataga State Game Refuge 120 miles east of Cordova. the area is gorgeous as it is dominated by the Bering Glacier (biggest in North America) and Lake Vitus which it calves into. Unfortunately the plane flight is spendy and the brown bears are thick! On the upside, the scenery is amazing. Two new public use cabins were built in 2002 through grant money and we went out and cleared trails (8 miles) connecting them, an airstrip, the Bering Glacier, Midtimber Lake, and the gulf coast.”

  1. The following was submitted by Garret Spargo:

    This link to the DNS website says the following about the Caines Head Trail, which was severely damaged in the flooding last fall:

    11/2/2006 – Flooding in Seward during the month of October 2006 damaged and destroyed sections of the hiking trail that leads to Caines Head State Recreation Area. Between the Lowell Point trailhead and the south fork of Tonsina Creek there is extensive damage to the trail from heavy rain and flooding. Numerous drainages flooded during high water flows and eroded sections of trail. Fine gravel material on the trail tread has also washed away. In addition, there were also minor landslides that destroyed sections of trail and deposited debris on other sections of trail. Damage extends over approximately 50% of the 1.5 miles of trail, between the Lowell Point trailhead and the south fork of Tonsina Creek.

    The Tonsina Creek south fork foot bridge was also damaged and the trail that leads to Caines Head State Recreation Area is impassable at this point. Approximately 40′ of the 140′ trail bridge has been destroyed and support pilings damaged from high water and debris flowing downstream.

    Due to the extensive trail damage, Alaska State Parks does not recommend hikers use the trail between Lowell Point and the south fork of Tonsina Creek. The public use cabins at Thumb Cove State Marine Park, Derby Cove, and Callisto Canyon remain open and available for renting and access to these cabins is recommended by boat or water taxi. The recent storms also blew down a number of spruce and hemlock trees near the Callisto Canyon Public Use Cabin.

    For more information please contact the Kenai/Prince William Sound Area Office at (907) 262-5581.

    On 6.25.2007 I spoke with my brother, who works for DNS, and he said that the trail is passable (although more difficult than before) up until the Tonsina bridge, which is still severely damaged. I was going to make the hike over the weekend, however, I will settle for Reed Lakes instead.

  2. The following was submitted by Turner Vail, as a followup to the information from Garrett:

    Just an update, as of July 9th 2007 Caines Head Trail is passable. The second bridge is out but all you have to do is follow the river edge to the bay. There it becomes braided and instead of crossing one major river, you just cross 3 small creeks. My advice is to head off an extra 1/2 hour early, that is 2 1/2 hours before the low tide. Then just kick of your shoes, cross the river and use the extra 1/2 hour to warm up with a beach fire on the other side of the river. Check the pictures for a visual inspection of what you have to cross. Do not use the trees to cross; very precarious. Go have fun.

  3. June 18, 2008 – Update from the Webmaster:

    I hiked in a couple of weekends ago and the bridge is still out. You have no choice but to cross the creek but it’s not dangerous at all. However, you will get your feet wet so I would cross barefoot or bring sandals. It will be over in 10 seconds.

Have you done this hike? Please share your experience below:

Caines Head Alpine Trail topo map