Caines Head Trail

Caines Head Recreation Area


One of my favorite hikes in the Kenai Peninsula! Most of the hike is along a rock strewn beach that you can only hike during low tide. While not a truly an Alaska wilderness experience, the hike has so much variety, I highly recommend it.

You have a good chance of seeing otters, eagles, and an abundance of waterfowl. One time I saw a newly independent brown bear hang out at the end of North Beach. Another time, numerous eagles were perched on trees around my campsite. If this isn't enough to entice you, you get a beautiful view of Resurrection Bay, and the surrounding Kenai Mountains. Oh, and did I mention glaciers galore.

Set up camp at North Beach and day hike to Fort McGilvray, a WWII Fort filled with many underground rooms and an incredible view of the bay at the gunwales. Bring a flashlight as it is quite dark inside.

South Beach is a great place to day hike with a great view of the small rock islands that dot the entrance to the bay but it is a poor place to set up camp with an inconvenient water supply.

On the hike route are two state cabins (see this link for more information). While they are very nice, one, Derby Cove is set too far back to enjoy the views, and the other closes you off at high tide from exploring the fort, etc.

Important Information

You can pick up a tide table book at any bank in Alaska. There are also tables on the park's official website. A good rule of thumb is 45 minutes to the beach to be there 1 hour before the peak of low tide. For example, if the low tide peak is at noon, you want to be at the beach at 11 am. This means you need to be leaving the trailhead at 10:15.

Just before North Beach is an outcrop (right after the trail that leads up the mountain). If you cannot walk around it, DO NOT WALK OVER IT!. The rocks are razor sharp and you will get cut severely. Wait for the tide to go further down or go back and take the trail over the mountain.

As I said above, there was a bear hanging around last season. While he kept his distance and did not prove to be a nuisance to anyone, it is still wise to make sure you are bear aware. There are attics in the picnic overhangs to store your food.

If you're looking for solitude, especially in the summer, your chances on this hike are pretty low. Make sure you have a water filter; the creeks in the forest run pretty low if there hasn't been a lot of rain.

If it does rain, use the overhangs for day use to set up camp.

If you decide to camp at South Beach, there are a few campsites in the woods at the beach edge (the beach is too rocky). Head back up the mountain and at the destroyed barracks, head towards the creek below. This is the closest water source.

On the off chance you screw up making the low tide or it is very early in the morning, you can camp at Tonsina Point. Don't bother with the campground. Head out to the beach (making sure you're above the high tide line).

The following was added by the webmaster June 26, 2005:

I didn't do this trail last year since I had done it 5 times and thought it needed a rest. Since then, there are 3 things I want to add.

1: I never paid attention in the tide tables about the height of the water. Well! When I came in Friday night, the depth was stated as 2 feet. What this meant was that the tide never went out enough to walk around the slimy rock portion. I waited to the last minute and waded mid-thigh around it. Some people went over it but I am way too klutzy to attempt it. It is seriously slippery!

On Sunday morning, the low tide depth was -2.2 and even 1 hour before the lowest point, I had lots of room to maneuver around them. Something to consider when planning when to go.

  1. I was so surprised to see day hikers this trip! Who would want to wait 12 hours for the next low tide? Then I saw a commercial boat pick them all up at North Beach. I don't know the name of the company or companies that provide this service but I'm sure the Seward Chamber of Commerce can help you out.

  2. Try to work in the Alpine Trail! It's amazing and worth every step!


The Trailhead Parking Lot requires a $5 parking fee (bring exact amount). The price for an annual parking pass is $60. You can purchase a pass at the Federal Building at 4th and F or the Atwood Building on 7th and E, 13th Floor.

Two things in Seward you may want to consider before or after this trip; sea kayaking with a guide and/or going on a boat tour. I highly recommend either. There are many reputable outfits and tour groups with 3 hour to 3 day packages. Visit the Seward Chamber of Commerce website for more information.

This hike was rated 4 stars.
Connects With
4.5 miles
From Anchorage
120 miles
April to September. A great pre-season hike. Snow melts quickly here and plenty of wood for a fire.

Finding the Trailhead

Hike Map

Map of Caines Head Trail