Hike Alpine Trail, Caines Head State Recreation Area

Rate this Adventure Alaska Alpine Trailhead

Added by Christie Kay

Alpine tundra providing 360 views of Seward, Resurrection Bay, Bear Glacier, Calypso Cove.

The Alpine Trail is only accessible via the Caines Head Trail System, located at Lowell Point. (Distance and elevation listed are for the Alpine trail itself, not for the coastal trail leading up to it. More info on those can be found here: http://dnr.alaska.gov/Assets/u... )From parking at Lowell Point, it is vital that you plan your hike with the tides, as a three mile portion of this trail is only accessible at low tide. Plan to give yourself about two hours before the start of low tide to complete your hike to North Beach. 

North Beach, just over six miles from your starting point at Lowell Point, can be recognized by the skeletal remains of the old army pier, which survived the 1964 Good Friday earthquake and tsunami, during which the earth in that area sunk five feet, only to be washed away years later by waves. North Beach is a great spot to set up camp, or if you're feeling adventurous, or North Beach is just too crowded for your tastes, you can carry on another three miles to South Beach.

The first half of the trail from North to South Beach is well travelled and wide, though it does pick up a bit of elevation. Once you reach Ft McGilvray, the wide, well trafficked path leads to the left toward the fort. The rest of the path to South Beach is clearly less travelled, and at the time of our adventure there were a few trees across the trail, which we had to find creative ways around. Once you hit the quiet, tucked away beach at the end of the trail though, the trials and tribulations all seem worth it. This is an excellent place to camp in solitude. 

And now to the point - the Alpine Trail. This trail can be accessed from either North or South Beach, as the entire trail system is meant to be a loop. The loop trail and the south beach portion of the trail just seem to get a bit less use. 

From North Beach: Turn around and head back just about a quarter mile, in the direction you just came from. I know, it hurts, but it's worth it, I promise. At Derby cove you'll find a kiosk and the trail head. This trail doesn't get a whole lot of use, but is still fairly easy to follow, and marked by cairns along the way. At about 1.25 miles in, keep your eyes peeled for a sign pointing to South Beach and the Alpine Trail. Follow the arrow for the alpine trail. 

From South Beach: Judging by appearance, this trail gets almost zero use. Walk along the beach until you spot a triangular, orange 'T' sign. These signs, as well as pink tape, will mark the trail. This trail winds into and out of creeks, river beds, waterfalls, and forests. Keep sharp, as it is fairly easy to lose this very twisty forest trail. At times it will feel like you're bushwacking, but even as you're pushing through this dense rainforest, the moss covered trees and the waterfalls provide beautiful scenery to make it worthwhile. After just under two miles you'll reach the sign indicating a turn off to the Alpine Trail, or a continuation on to North Beach. 

The Alpine Trail: This trail itself is three miles long, from trailhead to the end of the trail, and climbs just under 1,600 feet. Much like the loop trail leading up to it, the Alpine Trail doesn't seem to get as much use as it warrants. The brush is overgrown, but again the trail is marked by pink tape. 

Upon finding the trailhead, you immediately start a slow climb towards the alpine tundra. Follow a series of switchbacks through the forest, until about a mile and a half into this three mile hike, you find yourself breaking free of tree line and are awarded a few choice views out over the bay and back towards Seward. 

Once you find yourself on the open alpine tundra, the trail is marked by rock cairns and pink tape. It leads over a series of ridges, and leads you to wonder exactly what the end point of this trail may be. Once you've completed three miles on this trail, the trail itself peters out. The beauty of this trail is that it leads you to a vast, open expanse of alpine tundra, which you are free to explore on your own, sans trail. Just make sure to remember where to find the trail again! From the end of the trail, we simply picked out a spot that looked perfect for photos and lunch, and enjoyed watching the clouds roll into and out of Resurrection Bay, before hiking back down to our camp at South Beach. 

This trail is absolutely worth the effort - on a clear day. If there are low clouds, the alpine tundra may be socked in and less than ideal as it is easy to lose your way. Make sure to check the tides and the weather before embarking on this adventure! 

Pack List

  • Hiking boots, preferably waterproof as you'll be hiking along the beach and through streams and mud
  • A day pack filled with food, water, and extra layers - it can be windy and chilly above tree line
  • If you plan on camping: pack, sleeping bag, sleeping pad (the beaches are rocky rather than sandy), tent, camp stove, plenty of high calorie food, bear bag or cannister
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Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Photography

Skill Level:



Summer, Autumn

Trail Type:



3 Miles



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Added by Christie Kay

Live life outside, always. Find yourself by getting lost. Be as ridiculous as possible. Snowboarder, hiker, backpacker, wanderer. Exceptionally mediocre.

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