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Backpacking in Caines Head State Park

May 10, 2015

The weather forecast for the first weekend of May in Alaska was shaping up to be a beauty. What started as a rainy weather prediction in Seward changed to a sunny and gorgeous weekend that made our backpacking plans immediately more exciting!

Our friend Jodie sent out a mass invite for a backpacking trip she was planning, and The Stews were immediately in. Someone else doing the planning? Heck yes! Also, Jodie plans fabulous trips.

The game plan: Drive down to Seward Friday afternoon to hike to a cabin we had reserved along the beach at low tide (a very important part of the planning process). Spend one night in a cabin, then move 2 miles south to North Beach to set up for a second night in a tent. Spend Saturday exploring Fort McGilvray, and hike out Sunday morning by 6am to catch the low tide along the beach.

The Crew: Matt, myself, our dog Moose, and friends Abe, Abe’s dog Zach, Alex, Allison, Jodie, & Travis.

The Actuality: Spot-On, with a few more stops thrown in! Matt & I headed down to Seward early for the 2015 season opener of the Seward Brewing Co. before meeting up with the rest of the gang.

Here is the map of the area where we hiked:

State Park Map

Elevation Map Click to Enlarge

We started at the Lowell Point State Recreation Site, parking our cars and putting our packs on our backs. Matt and I were slightly tipsy from the sampling of beers, which leads to uphill hikes being much more enjoyable in my opinion.

From Lowell Point, we had a tough uphill hike with some major switchbacks down. The terrain is very rocky, so stable boots and sure footing is a must. It took me a mile to get into my rhythm with my 40 lb. pack on.

Once we reached Tonsina Point, we were able to have a brief break in rough terrain for some grassland and a chance to cool down.



At the beach, steady footing was once again required. We took the Coastal Trail towards North Beach, which can only be accessed at low tide. Jodie had consulted the tide tables and determined 5pm was the ideal time to begin our journey in order to have the easiest access.



We did hit one difficult part on the trail hiking in where we had to climb over some slick rocks due to the tide coming in a bit quick. Because Matt and I wore waterproof hiking boots, we braved the low tide and just walked through the water, but… Climbing

The beach was beautiful and we seemed to have it all to ourselves. After ~5 miles, we reached our cabin.


We reserved the Callisto Canyon cabin for one night, and were all very excited once we saw it. The inside featured two bunk beds, each with full sized mattresses. We were able to sleep 7 humans and 2 dogs comfortably. (I slept great!) Once we reached the cabin, we set to building a fire and some of the group went and played frisbee on the beach. That is, until Abe accidentally threw the frisbee in the ocean. Ehh, you win some, you lose some.


The next morning, we woke up not quite early enough to catch the low tide to hike to North Beach. Once we got everything packed and ready to go, it was close to 9am, so we had to do an over-the-mountain hike to reach our next sleeping location.

North Beach was filled with colorful tents – a lot of people had kayaked in or hiked past our cabin to reach the location. We all set up our tents first, and assembled day packs for the day’s adventures. We chose to backpack to this part of Seward mainly to explore Fort McGilvray, so it was our first destination. That afternoon, we made our way down to South Beach for the afternoon.


Fort McGilvray was built during WW2 as a defensive base against the Japanese. The location on Resurrection Bay outside of Seward was ideal because the bay doesn’t ice over in the winter. The crazy thing about the Fort is that the war ended before the Fort was completed – it was never actually used!

It is one of the most well-preserved sites in Alaska, with bunkers and the main area still able to be accessed. When the Alaska State Parks took over the fort, they made all of the service roads a trail system – everything we hiked used to be a road for military vehicles! As we hiked about, we were commenting how fun it would be to take a jeep on some of the trails.

More information about the fort can be found here.


Entering one of the bunkers.

Lunch Spot

Gun Emplacement


Battery Command Station

South Beach was a 2 mile hike from the main fort location, and was a garrison for troops to be stationed at. We were all in a bit of awe of South Beach because of the rocks. They had been tumbled in the water so much that they were perfectly smooth and round.



Perfect for making mini cairns!



We spent awhile napping in the sun on the rocks, a perfect rest spot.

The next morning, we woke up at 6am (OK – Matt & I were late and woke up at 6:30) to pack up our gear and make the low tide trek back to the vehicles.


It was a perfect and clear morning, filled with a lot of sea life! We saw otters playing, and even caught this great snap of a sea lion playing in the water near the shore. It was so cool, like the sea lion was popping up to say hello to us!




Overall, it was a great trip. Round trip, we did around 20 miles of hiking so we were pretty tired when we finally got home. Moose was exhausted for a few days and spent a lot of her recovery time sleeping with her head under our bed. I’ve never seen that dog so tired!

If you’re looking for a challenging hike with a historical aspect, this is an excellent one to check out. The town of Seward is a great host city to have dinner and breakfast in, and you can always tack a fishing trip onto the end of your adventure!

Here are some more of our favourite pictures from the journey:


An exhausted Moose, helping us purify & filter our drinking water from a stream.


Emily & Moose in front of our Saturday night home.


The sunset at 10pm. Beautiful!


The view from our tent on North Beach at 6:30am


Matt saved a star fish!



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  • Reply Debbie May 10, 2015 at 16:07

    Where was Sasha? Didn’t she go with you.

    • Reply Emily Stewart May 10, 2015 at 20:31

      Sadly, Sasha did not get to join us on this adventure. Her hiking max is ~4 miles in a weekend, so we didn’t want to put too much strain on her body. Instead, Sasha got to spend a fun weekend at her favourite camp playing with other dogs!

  • Reply Dave Hogan May 11, 2015 at 16:18

    Thanks so much for your review of the West Glacier Trail. My son and I arrived by cruise ship in Juneau last week and had 8 hours to complete the hike. Due to the time constraint we were not sure we could make it to the glacier and back in time. We began debating the hike as we arrived in Juneau and about 1 hour until we docked I said we should Google the hike. We had just done a long hike in Ketchikan and I had hiked to the glacier years ago. Once I read your post and my son did the math, we knew completing the hike in 8 hours was a stretch and the final nail was your revelation that the ice cave had crashed. We opted for the East trail and were glad we did when the wind picked up and darkness began to fall and the temperature dropped about 8pm. We would have still been hiking! Your post saved the day for us.

    • Reply Emily Stewart May 11, 2015 at 17:05


      I am so glad that our post could be helpful! When we were researching for our trip on the West Glacier trail, we couldn’t find much helpful information, so we were determined to help others! It makes us thrilled to hear we saved your day, and I hope you guys had an amazing time on the East Trail – it is a beauty too!

      – Emily


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