Trail Reviews: Tonsina River Trail


Cody Bryden, do things

As an Alaskan, there’s a high chance that you’ve been on, around, or near the ocean; however, where should you go if you want to take a walk along the coast? The trail to Toninsa Beach is an old logging road that leads to a shoreline before continuing to a full-sized defunct military fort to the end of the trail. Not only will you get to smell the lovely salty air, but you’ll also get to see beautiful forests and views along the way.

Located about ten minutes from downtown Seward, Tonsina River Trailhead is only a short, bumpy ride away. In order to get to the trailhead, you have to drive down Lowell Point Road. Upon arriving, expect to pay a small fee of five dollars to park at the trailhead. This trail is maintained by the Alaska State Parks due to the fact that the second half of the trail is in Caines Head State Park. Your five dollars helps with maintaining the trail and keeping the area clean. 

From the trailhead, the gradual climb takes you along the shoreline of Resurrection Bay where you’ll have occasional views of the water through the spruce and hemlock trees. After a mile, you’ll start to drop back down off the hill to find the first section of Tonsina Creek. There you’ll discover a beautiful metal expansion bridge. If you’re hiking the trail during late June through September, dozens of spawning salmon will be visible from the bridge.

 After you cross the bridge, you’ll be led into an elegant forest filled with large cottonwood, hemlock, and spruce trees. This patch of forest exhibits one of the most common northern rainforest features: sphagnum moss hanging from tree limbs. The second bridge that you will cross is a long wooden expansion bridge over another section of the creek. It leads hikers to an easy-to-reach portion of the shoreline. 


To go past this part, you have to time the tides right. The next two miles of the hike is on the beach only with large cliffs, unpassable at high tide. As long as the tides are right, you can hike the beach to Derby Cove. Once there, the trail starts back up on an old WWII access road. The trail will take you past old bunkers until you reach Fort McGilvray–United States military fortification located on Caines Head point. It sits atop a cliff 650 feet above Resurrection Bay. It was used by the United States Army as one of their many established defense positions along the coast to defend Seward against a possible Japanese invasion.

Overall, this trail is a beautiful and amazing all-day hike. From breathtaking ocean views to impressive WWII ruins, this is a must-do hike for anyone who wants to see Alaska’s beauty and rich history all in one.