Caines Head State Recreation Area and Resurrection Bay State Marine Parks
Caines Head State Recreation Area, the scenic site of an abandoned World War II fort, can be reached by boat or foot from Seward. The massive headland rises 650 feet above Resurrection Bay, against a back drop of rolling alpine meadows and sharp peaks, giving way to a sweeping view of the North Pacific Ocean.
The shale-covered, forest-framed beaches of Caines Head have long been stopping points for boaters and fisherman. But early in World War II, as the territory of Alaska was attacked and occupied by Imperial Japanese ground forces, Caines Head and other Resurrection Bay vantages became strategic spots for defending the Port of Seward. The port was the southern terminus of the Alaska Railroad, a critical supply line for the war effort and for Alaskans.
Visitors are invited to explore the remains of Fort McGilvray, the South Beach Garrison and the many natural attractions of this 6,000 acre state recreation area.
Trails and Historic Attractions
The 4.5 mile coastal trail leads from Lowell Point to the recreation area, ending at North Beach. A portion of this trail can be hiked only at low tide. Historic trails following old army roads take hikers to Fort McGilvray and on to South Beach.
North Beach is marked by the remains of an Army dock built in 1941. The pier survived the 1964 Good Friday earthquake and tsunami, but the land in this area dropped five feet. The deck of the old pier was eventually destroyed by waves. This beach is the main landing and anchorage in the recreation area but the old pier is no longer safe. Stay clear of the pier and do not attempt to tie up to its pilings.
There are picnic shelters, campsites and latrines near the main trail at North Beach. A ranger station, staffed seasonally, is located near the north end of the beach. The Derby Cove Public Use Cabin is near the beach at Derby Cove, the next beach north of the ranger station. No mooring buoy is provided at the cabin.
From North Beach, historic roadbeds lead to Fort McGilvray and South Beach. To reach the fort and sweeping vistas of the bay, take the left fork, one mile south of the North Beach Trailhead. Along the way, explore the remains of the old ammunitions magazines and the bog meadows with their unique forms of plant life. The right fork leads 1.5 miles to South Beach.
Fort McGilvray, once the strategic command center, is perched on a 650 foot rocky cliff that offers dramatic views of Resurrection Bay. Here are the firing platforms of the two six-inch guns that once sat ready to defend the Port of Seward. The fort is open to explore, but take a flashlight to find your way through the maze of underground passages and rooms. The cliffs around the fort are dangerous. Stay on the concrete pads and trails.
South Beach is a garrison ghost town with remains of the utility buildings and barracks that were home for the 500 soldiers stationed here from July 1941 to May 1943. These structures are not safe. Do not walk on or disturb them.
Weather is the key to planning a trip to Caines Head, as Resurrection Bay is subject to severe and unpredictable weather. On clear summer days, calm seas usually prevail until mid-morning when the day breezes begin, commonly from the south at 15 to 20 knots with seas of three to six feet. The annual rainfall in Seward is more than 60 inches, so prepare for wet, cool weather. Bring warm clothing, rain gear and enough food for an unexpected overnight stay due to bad weather.
Tides are generally mild at Caines Head, with an average high of 8.3 feet to a seasonal extreme high of 16 feet.
Drinking water is scarce at times; there are few year-round sources. All water must be boiled at least five minutes to avoid ingesting parasites common to Alaskan surface waters.
Bears and other wildlife can be dangerous. Keep a clean camp and wash food odors from your hands and clothing. Never cook or take food into your tent and store food away from camp, suspended high in a tree. Do not camp on game trails.
Getting to Caines Head State Recreation Area
Caines Head SRA is accessible from Seward by foot, via the Coastal Trail, or by boat.
Coastal Trail: There is a parking area at Lowell Point, south of Seward, but vehicles may have to be left in Seward when road conditions are poor. It is important to time your trip around the tides. Click here to see a map of the trail. The three mile stretch of beach between Tonsina Point and North Beach can be hiked only during very low tide. Click here for information on tide tables. Leave Seward at least two hours before low tide to avoid becoming stranded along the way. The 4.5 mile trip takes the average hiker two to three hours. Most hikers to North Beach stay overnight. Plan to stay at least until the next low tide. Please respect private property. The land along both sides of the first mile of the Coastal Trail is private property. Please stay on the designated trail. Click here to see pictures of the beach portion of the trail.
Warning: It is not possible to hike the beach between Lowell Point and Tonsina Point due to steep cliffs. Please stay on the designated trail.
By Boat: Visitors with large boats can anchor off North Beach and dinghy ashore. Smaller boats may be brought up on shore clear of high tide line.
By Charter: Charter boats are available in Seward and provide shuttle service to and from the park and it's cabins. Click here for a list of authorized carriers.
Distances by land in miles:
Lowell Point to North Beach - 4.5
Tonsina Point to North Beach - 3
North Beach to Fort McGilvray - 2
North Beach to South Beach - 2.5
Fort McGilvray to South Beach - 2.5
Distances by water in miles:
Seward small boat harbor to North Beach - 7
North Beach to South Beach - 4
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Resurrection Bay State Marine Parks
Five State Marine Parks (SMP), accessible only by boat, stretch along the eastern side of Resurrection Bay and around Cape Resurrection to Day Harbor.
Thumb Cove SMP is one of the bay's most scenic and popular anchorage. The spectacular rock faces and waterfalls of this cove offer the mariner a peaceful respite from the bay's afternoon wind and waves. This marine park has two public use cabins for rent, Porcupine Glacier and Spruce Glacier cabins. The Spruce Glacier cabin is fully wheelchair accessible but requires assisted access from the water landing to the beach berm at the end of the boardwalk.
Sandspit Point SMP is also know as Fox Island Spit and lies at the north end of Fox Island. The north side of the spit is a popular landing and camping spot for kayakers. The anchorage near the spit is generally poor due to its exposure to the bay's weather.
Sunny Cove SMP is located on the southern cove of Fox Island. This is an excellent anchorage and affords views of Bear Glacier, Callisto Head and Aialik Cape in Kenai Fjords National Park.
Driftwood Bay SMP is located around the east side of Cape Resurrection. This anchorage offers little protection from bad weather and is generally not recommended for anchoring. The area's features include excellent wildlife viewing of mountain goats and seabirds.
Farther north, Safety Cove SMP is a relatively safer anchorage than Driftwood Bay. Views from the cove include Ellsworth Glacier, and there is a three acre lake at the head of the cove.
Public Use Cabins in Resurrection Bay
Alaska State Parks operates public use cabins within Resurrection Bay. For more information on reserving these cabins, click here to see our cabin pages. Use of any Alaska State Park Public Use Cabin requires a fee to be paid and a valid permit to be in that person's possession.
Protect the Parks
Artifacts and old structures are numerous at Caines Head. Do not disturb, damage or remove artifacts. Please leave items of interest in place for others to enjoy.
Trash collection in not provided. Pack out what you pack in. When latrines are not available, bury human waste away from trails and sources of water, both fresh and salt.
Open fires are permitted only on ocean beaches, preferably below mean high tide. Fires elsewhere must be in a portable stove, metal-bottomed container or designated fire site.
Fishing and hunting regulations may be obtained from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.
Discharge of firearms is prohibited within 1/2 mile of developed facilities. Target shooting is prohibited in all areas of the recreation area.
Be prepared to handle emergencies yourself. The recreation area is staffed seasonally by a ranger and volunteers who are not always available. If you need assistance or information, please contact one of the following. Also, visit the Alaska Boating Safety web site.
US Coast Guard Auxiliary: CB 9, VHF 16
Alaska State Troopers: CB 9, 911, 224-3346
Seward Harbormaster: CB 9, VHF 16, 224-3138
Coast Guard Cutter Mustang: VHF 16, 244-5202
Caines Head Ranger: VHF 16, WTY2186
For More Information:
Alaska State Parks
Kenai/PWS Area Office
PO Box 1247
Soldotna, AK 99669