Turnagain Arm Trail in Chugach State Park
Turnagain Arm Trail, formerly called the Old Johnson Trail, parallels the coastline and the Seward Highway from Potter to Windy Corner. The 9.4 mile-trail leads hikers through spruce forests, birch and alder groves and flower-filled meadows. Scenic overlooks provide views of the Chugach Mountains to the north and the Kenai Mountains across Turnagain Arm.
The trail is a favorite "first hike of the year" for many because it is on a south-facing slope and is clear of snow early in the spring. Brightly-colored foliage also makes this a pretty area for fall hikes. The trail is well developed and fairly easy to hike. Although there are some muddy spots, especially in the spring, boardwalks cover most of the wet areas. For an all-day hike, you can walk from Potter to Rainbow and back, with a rest stop at McHugh, or park a car at each end for a one-way trip.
Precipitation and winter temperatures are higher along Turnagain Arm than in other parts of Chugach State Park due to the warm marine air. A strong breeze blows along the arm on most days and the weather may change quickly, so be prepared and take appropriate clothing.
Potter Section House
This state historic site features a restored house and outbuildings that were once part of a railroad section camp that maintained 10 miles of railroad track. Chugach State Park Headquarters is in the house. The railroad car is the Kenai Visitor Center.
A bore tide, or tidal bore, is a wall of water coming in with the tide. It is created by a wide range between high and low tides (more than 35 feet in Cook Inlet) and the narrow, shallow and gentle sloping of the arm. The only places in the United States where tidal bores occur regularly are in Turnagain and Knik Arms.
Bore tides in Turnagain Arm range from 2 to 6 feet high and travel between 10 and 15 mph. Minus tides, new or full moons and high winds contribute to a large bore tide, which may sound like a train. Beluga Point is a good place to watch for bore tides, which generally occur about 45 minutes after the predicted Anchorage low tide.
The earliest evidence of humans along Turnagain Arm is at Beluga Point,
which prehistoric hunters used as a view point to search for Beluga whales
and sheep. The first white explorers arrived in 1778 aboard Captain Cook's
ships, Discovery and Resolution. Cook sailed up Cook Inlet hoping to find
the Northwest Passage, but had to "turn again", leading him to name the
water body River Turnagain. In the late 19th century, miners and trappers
began traveling into interior Alaska from Whittier and Seward along old
trails that soon became established routes with roadhouses. In 1885 prospectors
crossed from the south side of Turnagain Arm to the north and searched
for gold from Girdwood to Rainbow Creek.
In 1903, the Alaska Central Railway began building a railroad from Seward to Fairbanks, but the company soon went bankrupt. The U.S. Government bought the railroad in 1915 and improved the trail along the arm to handle the horse and wagon traffic needed for railroad construction. The trail was also used to deliver mail between Anchorage and Seward. In 1917 telegraph lines were laid along the Turnagain "road" and by 1918 the railroad extended from Seward to Anchorage, with flag stops at Bird Creek, Indian, Rainbow and Potter. Remnants of construction camps remain along the trail, but are barely discernible. Part of the original trail was covered by the highway which was completed in 1950 and paved in 1954.
Wildlife seen along Turnagain Arm include Beluga whales, Dall sheep and occasionally, moose and black bear. Bald eagles may be spotted near the water and golden eagles further inland. There are also grizzly bears, lynx and coyotes in the area, but not usually near the trail.
Belugas are white, shallow-water whales, sometimes seen feeding on fish in Cook Inlet. The best time to see Belugas is at high tide from mid-July through August when salmon make their spawning runs. Adult males reach 11 to 15 feet and weigh 1,000 to 2,000 pounds.
Biologists are not sure why Dall sheep gather at Windy Corner, but they have been a frequent sight in this area since highway reconstruction in the early 1980s. Usually only ewes and lambs are seen at this low elevation as rams tend to remain separate in higher, more rugged terrain.
Plant communities along Turnagain Arm change as you pass through different microclimates. Notice how plants on rocky outcrops differ from those on marshy ground, or how plants in windswept areas differ from those that are more protected.
The dominant trees are Sitka and white spruce, mountain hemlock, aspen, cottonwood and Alaska paper birch. Wildflowers appear in early May and August, Highbush cranberries, rose hips, raspberries, service and watermelon berries are ripening. Be careful to identify species correctly and watch what your children eat, as some plants and berries are poisonous.
Trailheads & Parking
There are four parking areas along the trail. Please do not park on the shoulder of the highway.
|Trail Milepost||Trail Description
Potter Trailhead - Across the highway from Potter
McHugh Creek Picnic Area/Trailhead - There are 30 picnic sites with tables
and charcoal fire grates at the picnic area. Toilets and a scenic
overlook trail are handicapped-accessible.
Rainbow Creek Valley Trailhead
Windy Corner Trailhead - Limited parking provided, with additional space
at the viewing turnout on other side of the highway.
Please note that motorized vehicles, bicycles and horses are prohibited on the Turnagain Arm Trail.
Trail Log for the Turnagain Arm Trail
Turnagain Arm Trails Brochure
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