“Few people know how to take a walk. The qualifications are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for nature, good humor, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence and nothing too much.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Since leaving on my RV journey just over a year ago I have found that some of my best moments have been while hiking on some awesome trail. Hiking requires little equipment and allows for great exercise and personal reflection. You can choose your level of difficulty from a paved level trail to a climb up a mountainside. Hiking only requires you to put one foot in front of the other – over and over. And if you allow yourself the opportunity to be present throughout the entire trek, you will witness awe every step of the way and not just at a summit.
“The longest journey begins with a single step, not with a turn of the ignition key. That’s the best thing about a walking, the journey itself. It doesn’t much matter whether you get where your going or not. You’ll get there anyway. Every good hike brings you eventually back home. Right were you started.” – Edward Abbey
Seward was a great place for hikes surrounded by the Chugach National Forest and Kenai Fjords National Park. President Theodore Roosevelt established the Chugach National Forest on July 23, 1907. Today it is one of the oldest national forests in America and provides numerous hiking opportunities in this part of Alaska. The original boundaries included what is now Anchorage all the way to, and including, Kodiak. It is currently the second largest national forest in the country.
Two weeks in Seward gave me time to try some of the beautiful hikes in the area. It also afforded me the opportunity to meet up with another traveler that I had met on an Alaska Facebook group earlier this summer. Mark is from Michigan and has been on the road for almost two years. It was fun to have someone to hike with and share what Alaska and the Seward area has to offer including a trip to the local brewery to sample some of their food and beers.
Bear Lake was so nice that I visited twice, once to hike and the next time to paddle. The trail along the lake was a bit difficult to find but once I located the trailhead it made for a nice afternoon hike along the edge of the lake. Part of the Iditarod National Historic Trail it led us to a salmon spawning stream where they were obviously conducting studies on the fish as the salmon’s access to the stream had been blocked. Frustrated and exhausted fish were gathered at the stream’s entrance to the lake unable to go any farther. Happy seagulls were waiting for an easy catch and I was surprised that there were no bears (that I could see anyway) in the area.
The next visit to Bear Lake involved water activity. We unloaded Mark’s kayak (its maiden voyage) and my paddleboard to view the area from the water. There had been a recent report of a bear attempting to take a fisherman’s catch earlier in the week so we carefully watched the shoreline for any sign of nature’s fisherman. This time as we reached the area of the spawning stream there were researchers working on catching the fish and putting them in holding pens. They were collecting the eggs for the nearby hatchery as thousands of fish had been released in this lake to grow to the right size for the egg harvesting. It was in essence one big natural fish hatchery.
“We don’t stop hiking because we grow old
We grow old because we stop hiking.” – Finis Mitchel
Lost Lake trail begins in a beautiful rainforest and eventually takes you up to a multiple of beautiful lakes in high meadows. Snow clad mountains are all around you, no matter what season you go. This was a scenic trail with incredible views of surrounding mountains and high alpine terrain. We hiked about 3 miles up the trail climbing up out of the tree line into lower growing alpine. Out and back hikes usually are not as interesting as loop trails but in this case when we turned back on the trail the return hike was filled with views back toward Seward and Resurrection Bay that had not been obvious as we climbed the trail.
The trek to Caines Head isn’t an easy one. One option is to hike a 4.5 mile trail (one way) along a rock strewn beach which can only be hiked at low tide. The problem with this option seems obvious, notwithstanding the low tide issue, by the time you hike the 4.5 miles to get there you would still have another 9 miles of hiking in the park before heading back (hopefully at low tide!). So we went with option #2 – take a water taxi to Caines Head and start a hike from there.
Caines Head is a prominent headland rising 650′ above Resurrection Bay, against a backdrop of rolling alpine meadows and sharp peaks, giving way to a sweeping view of the Gulf of Alaska and the outer islands. The day we hiked was overcast and showery so the distant views were of clouds but the fort itself was very interesting. After having been warned we had brought along flashlights for exploring and could get into a number of the abandoned fort buildings that were remaining.
During World War II it was the site of Fort McGilvray, a WWII Fort filled with many underground rooms and an incredible view of the bay at the gunwales. Early in World War II, as the territory of Alaska was attacked and occupied by Imperial Japanese ground forces, Caine’s Head and other Resurrection Bay vantages became strategic spots for defending the Port of Seward.
Fort McGilvray, once the strategic command center, is perched on a 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. By land Fort McGilvray is 6 miles south of Seward but no road connected the two (why we had to take the water taxi). All supplies came to the fort by boat. There was a great fear that Seward might be attacked during the war. The fear stemmed from the fact that with the rail terminus being located here, the Japanese could effectively cripple all of Alaska if they were to take over the town of Seward.
About 8 million dollars went into the construction of Fort McGilvray. The fort had 7 miles of roadway, 5 barracks, 1 officer’s quarters and a mess hall. Originally there were two 155mm guns these were a throw back from the Great War. In 1943 these were replaced by 6″ guns which were much more accurate to a distance of 16 miles. One of the practice targets of the 155mm guns was the spit off Fox Island. The 6″ guns were never fired.
It was interesting to see how quickly the forest had reclaimed the land and how little of such an extensive complex was left.
“There is no forgiveness in nature.” – Ugo Betti
After exploring the fort we headed along the trail for South Beach. The trail climbed up over the bluff in the trees (was good shelter from the showers) and then dropped out right at the shale-covered beach forest framed beach with views of small rock islands and the entrance to Resurrection bay. We ended up hiking for 9 miles around Caines Head exploring the area before heading back to the water taxi pick up location. Fortunately our boat on the way home was the bigger enclosed taxi which made for a much more comfortable, quicker and drier ride back.
I have mentioned the 1964 earthquake in previous posts and Seward was also heavily impacted by this quake and the resulting tsunami waves. This entire shoreline dropped off into Resurrection Bay carrying Seward’s economy with it. You can still see the dock pilings and other remnants of this earth-shattering event as you walk the path along the shoreline.
One result of this disaster was that instead of rebuilding along most of the remaining shoreline the city of Seward instead has turned this area into RV (and tent) camping. The city provides over 350 campsites for visitors to the area with many of them being right along the waterfront. One of the reasons I decided to stay for two weeks was my excellent camping location. My views frequently included bald eagles, otters playing and harbor seals cruising by. The mountains across the water seemed to change hourly with the sunlight and clouds providing highlights and awesome scenery. And I would be remiss to mention that Seward uses their high school pool as a public pool providing lap swim times everyday. I was able to get in my early morning swims three days a week and almost got back into a rhythm before having to leave!
Awesome scenery, hikes, lakes to paddle, a pool, beautiful campsite and a brewery……what more could this traveler ask for.
Seward is definitely a place that I will return to when I revisit Alaska.
Nature is always lovely, invincible, glad, whatever is done and suffered by her creatures. All scars she heals, whether in rocks or water or sky or hearts.
– John Muir