Trail of the Month: December 2004
Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, Alaska
When heading out to Alaska's Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, don't forget to pack the camera. The trail has been known to delight visitors young and old with picturesque skyline views, frequent close encounters with wildlife and fascinating geological landmarks. The coastal trail, named after the former mayor of Anchorage and Governor of Alaska Tony Knowles, is located in the southern region of the state and begins on Second Avenue in downtown Anchorage. Its paved surface skirts 11 miles along the coastline toward Kincaid Park giving cyclists, runners, wheelchair users, inline skaters and skiers a chance to exercise and enjoy Alaska's incomparable beauty.
Starting downtown, the trail can be accessed at the northeast end of Second Avenue, near the Alaska Railroad Depot. Note to all users—this portion of the trail, between Second Avenue and Westchester Lagoon, is not marked by mileposts. Traveling approximately 1.2 miles south toward Westchester Lagoon, the trail passes though sporadic spots of foliage to one side and brilliant views of the Knik Arm coastline on the other. The trail winds slightly downhill and parallels the Alaska Railroad rail line until you pass through short Hannah Cove and Railroad Tunnel. At mile .8 the grade increases gently over a hill and then levels out again in the final stretch toward Westchester Lagoon.
When you arrive at the Westchester Lagoon trailhead take a quick break to enjoy the facilities and scenic vista. This area offers users glistening ocean views for miles and miles, bathroom facilities, two parking lots for easy access to the trail and a police sub station in case of emergencies. Fitness course equipment is also available at the trailhead along with a canoe launch area. And in the winter when the temperature takes a dive, the Lagoon is transformed into a giant, enchanted ice rink for public use. From Westchester Lagoon, wind south for approximately two miles through open fields on the way to Earthquake Park. About half-a-mile outside Westchester Lagoon take a glance back in the direction from which you just came. This position offers breathtaking views of the Anchorage city skyline.
As you continue through patchy spruce forests, you'll reach Earthquake Park near mile 2.3. Here you will find interpretive facilities displaying how a 1964 earthquake damaged the surrounding area—a great place to stop with kids interested in geology and science. From Earthquake Park meander on to mile 4.6 where you can take a break on a series of benches and admire the fantastic nature views.
The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail has been known to provide users with up-close views of wildlife like moose, caribou, bears, bald eagles, red foxes and even Beluga whales. At this point in the trail, you may have already come across at least one moose on your journey. These animals can be aggressive during mating season and when they feel threatened, so use extreme caution. Moose are likely to be found along the sides of the trail so give the animals plenty of space in order to avoid any incidents and slow down when traveling around corners with obstructed views. For more information on moose and how to handle emergency situations, visit mooseworld.com.
Nearing milepost six, the Ted Stephens Anchorage International Airport is positioned close to the trail. This spot provides a perfect place for close encounters with arriving and departing airplanes. From here continue on to the southern trailhead at Kincaid Park. At this trailhead you will find both indoor and outdoor centers. The indoor facility has a biathlon training area and the outdoor facility has a cross-country skiing area and rooms that can be rented for parties.
In the near future, the Municipality of Anchorage Parks and Recreations Department plans to do surface repair along portions of the trail. They also plan to extend the southern end of the trail to Potter Weigh Station in 2007.