Destination Run: Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, Alaska
Winding along 11 miles of gorgeous Alaskan coastline, the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is known as one of the most scenic coastal trails in the United States. The beautiful path affords some of the most extraordinary views of nature, especially considering that the easy-access trail is just a stone’s throw from downtown Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city.
On one side, the trail is lined with a forest heavy in birch and aspen trees, and on your other side are the misty shores of the Northern ocean. While walking, biking, rollerblading, running, or even cross-country skiing in the winter, you’ll see a smorgasbord of beautiful vistas in the distance:
Chugach Mountains. The towering, snow-capped Chugach mountain range (which acts as the local playground for outdoor lovers of all ages for hiking, whitewater rafting and so much more).
Mount Susitna. 5,000ft tall Mount Susitna is known in local legends as the ‘Sleeping Lady’ mountain. If you look closely, the mountain will seem to take on the form of a sleeping woman, who as legend has it, lay down waiting for her lover who never returned.
Fire Island. Special, because it’s the only island in the Municipality of Anchorage. At just 5.5 miles long, this mysterious little island can be seen at the head of Cook Inlet.
Denali Mountain. This magnificent mountain, previously known as Mt. McKinley (the name was changed in 1975), is North America’s highest mountain peak. At 20,310ft, it dwarfs everything else in view and its summit is often covered by clouds. The name Denali means “The High One” in the language of the Koyukon, one of the original peoples inhabiting the Alaskan and Yukon territories.
For a trail that’s practically in Anchorage, the amount of wildlife you have a chance of seeing on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is stunning and exciting. Firstly, as per usual in all of Alaska (and many other northern U.S. states), exercise safety and extreme caution if you see a:
Moose – Maintain your distance. Do not approach. Run away if the moose charges.
Black or Brown (Grizzly) Bear – Maintain your distance. Do not approach. Do not run. Make lots of noise.
But also keep your eyes peeled for many other, friendlier walks of wildlife, like foxes, stellar jays, bald eagles, otters, rabbits, marmots, porcupines, sandhill cranes and other waterfowl. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a Beluga whale in the coastal waters. There’s a chance of spotting whales year round, but especially during the summer season when thousands of whales migrate to the rich feeding grounds of Alaskan waters.
It’s an All-Purpose Trail
This well-maintained, paved trail is wide enough to allow for both pedestrians and bicycles and suitable for sports enthusiasts of all ages and abilities. The pathway is made of asphalt, which is much nicer on the body for running on than unyielding concrete. One thing you’ll notice about driving around in Anchorage is the sorry state of affairs regarding some of the paved streets – in many areas, the asphalt roads have terrible potholes. This is because every winter the ground freezes solid, and when it warms up in summertime the asphalt buckles and cracks. Considering this, the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is kept in pretty excellent condition.
Many people enjoy bicycling this as a 22-mile out-and-back trail as well. One of the most popular spots to rent a bicycle is at Pablo’s Bike Rentals at 415 L Street. If you would like to rollerblade the trail, it’s recommended to start at Point Woronzof and end at Kincaid Park hill. This gives you a more enjoyable trip than going the other direction, which is a lot more hilly on your rollerblades.
Important Tips to Remember
- DON’T walk on the coastal mudflats. It may be tempting when the tide is out to go explore the shoreline, but in many places, the mud is like quicksand and will set around your legs like concrete. People have lost their lives when this happens and the tide comes in.
- There are no public restrooms on the trail until you get to Kincaid Park.
- There is no public drinking water access until you get to Kincaid Park, so be sure to bring plenty of water to drink.
- There are picnic tables at Kincaid park, if you want to pack a picnic!
There are several main access points throughout the 11 mile long paved trail, so you have a few options where to enter and exit. There are a few smaller access points in between, but be sure to check as there are a few parts of the trail without access.
- The first main entry is a the far northeast end of West 2nd Ave where it meets H Street (near a railroad depot), in downtown Anchorage.
- The second main entry is at Point Woronzof (near mile marker 4).
- The third main entry is at Point Campbell in Kincaid Park (near mile marker 9), on the left hand side of the Kincaid Outdoor Center).
To top off all of this excitement, a favorite part of many peoples’ experience here is watching the planes take off from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. From several spots along the trail, you’ll get to almost “feel” the planes take off and land as they pass startlingly close above your head. For an all around, easily accessible adventure, you really can’t beat the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail!