The gravel trail to Coast Guard Beach winds through Ketchikan Gateway Borough land and then crosses into Alaska Mental Health Trust Land. The first stretch of trail walks along the edge of a large muskeg flat overlooking a background of mountains when you can see them over the treetops. Here, silvered and charred pines stand naked due to a fire one very dry summer. After the muskeg, the trail bears right and begins stepping down into the rain forest, where huckleberries and blueberries can be found in season. Mostly the trail descends to the beach; however, a few hills do rise along the way. Some large western red cedars stand beside the trail. About halfway down the trail, you can begin to see glimpses of the how close you are to the ocean through the thinning forest. Just around the corner is a steep, rocky descent to a smaller stone-cobbled beach on the right. Depending on the tide, this can be a very nice beach for some limited privacy until the next hikers decide to join you or the next fishing boat floats by. At this beach, you get a nice view of the Cleveland Peninsula, which is the main land jutting into the Tongass Narrows, and a limited view of Prince of Wales Island across the way.
Moving on from here, soon a longer hill rises with some steep slopes falling off the side of the trail. On the backside of this hill are some shorter but steep descents that may be best navigated with a trekking pole for those who are not sure-footed. Soon you will cross a wooden bridge over a small creek, where you should be able to see and hear the ocean meeting the wave-polished stone beach. The trail will dump you right between two outcroppings of jagged rocks, where if the tide is low, you can walk onto the beach, which opens up wide to the left. Here the distant mountains of Prince of Wales and Cleveland Peninsula fence in the narrows, and it seems without fail, many different waterfowl fly or float through. Seals and sea lions sometimes make an appearance and occasionally humpback whales with their exhaling blow spouts. If the tide is high and you want to access the rest of the beach, you will need to cut through the forest on the left and hop across a creek, where there’s a half buried, rusted out, army-truck chassis.
This beach is a good place for walking, sunbathing, beachcombing, photography, writing, reading, meditation, tai-chi, just sitting, marine-life viewing, and dog swimming. And often in the summertime, suddenly a cruise ship floats out of the woods on the south-end of the beach and fills your view on its way to points north. And with a little patience and luck, you might just be graced with a pod of orcas that sometimes passes through these waters just off of Coast Guard Beach, on their way to who knows whose village they may visit next.
*Trail description written by Teague Whalen, owner and operator of Mindfulness Rainforest Treks. Join him for a guided hike on Coast Guard Beach when you’re in Ketchikan.