A giant sand dune rises into the trees of Kincaid Park near the southwest corner of the Anchorage Bowl, with expansive views of Cook Inlet, the Kenai Peninsula and the Chugach Mountains. The brown face of gorgeous speckled grains looms more than 40 feet above the surrounding forest floor, presenting a pyramid-steep slope that just begs to be climbed.

This natural feature — one of Anchorage’s hidden gems — is perfect for anybody who has ever delighted in a romp at the beach. It’s also a great picnic destination with access to a spectacular bluff walk and a descent to the Kincaid Park beach.

Walking on the moon

The dune is a blast. You can scramble up and down, dig deep holes, leap into the air and land butt-first in pillowed mounds. You can take giant, gravity-defying bounds that are as close to moon walking as you’ll get on earth. For a slower pace, climb to the trees and sit on the edge of the bluff for tranquil views of ocean and mountains.

It’s alive

The sand engulfs whole trees as it sloughs in slo-mo right into the forest. It has to be seen to be believed.

Say you start at the foot of the leading edge and look up. The dune blocks the sky. A tiny avalanche skitters down the wall before you. Alders and Devil’s club rise from new deposits of sand at your feet. You suddenly realize that this dune is migrating forward even as you watch. That it has been slouching deeper into the woods over decades, a rough Ice Age beast swallowing the vegetation inch by inch.

Climbing to the peak takes 160 soft, wallowing steps. You pass by the crowns of half-buried cottonwoods on the way. The top offers a 10-mile vista of Turnagain Arm, with the Kincaid Motocross area yawning beneath you. The trunks of trees buried years earlier have emerged to the upwind side, as bleached as weathered bones.

Glimpse at the Gearheads

The dune is part of a multi-use area that alternates between tranquil oasis and gearhead central. The Jodhpur Motocross Track is open for practice from 10 AM to 8:30 PM Wednesday through Sunday. For a quiet outing, visit on Monday and Tuesday. Even so, you can walk down to the beach, or take the ridge trail, and quickly get away from the noise.

Credit those dirt bikes . . . and the Ice Age

The dune was created by sand exposed by decades of motor sports in the same classic process that creates dunes in any desert. After Turnagain’s persistent wind blows sand up the slope, the grains drop on the lee side, where the wind is blocked, creating and perpetually feeding the dune’s steep slip-face.

But the ultimate origin is the Ice Age, when massive glaciers left behind enormous piles of sand and gravel throughout what is now the Anchorage Bowl. These deposits can be more than 300 feet deep. Geologists say this sand was ground over eons from the bedrock of the surrounding mountains. Most of it remains buried under vegetation, but is sometimes exposed in the bluffs along Turnagain and Knik arms.

What else can you do during a visit to the dune?

  • Hike the bluff trail. One of the most spectacular hiking paths in Anchorage runs along the bluff overlooking Turnagain Arm. It connects into Kincaid Park’s network of trails, with links to the Chalet area and the beach at Point Campbell. There are some steep stretches, but most of it can be walked easily.
  • Drop to the beach. Several precipitous paths descend the 300-foot bluff to the shoreline of Turnagain Arm. A strenuous climb back up.
  • Bike or walk. Kincaid Park has an extensive system of single track mountain bike trails and wide ski trails that are multi-use during summer. Segments of both systems pass within yards of the dune’s foot.

For more Information:

Kincaid Park ski trails

Kincaid Park single track trails

Kincaid Park Chalet overview

Kincaid Park Weather

Kincaid Park trail reports

Getting There

Coordinates
Latitude: 61.143888
Longitude: -150.022237

The dune rises in the southeast corner of Kincaid Park on a high spot near the bluff, with a fabulous view of Turnagain Arm. It is immediately downwind (northwest) of the motocross sports area and a 20-minute stroll from the parking lot. There are many paths leading to it.

Easiest summer access:

Take Dimond Boulevard west until it ends in a curve that becomes Jodphur Road. Go north about 1,000 feet and turn left (west) into the Jodphur Trailhead parking area.

Take the wide, main trail northwest across the meadow and continue in the same direction onto the Jodphur Trail (it has light poles and is groomed as a ski-only trail in winter.)

About 140 yards in, the trail forks. Follow the main trail that double-backs to the left; it’s the one with the light poles. Keep going, following the poles, but start watching for sand in the forest to your left as the trail trends west.

About 500 yards further, the Jodphur Trail (with the light poles) curves to the right (north) and the Ice Box / Hairpin Trail (without poles) continues in the same direction (west.) This intersection is about 120 yards north of the sand dune. Depending upon the thickness of the vegetation, it might even be visible. Look for an obvious single track path and head south through the Devil’s club. In minutes, you’ll be standing in sand.

Try to avoid letting the Devil’s Club scratch your bare skin. The final path usually well trod and wide enough, so that you should be OK even in shorts and t-shirt. However, there can be a strong wind coming off the Inlet at the top of the dunes, so bring extra layers.

Winter access:

From the Jodphur Trailhead parking lot, head south on the multi-use single-track bike path named, appropriately enough, Sand Box. Watching for bikers, follow this curvy, twisty trail west for about a half mile, or until you see the dune rising on your left. The intersection with single track C.S. Express is only about 20 yards north of the dune.

The single tracks get a lot of use during winter and usually get packed quickly after new snow. But you may have to break trail between the single tracks and the dune itself.