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.
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.