Caines Head Kayak and Hike with Sunny Cove
There are so many different activities to do on Resurrection Bay! Since we had a great overview of the area from our fishing excursion, I wanted us to have the chance to have a more up close and interactive experiences with the landscape. There are a few companies in Seward and we chose Sunny Cove for a few reasons, including a wide variety of trip options. We wanted something a bit more than a three hour kayak so we selected the Caines Head Kayak and Hike Adventure – their most “active” trip. The day includes pushing off at Lowell Point State Recreation Area and kayaking to Caines Head State Recreation Area followed by a hike to the top at Fort McGilvray. All totaled, we expected ten kayak miles and five hiking miles. Let’s go!
We arrived early for our 9AM to a large group of people… how were we already late? After a few minutes, we figured out that these were two other groups going out on different tours – phew! Our guide (and new friend!) Emma introduced herself and it became evident that Kevin and I were the only ones booked for the Caines Head tour. Does that mean we were the crazy ones?! Was this “too active”? Regardless, we were pretty excited to have an unexpected private tour!
I felt lucky that we had a legit kayaking experience in Maine as it prepared us for this kayaking trip as well – we knew how to attach the wet skirts for starters and Kevin was familiar with the rudder and steering functions in the back seat. We were fitted with boots, life vests, oars, and a dry bag. After the safety briefing, we were off!
The water in the bay was so still and the wind was to our back so we did not have too much difficulty getting our kayak stride going. The views were just so fantastic and with the sun shining bright, we could not have asked for a better weather day.
Let’s talk about wildlife we observed and learned about.
- Sea otters – the most OMG cute animals in Alaska! They often look like driftwood in the water so they can be hard to spot but once you see a few it gets easier Originally hunted for the fur as they have the thickest of any mammal – one million hairs per square inch with no layer of blubber. They can live exclusively on the water and they use their chest, rocks or bite to break open shelled food. And speaking of a bite, they are one of the strongest so while they look cuddly, they will hurt you. Another thing to add to the cuteness – their babies live on their chest until six months, they form groups called rafts and can hold hands. These guys are awesome.
- Sea lions and harbor seals – we certainly had our fill of these guys on our trip to Galapagos but they are so fun to watch dance curiously in the water.
- Sea birds – of all sorts but mostly gulls and ducks diving down for food. The puffins do not come in to the bay but are out in the ocean.
- Bald eagles – once you know how to spot them, they start showing up everywhere! They sit at the very tops of trees so as Emma put it, look for golf balls. While we saw a number of them in flight, we found many chilling on the tops of trees. We did not get to see any eagle hunting action but the first one we spotted did sing their call which is a high pitched whistling.
- Salmon – while we could not catch any fishing earlier in the trip, there were plenty leaping out of the water… to get sea lice off of them. Very attractive, salmon! We also got a close up view later in the day of them swimming upstream. There are five types of salmon and each has the ability to be born in freshwater, live in sea water, and return to fresh water to mate and ultimately die – circle of life!
After several miles of kayaking, we made it to an abandoned military fort build for World War II. I did not expect WWII to come up so much in the trip but apparently it has a ton of history in Alaska. In fact, Japanese forces actually occupied two of the Aleutian Islands (the string of islands on the left side of the state) for over a year. This could have been a springboard for more confrontation so there were many military resources allocated to Alaska, some of which expanded access to some of the cities today. Here at Caines Head, an extensive military base can be found, starting the the water at what was once a dock.
Our journey uphill was an exciting one. Foraging is a big deal in Alaska and Emma was able to show us all the berries and mushrooms – made the journey more of a game. We also found our first traces of bear… scat! Kevin was pretty terrified of a bear encounter but Emma was equipped with bear spray. No worry though, the scat was the only bear action we had.
Throughout the 2.5 mile hike to the top, there are well hidden forts throughout the area hidden under brush. The highest point is where Fort McGilvray is located and it is an extensive space you can wander through – but bring a flash light.
When you emerge from the other side of the fort (thanks to Emma for the navigation) there are two enormous cannon batteries that once held long range artillery. It really is amazing the shell that is left here, and still owned by the military while the state keeps it preserved. It is hard to imagine this beautiful bay full of large military vessels and active bases. And at the top, the most beautiful view of the bay without a cloud obstructing it was before us. This was lunch with a view!
A picnic table at the top awaited us for a well earned boxed lunch with sandwiches and snacks – such a treat. We stayed here for awhile, learning about the different locations Emma has guided in – many of which overlapped with our travels including New Zealand, Bar Harbor, and (hopefully one day) Maui. She is also a board game fan so we had a great time exchanging our favorites – it is always such a bonus on these excursions to meet new people that have a lot in common!
Downhill for the second half of the hike was a breeze as we hopped back into the boats for the journey to Seward. The waves were a bit more choppy which made it a bit more… let us say engaging of a ride to navigate. The wind was at our back again but we had to be patient with the waves as the last thing we wanted was the flip.
While it felt like a longer journey, we made it back in record time so Emma suggested another stop before ending our day together at Tonsina Point. We walked to the river to see a little salmon run action and it did not disappoint! We saw so many salmon driven to make their way upstream to mate. This urge is so strong that it overtakes all other desires to survive as the fish die in the rivers. This process serves as a vital part of Alaska’s ecosystem, feeding pretty much every animal above salmon in the food chain and nutrients that nourish the soil as the salmon decompose.
A short paddle later we made our way back to where we started. I think we can certainly classify this as an “active” trip and it was amazing! We were able to get close up views of the wildlife, learn so much about this area, and have an incredible day. This is another great way to see Resurrection Bay as an alternative or supplement to a traditional boat tour or fishing tour. And certainly the most friendly option to those prone to sea sickness. Thank you Emma and Sunny Cove!