Outer Point area provides a variety of good trails

Posted: Sunday, February 23, 2003

Most of us think of Outer Point Natural Area Park as it relates to either the old boardwalk loop trail or the new Rainforest Trail. These trails lead to only a portion of this really exciting area that has been designated as a natural area park.

As you travel out North Douglas Highway, the park begins on the water side of the highway at the boat ramp and includes Picnic Cove and False Outer Point and continues along the beachfront to Outer Point and along the right side of the highway a short ways past the Outer Point Trailhead.

It should be noted that there are private property inholdings on both sides of Peterson Creek and one private lot on the peninsula leading out to Outer Point. The lot on the peninsula is included in the Juneau Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan as one to be considered for acquisition as it is surrounded by parkland and is in a highly used recreation area.

The Outer Point Trailhead is 0.7 of a mile from the end of North Douglas Highway. This was the very first of more than 30 beach access trails located and improved by Taku Conservation Society volunteers, aided by a very limited amount of city funding for materials and to hire two high school boys to help cut bushes and lay planks.

The goal for this first trail and many of the others was to provide school children access to wonderful beaches during their spring Seaweek field trips. Later the city, SAGA and tour company employees extended and improved the trail to make a loop that was used for commercial tours. These tours now use the new Rainforest Trail.

About 50 feet down the trail, one fork of the loop turns to the right while the other continues straight ahead. Straight ahead leads through old-growth forest with beautiful huge Sitka spruce and western hemlock trees. It then continues along an old beaver dam with pond lilies, skunk cabbage and other pond-type vegetation. Beyond this is a pine-tree muskeg. A short set of stairs leads to the beach near the mouth of Peterson Creek.

The beach here, best appreciated during a minus tide, is rich with intertidal sea life including sea stars of many colors, snails, limpets, chitons, urchins, anemones and clams. Gathering clams to eat here or on any of the Juneau beaches can be risky. The toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning could be present in the clams at all times of the year.

For a very short period of time during a minus tide, it is possible to walk out to Shaman Island. Walking to the island is not recommended, as it is too easy to get caught out there when the tidewater comes in and not all tides get low enough to clear the spit. You could be out there for days!

To walk all the way to Outer Point it is necessary to wade Peterson Creek at low tide. Then either continue along the beach or find the trail that begins just inside the woods about 500 feet beyond Peterson Creek. The view of the Chilkat Mountains, Stephens Passage, Favorite Channel and Admiralty Island is great from Outer Point. This is a good area for birding and intertidal exploring during low tide. Be sure to check the tides beforehand in planning your return hike, as it is a long walk up the creek to find a place to wade when the tidewater is in.

Now back to the original loop trail leading from North Douglas Road. When you first come to the beach after the stairs, turn right or north for approximately 500 feet where the trail goes back into the woods and then over a low ridge. The trail then splits, continuing north but giving you the choice of going along the upper beach for several hundred feet or staying in the woods through some huge old spruce trees. When you come to the planked walk, you can either go back to the original trailhead to the right or hike straight ahead on the Bluff Trail to Outer Point. This trail climbs to some really exciting views from high cliffs with several places to walk down to the beach. At low tide it also is possible to walk along the beach from the mouth of Peterson Creek to False Outer Point.

The Rainforest Trail, at about mile 12 North Douglas Highway, was constructed a couple of years ago by the city and Trail Mix crews using proceeds from passenger fees. This is the greatest trail for those of us who have a little trouble negotiating slick planks, mud holes and roots. And the little kids love it. It is almost like paving, but done with a variety of rocks and sand-like material that has hardened to make a smooth surface. During the summer it is heavily used for guided tours but is also open to the public. This loop trail leads through beautiful old-growth forest, along a skunk cabbage rich waterway and to the Outer Point beaches.

Picnic Cove/False Outer Point is a great area for a wide range of recreation opportunities. If you know how and can scramble out the rocks to the point in the spring, you might be able to catch a monstrous king salmon and who knows what else. Picnic Cove is protected from all but north winds making it a great place for a picnic any time of the year. If you hike straight over the peninsula, there are great small beaches on the other side.

The 1-mile Bluff Trail to Outer Point is a little hard to find from this direction but if you keep looking you can find it. Hike up on the ridge just beyond Picnic Cove. Then look for the trail as it angles to the south or left over the ridge and continues along close to the top of the bluffs. It is also possible to walk to Outer Point along the beach at low tide.

Mary Lou King is a local trails book author. On the Trails is provided by Trail Mix, a nonprofit trails maintenance and construction group on the Web at www.juneautrails.org/.

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