Outer Point Trail - with its magnificent old-growth forest, old beaver pond, diverse muskeg and wildlife-rich beaches - is a favorite trail for many Juneau hikers. Nearby, the new Rainforest Trail makes a breathtaking passage through magnificent trees before reaching the beach.
The Outer Point trailhead, 12.4 Mile North Douglas Highway, is seven-tenths of a mile from the end of the road. The new Rainforest Trailhead is about half way between Outer Point Trailhead and the parking lot for the False Outer Point/Picnic Cove Trail, 11.5 Mile North Douglas Highway.
Outer Point Trail has an interesting history. Old trails to and along the beaches probably were used first by animals. People used the beaches and streams for food and wood gathering. After the North Douglas Highway was extended, folks began to follow unmarked routes to the beach or to the old beaver pond for environmental studies.
In the mid 1960s, the Seaweek Program in Auke Bay Elementary School, with field trips to rich intertidal beaches, was expanded to all the public grade schools. This brought to light the need for more recognized public beach access as close as possible to schools.
Because Outer Point was the closest natural beach to downtown and Douglas schools, Taku Conservation Society requested permission from the Forest Service, the upland owner of the land until it was selected later by the city, to identify and improve a route to the Outer Point beaches. District Ranger Ken Mitchell went with members of Taku and identified a route. Volunteers brushed the trail.
Increased use caused the trail across the muskeg to become bottomless. Once again volunteers from Taku went to work, acquired planks and installed them across the wet places. This was the first of the many beach access trails to be identified and then improved by members of Taku Conservation Society. For a few years the city provided a small amount of grant money to buy materials and pay a couple of high school students to clear brush, cut deadfalls, lay planks and do other jobs for this trail and about 30 other beach access trails.
About 50 feet down the Outer Point Trail, one fork of the loop turns to the right the other continues straight ahead. Following the planks straight ahead leads through old-growth forest with beautiful giant 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 shore pine muskeg. A short set of stairs leads to the beach near the mouth of Peterson Creek.
The beach, during a minus tide, is rich with intertidal sea life including sea stars of many colors, snails, limpets, chitons, urchins, anemones and clams. Low tide beaches are a very fragile ecosystem and care should be taken to not destroy either plants or animals. Gathering clams to eat here or from 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.
Shaman Island is just out from the beach. Records say Lt. Cmdr. Henry B. Mansfield named the island. He was on the Coast Survey steamer Patterson in 1890. There is no explanation of why he chose that name.
Outer Point is across Peterson Creek and then to the right. It is only possible to wade the creek near or on the beach at low tide. Be sure to check the tides when planning your return hike, as it is a long walk up the creek to find a place to wade when the tidewater is in. Private property lines both sides of the creek.
In an effort to ease conflict between commercial and noncommercial users in this wonderful area, the new Rainforest Trail was built last summer.
Trail Mix crews made the new 1.2-mile turnpike path using cruise ship passenger fee money. Turnpike is a trail-building technique used to create a hardened trail surface above wet ground. After clearing and flattening a route, retainer logs are placed end to end along both sides of the trail, nailed together and cross-braced. Geotextile fabric is then placed between the retainers and under the bracing to prevent mud from mixing with the fill and working its way to the trail surface. Next, the trough is filled with rock to create a solid base and then capped and crowned with a finer material to create a smooth, hardened surface. By the time the logs rot away, vegetation and debris will have built up along the edges of the trail creating a natural barrier to retain the fill, leaving behind a subtle, solid pathway through a relatively wet area. Turnpike is a long-lasting, low-maintenance trail style.
With no steps or slippery boardwalk to worry about, hikers can enjoy the surrounding scenery instead of concentrating on not falling off of the new Rainforest Trail. Though it was built for commercial use, noncommercial users are welcome to enjoy this new loop trail. If you'd like to avoid the guided tours on your walk, commercial use has been eliminated from the old boardwalk trail. The new trailhead begins at a parking lot between the False Outer Point and Outer Point trailheads.
Mary Lou King is a Juneau trail guide author. On the Trails is written by members of Trail Mix, a local nonprofit trails organization.