Tonsina Cabin Near Seward a Perfect Place

The new Tonsina Cabin in Caines Head State Recreation Area is situated near the beach but still provides solitude for guests. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

*This story originally appeared in the Anchorage Daily News on Tuesday, May 15, 2018.* 

UPDATE: After publication on Tuesday morning, reservations went live on the DNR website, and the cabin is booked every weekend through October. Try Sunday nights, Thursday nights, or Monday nights if you want to bookend a weekend adventure near Seward. ~EK 

Wind and waves were both high as our small boat bounced its way around Resurrection Bay, slowing whenever the water tossed a salty shower of spray over the bow, which was often.

It wasn’t a particularly good day to be on the water; in fact, it felt like the best place to be was back home in my jammies, snuggled under a down quilt. But here we were, headed toward Tonsina Point and the newest addition to an ever-growing collection of Alaska State Parks public-use cabins.

We were supposed to arrive the day before, but the same wind and rain that caused huge swells in Resurrection Bay also led to a rock slide on the road leading to Lowell Point and ultimately the trail to the cabin. We were forced to regroup overnight at a local hotel and make a second attempt the next afternoon.

 A water taxi took us and our gear the five miles between Seward’s small boat harbor and Tonsina. We hopped off the boat’s bow around 4 p.m., tossed dry bags and backpacks to the pebbly black sand, and waved to the captain. We were here, finally, and the little cabin seemed to welcome us with a gleam only something brand-new can provide.

Located upon a small rise near the beach, the Tonsina cabin sleeps six comfortably in two double and two single bunks, simple structures that always remind me of summer camp.

A Nordic stove provides heat (guests provide the kerosene or diesel fuel) and there’s plenty of space at the broad wooden table for cooking, eating or playing a game of cards on stormy days.

It was the view and the beach, though, that captured most of our attention, rain or no rain.

Perfectly positioned to capture the fishing and tour boats cruising up and down Resurrection Bay, the cabin is secluded enough that few know it’s even there, a decision not made lightly, said Caines Head State Recreation Area ranger Jack Ransom.

“I picked this location because the cabin-goer can always gain access no matter what the tides are doing,” he told me. “We built the foundation as close to the water as possible, while trying to conceal it so the renter could have that (hidden) experience.”

Can they ever. In between rain squalls that pounded drops upon the cabin’s metal roof, we hiked the enormous swath of beach, poked around the trail leading back to Lowell Point, and skipped rock after rock into the bay.

Tension from the previous hours melted away as we fired up our ancient campstove and drank hot chocolate from the front deck near the bay, watching, as the old song goes, the tide roll away.

Tonsina Cabin is both close enough and far enough to make it a perfect destination for families wanting a quick getaway or an introduction to backcountry Alaska. Only two miles from Lowell Point trailhead, “It can be hiked to on a whim,” Ransom said.

And it doesn’t require close attention to tidal shifts, something visitors to all other sections of Caines Head Recreation Area must do rather than risk being stuck farther along the remaining miles of beach trail.

Funded by dollars secured from the Federal Highways Administration (FHA) via recommendation from Alaska’s Outdoor Recreation Trails Advisory Board, the cabin’s creation rapidly took shape once materials and labor were secured.

“Students from AVTEC Construction Technology program built the cabin from a kit shipped to Seward,” Ransom said. “Fifteen students hauled each piece of lumber and hardware from Lowell Point to the current location.”

The result of all of that sweat equity was a solid, 256 square-foot structure that is part of an 80-cabin network within the Alaska State Park system. It’s one of 10 cabins that were either constructed or refurbished in order to meet demand, according to Ethan Tyler, director of Alaska State Parks and Outdoor Recreation.

With summer hopefully right around the corner, there’s already a rush to secure a night or two at popular cabins around the state, and Tonsina Point no doubt will join the list as a must-see destination.

If you go

Location: Two miles from Lowell Point along the Caines Head State Recreation Area trail in Seward. Visitors can hike the upland section or secure a water taxi.  Don’t forget your park pass — $5 a day or $50 annually.

Check out the Seward Chamber of Commerce website for a complete listing of water taxis. Some companies offer sightseeing opportunities on the way to or from the cabin.

Reservations: The cabin should be listed on the Department of Natural Resources website within the next week or two, says Ethan Tyler. Nightly rates are $90. Try weeknights for greatest availability.

What to bring: The cabin is spartan, so guests should approach an overnight trip as they would any camping adventure. Bring sleeping bags, pads, all cooking gear and fuel, and plenty of food and water (there are few options for fresh water, and everything must be filtered). Heat is provided through a Nordic stove that puts out plenty of warmth, and we found three gallons of diesel fuel was adequate for one day and one night. Bring bear spray and be confident in your ability to use it; we saw black bear scat along the trail in several spots.

What to do: Ranger Jack Ransom says fishing for coho or sockeye salmon can be excellent in the area. The beach is wide, flat and full of interesting rocks, sticks and tree stumps to climb. Hiking farther down the beach to North Beach or Fort McGilvray at low tide is a fun way to explore the WWII history of Resurrection Bay. In the evening, build a campfire in the fire pit and roast marshmallows while watching for whales, seals or sea otters in the nearby cove.

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