Tony Knowles Coastal Trail at Westchester Lagoon

One of the things Alaska’s former governor Tony Knowles is best known for during his administration as Anchorage’s mayor was his dedication to improving the recreational activities of the city.  A great example is the bike path running along the western edge of town.   The trail is used year round – cross-country skiing in the winter and by walkers, bicyclists and roller bladers throughout the summer.

One end of the trail is located at Kincaid Park.  To begin at this end, follow the instructions to the Kincaid Recreation Center in the Kincaid adventure description.  There are several entry points to the trail in downtown Anchorage.  I like Westchester Lagoon because numerous bike paths meet here that can take an adventurer all over the city.  Head south on L Street and turn right on 12th Avenue and take a left on N Street.  Take a right on 15th Avenue.  Just before the road hooks to the right there will be a small park on the left called Margaret Egan Sullivan Park.  One can park in the small parking lot, along the side of the road or in the larger parking lot right after the hook in the road where 15th ends.   When you are in the parking lot, the bicycle trail goes back toward town and out to the coast.  For this adventure, head toward the west (the lagoon will be on your left side).  At the Y in the trail, go to the left and continue around the lagoon toward a radio tower and through a tunnel underneath a raised railroad bed.

The Margaret Egan Sullivan Park features a great place to picnic, with several picnic tables on the greenbelt along the lagoon.  There is also a small dock next to the small parking lot for launching a canoe, kayak or rubber raft.  In the winter, this dock provides a great place to put ice skates on to explore the frozen lake.  Lots and lots of waterfowl live in this area – a birders paradise!  There is also an area with exercise and stretching equipment, but most kids are able to adapt it quite well for playground use.  Be sure to wear bug repellant.  With all the water in this area, the coastal trail is prime habitat for mosquitoes.

The coastal trail runs about nine miles to the south where it ends at Kincaid Park.  The trail does not gain or lose much elevation, and most climbs or descents are quite easy.  The toughest climb is the last half mile up to the Kincaid Park Recreation Center.  This trail is quite popular and although no "Pacific Beach", it is still busy enough to require some caution.  The trail is very well maintained, but there are some rough patches here and there.  You will find people on the trail just walking and enjoying the scenery, power walking, riding a bicycle, roller blading, and even using  summer skis.  They are taking their babies out in strollers, walking their dog, or walking their spouse.  Please use courtesy while riding this trail by staying to the right and letting others know when you intend to pass.  Also, make sure not to be riding so fast that you cannot come to a full stop within 20 feet.  There are many blind turns, especially in wooded areas past Point Woronzov.  

There is also a danger of moose.  Coming between a moose and her young is the biggest mistake anybody can make, a virtual guarantee that one will be trampled.  If you see a moose, stop and assess the situation.  If it is grazing along the path, wait until it moves on. 

There may be areas along the trail that smell bad.  Sometimes the scent can be particularly bad just past Point Woronzov.  The city’s sewage is sent out into the inlet after it is treated, and the outlet is not far from the trail.  Given the level of the tide and the direction of the wind, there may be a time when holding your breath would be beneficial!

If you ride on a clear day you will have excellent opportunities to capture shots of Mt. Susitna (a.k.a. “Sleeping Lady”).  There are turnouts with park benches in many of the places where there will be a good view.   Many different varieties of wildflower grow along the trail, and there are long stretches where you will enjoy the peace of the forest canopy.  Also, look for a turnoff marked by large red arches into Earthquake Park.  This area has interesting information about the 1964 Good Friday earthquake that destroyed downtown Anchorage.  Built on a material geologists call “liquefaction”, downtown Anchorage will likely suffer much damage when the next big one hits.  Let’s hope we are not on the coastal trail when it does!  

One thing I appreciate about this trail is that it does not cross many roads.  As most of my bicycling injuries have been the result of direct contact with cars, I feel safer on this trail than anyplace else in Anchorage.  The trail crosses a road only twice, both at Point Woronzov, and the crossings are clearly marked (trail users are required to stop).  However, these roads do not see much traffic, so there is no waiting.

The trail runs right along the coast.  But instead of beaches, you will see mud flats.  Be very careful not to venture out onto the mud, not only here but anywhere in Alaska.  The tides are very high around Anchorage and the mud is a kind of quick-setting cement.  We have lost tourists who went our on the mud flats only to get stuck and drown when the tide returned.  Not all areas of the mud are so dangerous, but better to avoid it unless you have a guide who can show you safer areas.  One beach that is safe gravel and easily accessible is below the Point Woronzov parking lot.  Placer gold has been discovered on the beach.  The books we’ve read on mining the beach recommend panning over near the cement tower. Wait until high tide and begin panning at the water line, moving out toward the inlet as the water level descends.

The city is currently planning an extension of this trail to keep it going through the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge.  While it may not be ready anytime soon, we are looking forward to the opportunity to see even more of the beautiful coastline, which is currently inaccessible.

Riding the trail the 20 miles out to Kincaid and back, and stopping to take a picture or two here and there typically takes Claimjumper and I about two hours.  Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy!

If you would like to rent bicycles, Downtown Bicycle Rentals near the visitors center can set you up with bicycle, helmet, map and bike lock.  We have not rented from this company, but felt that it would be better to include them even though we have not tried their services.  They can be reached by calling 279-5293.  They are located very close to one of the beginning points of the coastal trail.  Follow the trail from where they start you off and you will connect at Westchester Lagoon. 

Last Visited: July 2000

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