Thundering falls beckon those to Tutka Bay

By Mackenzie Callis
Homer Tribune

HOMER TRIBUNE/ Mackenzie Callis - A view of the canyon  from the precarious edge of Tutka Lake Trail reveals the energetic and - cacophonous - cataracts that make this hike worth while.

HOMER TRIBUNE/ Mackenzie Callis - A view of the canyon from the precarious edge of Tutka Lake Trail reveals the energetic and - cacophonous - cataracts that make this hike worth while.

Though one of the less-traveled trails in Kachemak Bay State Park, Tutka Lake Trail holds some stunning visual rewards for even the most casual day-tripper. Lovely views of the forest-ringed namesake mountain lake accompany a trek through moss-laden wonderland. Further along, dramatic waterfalls adorn the final route to trail’s end near the head of one truly impressive waterfall.
Nearby accommodations at the Sea Star Cove public-use cabin and the Nomad Shelters yurt, along with a tent platform and generous beach space, make for the perfect base camp for hiking, kayaking, beachcombing, clamming, fishing and general Bay exploration.
The official trailhead is located a little less than a mile past the entrance to Tutka Bay Lagoon, but two other access points, one at the Sea Star Cabin and another by way of the Hatchery Spur Trail, also connect with the main trail. The trail is 2.9 miles long, and is designated as being of “moderate” difficulty. It can take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours to hike round-trip, but many of this trail’s secrets and treasures are not reserved exclusively for those who complete the trek in its entirety.
To do so, however, is well worth the journey.
HOMER TRIBUNE/Mackenzie Callis - Rick Callis playfully displays his love of boating

HOMER TRIBUNE/Mackenzie Callis - Rick Callis playfully displays his love of boating

After an initial 20-minute hike along a path profuse with blueberry bushes, Tutka Lake and the still-snow-capped mountains behind present themselves. Though desolate and holding onto winter for now, the waters should be resplendent with lily pads by August. The trail meanders westward along the northern edge of the lake. Visible wildlife is scarce on this trip, but loons call from time to time and bear scat is abundant. One predator — the mosquito — is conspicuously (though fortuitously) absent on this particular overcast day.
A little more than a mile in, the trail departs toward a canyon; its diminished foot traffic is made apparent by the wild’s gentle reclamation of the path. The compelling roar from the canyon soon becomes audible, encouraging forward progress until a dramatic ribbon waterfall peers through the underbrush. The trail ascends into a strange, gray, almost otherworldly section of the forest, seemingly weeks retarded in growth. There is little foliage, and skeletal spruce trees dominate — draped heavily, almost overwhelmingly, with moss.
Soon the distant, but powerful rumble of a much greater waterfall reverberates deep in the chest, and the renewed desire to behold the source of the thunder quickens the pace. Eventually, cascading falls come into view as the trail skirts the edge of the gorge. The topography of the land doesn’t exactly allow for flawless views of the falls, but with a little exploration — before the devil’s club becomes prohibitively prolific — reasonable vantages can be found. Overhanging ground-cover vegetation, which can mask dangerous drop-offs, makes for cautious navigation around sheer canyon walls. The most viscerally moving location to view the falls is just before they explode through the bottlenecked canyon walls. To stand so close above the falls is to most thoroughly feel its power.
As of June 5, the trail condition was officially reported as “not cleared,” but it was generally passable despite some heavy erosion and winter windfall. With the exception of one slightly deeper tributary near the very end of the trail, all other streams are easily traversable in hiking boots.
HOMER TRIBUNE/Mackenzie Callis - Epiphytic moss and lichen drape spruce trees in elegant natural designs

HOMER TRIBUNE/Mackenzie Callis - Epiphytic moss and lichen drape spruce trees in elegant natural designs

The map-indicated mooring buoy off the Sea Star Cabin beach was not evident during this trip. Currently, visitors must either be dropped off or have the ability to anchor their craft offshore. For alternative trail access, one could use the running line located near the stairs on the south side of the entrance to the Tutka Bay Lagoon and hike the Hatchery Spur Trail for about half a mile until it connects to the Tutka Lake Trail at the western end of the lake. This access should be used with caution, however, as entrance into the lagoon is perilously tidal-dependent.

“A Recreational Guide to Kachemak Bay State Park and Wilderness Park: Insights into Hiking, Camping, Kayaking, and More,” by Joshua Duffus, proved an invaluable resource for my Bay adventures. I am indebted to him and the Alaska State Parks for much of this information.

Sea Star Cove Public Use Cabin is operated and maintained by Alaska State Parks. This cabin is located about 0.4 miles further down the beach from the trailhead. The 16’x16’ cabin sleeps six and can be rented at $65/night peak and $50/night off-peak up to and including seven consecutive nights. It offers a wood stove, a table and benches, a nearby latrine (no toilet paper provided), a fire pit with comfortable seats, and a stream providing clean water if treated properly. Reservations can be made online at alskastateparks.org, but much of the summer has already been filled.

Nomad Shelters, Inc., operates a 16’ yurt near the trailhead. The cabin is maintained once a week, weather permitting, and sleeps three comfortably. There is floor space for a few more cots. Some firewood is provided, as is a fire extinguisher, toilet paper (usually), a chair and small table, and a pot-bellied wood stove; a clean, albeit doorless, red latrine is located just a few yards from the yurt. Their website, alaskanyurtrentals.com, provides a map of yurt locations and an availability calendar featuring yurts all over Kachemak Bay State Park, and the Homer and Kenai areas. Yurts are put up for sale at a reduced price at the end of the season.

Contact the writer
Posted by on Jun 23rd, 2010 and filed under Outdoors. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

1 Response for “Thundering falls beckon those to Tutka Bay”

  1. Kathie Braun says:

    Very much enjoyed the article. The author’s choice of words paints a brilliant picture and makes me miss that area of our country.

Comments are closed

Like us on Facebook