The six mile trek around Kachemak Bay State Park was the most ambitious hike of my Alaska trip. But, it wasn’t as nearly as strenuous as I thought it would be, thanks to the trail being almost completely flat except for the last mile.
You can do a slightly shorter hike by only hiking to Grewingk Glacier Lake and then coming back to where you started. We decided to continue on the Saddle Trail after Glacier Lake to a different endpoint. If you’re up for it, I do recommend the full six-mile route because it’s beautiful and the Saddle Trail is entirely different than the first part of the hike.
The whole 6.1-mile hike, plus an extended lunch break, took Billy and me three and a half hours. The most intimidating part of the hike was its location, not the trail itself, since like I said it’s surprisingly flat.
The nerve-wracking part is getting dropped off on a beach by a water taxi and then just saying “see you later at a different spot!” while you hike through a park with no civilization. That was the biggest leap out of my comfort zone, but I’m so glad I did it because the hike was a trip highlight!
How do I get there?
Via water taxi from the Homer Spit. This is the expensive part of the hike. Round trip, we paid about $70 in 2019 for both of us to get picked up and dropped off. That also includes the state park fee for the two of us. So while technically it’s not that expensive if you consider everything that’s included, I initially had sticker shock.
Taking a water taxi also seemed logistically intimidating, but it actually turned out to be really easy. The night before our hike, we drove over to Mako’s Water Taxi to book our tickets. The staff was super helpful and friendly.
You can kind of pick your pick-up and drop-off times, but they’re trying to make their trips across the bay as efficient as possible, so they may not be perfectly aligned to your schedule. We had to wait about 30 minutes at the end of our hike before we got picked up, but we just relaxed on the beach, watched sea otters play, and snacked. It was actually quite delightful.
The water taxi dropped us off at the beach for the Glacier Lake trailhead and picked us up at the Saddle Trail trailhead in Halibut Cove. This is a pretty common route, and recommended because it’s steep getting up/down from the Saddle Trail trailhead and most people (including me) would rather walk down it than slog up it.
Where do I go?
Once you get dropped off on the beach, you just walk until you see the bright orange triangles denoting the beginning of the trail. This was the first time I got a little anxious about there not being a highly-structured way of doing things. I kept thinking, “But what if we miss the sign? Why don’t they just drop you off right at the sign? How do I know if it’s the right sign?!” etc etc. Right around the time I was worried we had gone too far and missed it, we saw the (very obvious) sign to start the trail.
The entire trail was very straight-forward and surprisingly well marked considering how remote it is. There’s one option from the beach, and every junction had a sign telling you which way to go.
Everyone’s attitude about the outdoors in Alaska is fairly informal. The hike is “about” this many miles, just look for the orange triangle, you get picked up and dropped off on a random beach, don’t worry! This initially made me really nervous because I like to have ALL THE EXACT INFORMATION when I’m doing something out of my comfort zone. But it really did all work out easily and my anxiety was (shocker!) unfounded.
What is the trail like?
The first part of the Glacier Lake Trail starts in the forest on nice, wide dirt trails. Then it turns to a pebble/rocky trail and opens up for most of your walk to the lake. Had it been sunny, this would’ve been very hot. Mostly, it just got a little monotonous until we got to Grewingk Glacier (which was well worth it).
The glacier lake is super cool, with a bunch of little icebergs and obviously the glacier to ogle at over lunch. The glacier is at the opposite end of the lake from you, so you’re not super close, but it’s still very beautiful. The beach itself is rocky, so be careful if it starts raining because it will get slippery.
Once you get on the Saddle Trail, the scenery changes pretty quickly back into the enchanted forest-type experience you had at the beginning. The trail gets a little more narrow and there are more roots sticking up, so just make sure to pay attention.
The descent down to the beach on the Saddle Trail is steep, and I was really glad to have hiking poles for this section. It wasn’t rocky or otherwise technical, but the poles helped me feel like I could control my momentum a little better. There is a short flight of stairs at the end of the descent, which are very steep and made me a little vertigo-ey for a second, but again, the poles helped here. Plus, it was only a few dozen stairs. The picture in the water taxi office made it look WAY worse.
What should I wear and bring?
We had a cloudy start that turned into a beautiful, clear day with temperatures in the lower 50s in late May. I run cold, so I wore a long-sleeve shirt, hoodie, and windbreaker with long pants.
I ended up getting VERY hot on the Saddle Trail, since the sun came out and we did have to walk uphill for a little while. But if I had dressed any lighter, I would have been freezing sitting at the glacier lake for lunch. As with every hike in Alaska, dress in layers! And as usual, I wore hiking boots and was glad to have them; Billy wore trail runners and was happy in those. It’s personal preference since it wasn’t very wet.
Bring a meal with you to eat at the glacier and plenty of water to keep you hydrated throughout the day. My go-to combination is a PB+J, apple, and beef jerky. Also, don’t forget your bear spray. Our AirBnb host had some we could borrow – that’s the most convenient option if available since you likely won’t use it and you can’t bring it back on the plane. You’re kind of on your own out there (see the next section) so make sure to bring a first aid kit, too.
Binoculars came in super handy for our entire trip to Alaska, and I was really glad to have them with us again on this trail. We saw a bear (more on that later) and were able to enjoy the sea otters in Halibut Cove thanks to our binos – without them, we wouldn’t have seen any otters and the bear would’ve just been a black blob.
Is it crowded?
In May, it was laughably uncrowded. This was the other beginner-scary part of the hike. There’s a trail log at the trailhead that you fill out in case of emergency, so you know exactly how many people are out there with you.
The day we got dropped off, there was me, Billy, and another guy hiking around. That was it. It was at first kind of unsettling that there was legitimately NO ONE else out there, not even a park ranger. But I knew we had all the supplies we needed and that the water taxi company obviously wouldn’t be in business if they regularly left people stranded at the state park, so I eventually started to enjoy it and not feel so nervous.
We were totally alone until we saw one other group of people once we got on the Saddle Trail who must have started on that side of the park. Then were by ourselves again until the water taxi picked us up. I was pleasantly surprised that I really got into the solitude and enjoyed it. The entire day was definitely out of my comfort zone, but felt like a great step forward for calming my nerves and feeling more comfortable in the outdoors. (Going to Yellowstone first and working through a lot of bear anxiety then may have helped me feel better on this trip)
Anything else I should know?
I know I buried the lede on this one, but we also saw a bear. When you arrive at the lake, there is a fairly long beach you can walk down and find a spot for lunch. Once we were done exploring and turned around, we saw a rather large blob that was (naturally) blocking the trail back.
After observing from a distance for a while (thank you binoculars!) we realized we didn’t want to get stuck on the beach or have the bear come toward us since there wasn’t a way for us to get out of the bear’s way in that scenario.
I had already been singing and shouting and making a ton of noise on the first part of our hike to help ease my anxiety about running into a bear. Billy and I reached an absurd new volume at this point, screeching at the top of our lungs as we walked back up the beach.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t keep an eye on the bear the entire time because of the curve of the beach. By the time we reached the spot we knew the bear had been, it was gone. I didn’t *want* to see the bear up close, but I would have liked to know just where it went.
We continued scream-singing and made our way back to the main trail, where we quieted down and didn’t see or hear the bear (or any other wildlife) again.
All of this is to say is that if you’re on a trail in Alaska and there’s not many people around, you might see a bear. But it’s going to be okay. They don’t really want to hang out with humans, and if you make a lot of noise, they’ll know you’re coming and won’t be surprised (which is where things typically go awry). Don’t let it stop you from getting out there!