Drive The Turnagain Arm Alaska
January 1, 1970
Scenic Drives Down Turnagain Arm
I live in Anchorage, Alaska USA and one of the scenic drives that I never get tired of is following Seward Highway along the Turnagain Arm. When I first heard “Turnagain Arm” I wondered what in the world that meant. How do you drive down a Turnagain Arm? So to explain, the arm is a little ocean inlet of the big Cook Inlet near Anchorage. When early explorers were exploring the area Captain Cook asked some of his crew to sail down the inlet to see if it connected to the other ocean. When they got to the end of the inlet it ended in a river so they had to turn around and head back. When they got back the Captain questioned them and sent another crew to verify. The crew named the inlet the Turnagain Arm because they had to go twice and turn around again twice when it ended.
While the first explorers might have felt frustrated having to sail down the Turnagain arm twice, I promise you won’t be put out in the least as you drive down this beautiful highway.
The drive down the Turnagain arm is said to be one of the most spectacular drives in North America. The Turnagain arm is about 40 to 45 miles long. The Seward Highway runs right along the ocean for the length of the Turnagain Arm. The awesome thing about this drive is that you are right next to the ocean the whole time. It is unlike any other coastline because there is not a single house or commercial property blocking your view as you drive down the Seward highway. It is you and the ocean. Not only the ocean but the mountains. Huge glacier-filled mountains with their sharp and pointed peaks surround the ocean and you on every side.
In the summer months, everything along the road is green. Green trees and shrubbery are everywhere. I especially love all the different shades of green you see on this drive. Dark green and light green, it is the most amazing display of the different hues and shades of green. And even though there is green everywhere the mountain tops are covered in snow. The contrast between the snowy mountain peaks and the display of green is beyond beautiful. There are several must stops along the highway. Below are the ones I recommend.
Potter’s Marsh is a little marshy section off the side of the road that is filled with brush, grasses, sedges and other water plants. In the water and flying above the marsh are all sorts of different birds. There are about 1,500 feet of boardwalk around the marsh. Every time I drive by I see all sorts of species of birds. If you want more than just a quick glance at the birds as you soar by in your car then stop and walk along the boardwalk. It is a beautiful little walk and it is fun to watch all the different birds interacting and fishing in the water. My favorites are the bald eagles perched high in the trees above the Marsh and the swans that are so graceful and peaceful as they float along in the water. Throughout the summer months, there are always bird watchers and photographers with huge lenses lining the boardwalk and snapping photos. Sometimes I think it is just as fun to watch the tourists as the birds.
McHugh Creek –
Pull off to the sign that says McHugh Creek and you don’t have to walk far to see a beautiful 20-foot waterfall. It is a quick stop but well worth the stop. I recently stopped here in the Fall and thought the mix of green and Fall leaves was about as pretty as it can get. You will want to take your bear spray and be bear aware as this area has frequent bear sightings. You will see these type of signs all over Alaska that helps you to know what to do if you see a bear. Don’t let that stop you from enjoying the beauty of Alaska. Travel in groups, make noise and have your bear spray handy.
Fresh Water Spring-
Over 20 years ago there was an underground natural spring that was putting lots of pressure on the rocks and soil around it, so engineers installed a pipe that would take the water from the spring to outside the rock wall. Now it is the perfect place to stop for a taste of fresh Alaskan water at its finest. There aren’t any chemicals in the water just pure spring water straight from the mountain. You will see people there all hours of the day filling up all sorts of containers with water. Everything from 5- gallon buckets to small water bottles.
Beluga Point –
Beluga point is a turn off with a small parking lot. There is an outcrop of rocks where you can walk out and see the ocean up close. This is the point where native Indians used to stand and spear Beluga whales. I always wondered how they did this until I saw Beluga whales for the first time. I was standing on the edge and was surprised to see how close the whales came to shore. They came really close chasing the salmon and there wasn’t just one but a group of them. So you would have to be really good with a spear but it definitely could be done.
When they are small Beluga whales are a light gray but as they get older they turn super white. Watching them is a spectacular experience. I am often asked the best time to see the Beluga whales. The best chance to see them is in late August or in early to mid-September. From my experience, I find that they come in about 3 hours before high tide as they chase the salmon. You can look for the tide schedule at http://www.tides.net/alaska/ and find a schedule for the tides in Anchorage and at various points along the Turnagain Arm.