Featured, Outdoors

How To: Seward’s Public Use Cabins

The Derby Cove Cabin, tucked into the rainforest just 200 yards from Resurrection Bay, is accessible by hiking or boating. Photo: Kelley Lane.
by Kelley Lane for Seward City News-

One of the many things that I love about Seward is our abundance of public use cabins. These are cabins that are publicly owned and provide a warm and dry place to stay while out exploring our public lands. They are rentable through the reserveamerica.com website for a fee of $70 per night, plus a processing fee of $8. Resurrection Bay is home to four of these cabins. There are two on the east side of the bay, tucked into Thumb Cove State Marine Park: Porcupine Glacier and Spruce Glacier cabins. On the west side of the bay there are two more that are both located within Caines Head State Recreation Area: Callisto Canyon and Derby Cove. All four of these cabins can be reserved up to seven months ahead of time, meaning that now is a perfect time to book spring travel out to these gems. Seward has one more public use cabin in close proximity: the Dale Clemens Cabin, often called the Lost Lake Cabin. It’s reservable through the recreation.gov website, up to six months ahead of time. The price on this cabin varies with the season, from $50-$75, plus a $10 online booking fee. 

The Dale Clemens/Lost Lake Cabin is accessed by a hiking/biking trail from the road system. The public use cabins in Caines Head State Recreation Area can be accessed by hiking or by boat. The Porcupine Glacier and Spruce Glacier cabins are only accessible by boat. If you do not have your own watercraft, the local water taxi services are extremely familiar with these cabins. 

Callisto Canyon and Derby Cove public use cabins are accessible by walking out to Tonsina, then continuing on the beach “trail,” which is only accessible when the tide is below 2.5-3.0 feet. It’s important to carefully check the tide book, because there are many places that require a very low tide to pass by safely, or at all. The coastline of Resurrection Bay is rough, with gorgeous patches of rocky beach in between towering cliffs. The hike out to these cabins is about 4.5 miles: 1.5 miles on a trail out to Tonsina, and then another 3 miles of beach walking. If you arrive by boat, the cabins are quite a short walk from the beach.

The closer cabin to Seward is Callisto Canyon. It’s tucked back into the lush coastal vegetation, with an outhouse within easy walking distance, and a clear stream which provides a source of drinking water. Derby Cove Cabin necessitates another ¼ mile of walking along the beach, and is separated from Callisto Canyon by one more rocky protrusion that requires a low tide to get around. Both of these cabins are constructed of wood, with lofted ceilings and wood stoves inside of them. The general policy for firewood is to bring your own, or plan to gather dead and down wood on site. The cabins should have tools, such as a splitting maul and saw. However, it’s usually a good idea to bring your own if you have them, as the tools provided don’t get regular maintenance.

On our last trip, we paddled out with wood strapped to the bow and stern of our kayak because we wanted to make sure that we’d have plenty of dry wood with which to stay warm. Inside the cabins, you’ll find two sets of double-size bunk beds with plywood platforms, but no mattresses. There is also a solid wood table inside of each cabin, and a long counter/shelf along one wall, which provides an excellent place to store food. 

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The Dale Clemens/Lost Lake Cabin is located just a few miles hike in from the Lost Lake Trailhead. To reach the trailhead, turn off of the Seward Highway at mile 5, onto Scott Way, and follow the curvy roads up to the trailhead parking area. There are two trails to reach the cabin and which one you hike depends on the season and snow levels. According to the Recreation.gov website “the cabin can be accessed via either a nearly 5-mile moderate trek during the summer months, or a 2.5 mile steep climb from the Lost Lake Trailhead in the winter.” The cabin is perched on a ridge overlooking the town of Seward, which provides a stunning view when conditions are clear. I’ve heard Sewardites talk of watching the northern lights from the Lost Lake cabin, and of using it as a base for enjoying cross-country skiing and ice-skating. The cabin comes with the luxury of a propane heater, which certainly gives yet another reason why the cabin is booked so many nights of the year.

The Alpine Trail accesses this alpine wonderland. The trail begins near the Derby Cove Cabin. Photo: Kelley Lane.

If you love the water, and want to reach a cabin that doesn’t have trail access, the east side of Resurrection Bay provides two gorgeous opportunities to fulfill your wish. Porcupine and Spruce Glacier cabins are nestled into Thumb Cove, and like the cabins on the other side of the bay, they are separated from one another to provide ample privacy and solitude for their occupants. We were fortunate to stay at the Porcupine Glacier Cabin this past summer. The late August weather was not conducive to being outside, with drenching rain pounding from the skies and ocean swells coming into the bay, a rare occurrence. We had hoped to paddle out in our tandem kayak, but three of us opted instead to call Bixler McClure, of Seward Ocean Excursions, in hopes that he would be willing to water taxi us out to Thumb Cove. At the time, my right foot was still healing from a fifth metatarsal surgery and still had pins sticking out from the toe box area. McClure took the challenge, ferrying the three of us and our gear out to Thumb Cove, and helping us safely get ashore. The fourth person in our party chose to kayak out even with the ocean swells and pounding rain, proving his mettle as a kayaker. He was there to greet us when we arrived, a beaming smile and salt spray on his face.

We spent the night delighting in the beauty of being in the rainforest, and enjoyed board games and a warm fire, plus food cooked atop the wood stove. I was amazed at how evenly it heated the food and made it taste extra delicious. It made me long for my very own wood stove to cook atop back at home. The cabin was cozy and tidy, thanks to the “leave it better than you found it” mentality practiced by so many people who make use of our public resources.

In Seward, we are fortunate to have a plentitude of public land right at our doorstep. Many of us can walk right out of our houses and soon be on amazing trails. I find that booking a cabin helps me make use of these treasures, because with a cabin reserved, I know that I can stay dry and warm, even when it’s raining. A cabin also provides safe food storage in the habitat of bears and a comfortable table to gather around to share food and games with friends. All five of these public use cabins are available year round, and give us a cozy way to be out in the glory of where we live.

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