Tony Knowles Coastal Trail: Anchorage, Alaska


From stunning views of Anchorage's skyline to the breathtaking expanse of Cook Inlet, with occasional glimpses of Beluga whales, bald eagles, moose, snowcapped Denali, and some of the world's largest tides, there's always something to see and experience along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.

Designated Area

The trail begins at the Alaska Railroad Station on 2nd Avenue and continues along Knik and Turnagain Arms of Cook Inlet to Kincaid Park.

The 11-mile Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is the gem of the Anchorage trail system. Photo courtesy Jody Overstreet.

Planning Excellence

Connecting more than 40 miles of trails and seven city parks, the trail brings year-around recreation to the doorstep of thousands of cyclists, runners, wheelchair users, skaters, and skiers. The trail, named after former Anchorage Mayor and Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles, also hosts the country's second-largest cross-country ski race — the Tour of Anchorage — as well as a range of other events throughout the year.

The genesis for the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, as well as coastal recreational access across the country, was the 1972 Federal Coastal Zone Management Act. Alaska legislators approved a statewide coastal zone management act in 1977, and a year later Anchorage approved an area-wide trails plan. By 1981, city voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 5 that included $6 million for the coastal trail's preliminary design and land acquisition.

Constructed in four phases between 1986 and 1988, the two-lane, 11-mile-long trail provides non-motorized access to all users. It was designated a National Recreation Trail in 1996. In 1999 the trail was awarded a Medallion Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects as part of its Centennial Celebration to recognize significant designs by landscape architects.

A feasibility study and preliminary plans were developed to extend the trail 13 to 16 miles south to Potter Marsh using mostly federal funds. Anchorage residents, however, were divided about the extension and in November 2005 the Anchorage Assembly directed staff to stop work on further studies and plans for the extension.

Because it is the city's most popular and heavily used trail, a watch program for the pathway was launched in 2003 and is staffed by citizen volunteers who patrol the route to ensure public safety. Funding for trail signs, lighting, maps, and maintenance is provided through local businesses and community partnerships. During 2011 and again this past summer, the trail underwent several miles of resurfacing and bridge repairs that will ensure decades more use and enjoyment.

The Coastal Trail is used year-round and is popular with cross-country skiers. Photo courtesy Jody Overstreet.

Defining Characteristics, Features

Planning History

  • "Alaska Coastal Zone Management Act" approved by Alaska State Legislature (1977); creates Alaska Coastal Policy Council manage all local coastal plans in state
  • "Anchorage Area-wide Trails Plan" (1978) connects neighborhoods and public facilities with coastal resources; identifies potential areas for trails, access points
  • "Anchorage District Coastal Management Plan" (1979) specifically mandates a program providing public access to coastal areas in the Anchorage Bowl
  • "Coastal Scenic Resources and Public Access Plan" (1980) is first comprehensive study of specific coastal areas for recreation and public access within greater Anchorage area
  • City retained Kramer, Chin & Mayo, Inc. (July 1982) to conduct a "Coastal Trail Route Study"
  • City Planning and Zoning Commission gave concept approval for the trail's preferred route between Ship Creek and Kincaid Park (February 7, 1983)
  • Kramer, Chin & Mayo completed trail master plan (1983)
  • Construction of $11.4 million trail began 1986, completed 1988

Community Support

  • Input solicited from affected neighborhoods through Anchorage Community Councils and used to refine trail route alternatives (1982)
  • Trail Watch program developed; volunteers identified with armbands (2003)
  • Volunteers have submit more than 400 reports through an online trail maintenance reporting system
  • Anchorage Responsible Beverage Retailers' Association helps with trail litter cleanup
  • Local branch of Covenant House staffs Trail Watch headquarters (since 2004); facilitates youth-at-risk job training in collaboration with city parks and recreation department, businesses
  • $1 million in park and recreation bonds approved for trail improvements (1998)
  • Gravel base installed to protect coast between Fish Creek and Lyn Ary Park (2001)
  • $2.75 million bond passed to improve city trails and parks (2012), including safety improvements and surface upgrades along trail

Features, Activities

  • Nine trailheads with parking located along trail
  • Trail connects with Elderberry Park in downtown Anchorage; quaint park with Oscar Anderson House Museum, one of Anchorage's oldest homes (1915)
  • Trail connects to Chester Creek Trail at Westchester Lagoon; one of state's most popular disc golf courses here; resident waterfowl including Canada geese, red-necked grebes
  • Trail access to Earthquake Park between mile 2.3 and 4.6; best location to view city skyline
  • Point Woronzof marks the shift from Knik Arm to Turnagain Arm; on clear days views possible of Mt. McKinley and Mt. Foraker, also Beluga whales in Cook Inlet
  • Annual recreational events include Tour of Anchorage Ski Race, Midnight Sun Marathon, Alaska Women's Run, Dog Jog, & the Mayor's Marathon, and numerous other fundraising runs

Competitors in the Big Wild Life Runs, an event held on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, with the Anchorage skyline behind them. Photo courtesy Jody Overstreet.