The Turnagain Arm is an inlet from the ocean that is just south of Anchorage, Alaska. The mouth of the arm begins at Anchorage and the arm extends all the way to the Portage Valley. We camped at a state campground on the Turnagain Arm, not expecting that what we would find would be so spectacular.
On our way to the Winner Creek Trail in Girdwood, we stopped at the National Forest Ranger Station to see if we could find a map. While we didn’t find the map we were looking for, we did find an interesting flyer about the Bore Tides. No one had told us anything about a Bore Tide when we talked about Alaska and things to do and see. Well, we are here now telling you that this is a must on your to-do list! We are so happy we stumbled across it.
What is a Bore Tide?
Directly quoting from the flyer at the ranger station, a bore tide is ‘the large forming wall of water that surges into Turnagain Arm as the tides are beginning to refill the Arm.’ The waters from the incoming tide are held back by the mud flats in the Arm, forming a force of water that eventually builds enough to break through. The force and weight of the water propels the tide in a single wave that can reach heights of six feet tall and can reach speeds of up to 8 mph!
Is it Fun to Watch the Bore Tide in the Turnagain Arm?
Absolutely! We had seen that it is possible to surf the Bore Tide, and we tried our hardest to get to somewhere we could do that in our kayaks. There was no water in the Arm within about 20 miles of our campsite, so we couldn’t get into the water to start the surf. We might have to try again on our way back through if the tides are big enough.
Even though we didn’t get to surf it, we did go out to the mud flats and watch the tide come in. It was actually quite an awesome experience seeing all of that water from the Bore Tide come in and fill the Turnagain Arm.
How Can I Watch the Bore Tide in the Turnagain Arm?
First and foremost, you’ll need to check the tide schedule to see when the tide is going to come in on the day you are watching. Give a leeway of at least 30 minutes on either side of the estimated time. Also, the tide isn’t guaranteed to be a spectacular wall of water, as it depends on the timing and the position of the moon. The closer to the New Moon, the better chance of seeing a very drastic Bore Tide in the Turnagain Arm. We were two days past the New Moon, so we had a pretty good chance at seeing it. There are different points all along the Turnagain Arm that you can watch it come in, and from what we understand, the Bore Tide is more drastic closer to Anchorage than it is further inland down the Turnagain Arm (which makes sense).
We found a spot that wasn’t too muddy and we were able to make it all the way to the shore line before the Bore Tide came in. There is a walking trail bordering the Bird Creek Campground where we stayed, and off of the paved trail there are several trails that lead down to the railroad tracks. We walked down those, then scrambled down the rocky shore to the mud flats. Be careful here, as the mud flats are slippery and sticky!
We walked along the rocks until we found a spot that was solid enough to walk out to the water. There was not much water, maybe about two or three inches in the small channel that had not emptied out in the low tide.
We set up our cameras and watched and waited! The tide came in about 45 minutes past when the schedule estimated. Darn Mother Nature, running late! Ha! The Bore Tide that we experienced was about a foot tall, so not the highest it could be. But it was still so cool to watch something like that happen! Once the Bore Tide itself came through, the tide continued to fill up the Turnagain Arm. We watched as the mud flats that we had just recently walked on disappeared under the water. The water line continued to rise as we watched for another 45 minutes or so before calling it a day. The tides continued to fill the Turnagain Arm even into the next morning, and then repeated the cycle after the tide went out in the morning.
Watching the Bore Tide in the Turnagain Arm was a pretty cool experience. We had never watched the tides come in anywhere before, and watching the Bore Tide was a great first. We always say we don’t really have a bucket list but rather just go with the flow and experience unexpected firsts as they come. This was definitely one experience that we never knew would be quite so amazing.
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