Tonsina Year Round
Tonsina has always been a special place for me.
As a young child Tonsina was a place my whole family would go. We were always going for berries or fish, but it was still largely seen as a day off.
It wasn’t part of the state parks system back then, and there were no bridges crossing the two spawning streams. Going to Tonsina meant you were going to get wet. And that was part of the fun!
Bringing waders or just stripping down to cross the salmon filled streams, then going to the beach and lighting a fire was part of the whole adventure.
The trail was little more than a game trail back then, and there were no switchbacks leading down to the river. It was one big, often muddy treacherous slide. Before Millers Landing was anything more than a rough campground with a shanty as an office, Tonsina was where we would go to collect shells and driftwood for crafting projects, a place where we would try and catch chum salmon before the fresh water brought upon their morph into the dark rainbow colored “dog” toothed look they are so famous for. The bright ones we would smoke for our winter supply, the darker ones would be smoked for dog food! Theres a few different reasons why they are known colloquially as “Dog Salmon”.
As Millers Landing became more of a destination, my dad built a skiff with the help of a friend. The Fascination. She was a wooden flat bottomed skiff with a 50 horse pull start Johnson outboard. We would water taxi people to the beach for $15 a person. At one point, we even advertised that we guaranteed you would catch a fish or your money back! And we rarely had to make good on it. When the Pink salmon and Chum salmon come into Tonsina they come in thick! At one point, I managed to catch my limit of 6 salmon in 6 casts. Snagging with a weighted treble hook, which is still legal in the salt water of Resurrection Bay. Back then both rivers met at one point in the middle of the beach. The mouth of the north most river moved to its current location decades ago, but the streams used to form a large bar and meet at the same place, and if you snagged in the deep spot before the bar, you were snagging right in the middle of a fishy swarm. As a kid, it was simply the best.
Tonsina still has an incredibly strong salmon run. From July till late in the season you can see salmon at the end of their life cycle working their way up these two rivers. The state parks took over the trails and turned them into cleared and groomed paths. Bridges have been built, out houses put in, a pavilion, and even a cabin are all available to the public! The beaches are still great places to beach comb, and otters and eagles are almost always gracing the shores and the ghost forest.
Kayaking to Tonsina is a wonderful way to explore this beautiful area.
Skirting alongside the fjords and then seeing the long beach approach from a distance, with its ghost forests created by the sinking of the ground of the 1964 earthquake. The roots of these forests became exposed to the salt water, and the sun bleached them white. The bald eagles love them, and keep a watchful eye on all the salmon going upstream. It can be a treacherous place to go without local knowledge however. The streams push out silt and sand creating a large alluvial fan which can become quite rough during a fast tide or a afternoon wind. Its important to know the landing spots, and to know how deep the fan goes out- its quite shallow farther out than one would expect there.
Tonsina is the perfect afternoon getaway. Whether your hiking the trail, taking a water taxi, or taking a guided kayaking trip, its sure to make for some great memories, great photos, and there is always something to see. A great winter time day trip as well, beating the crowds and experiencing the beautiful serenity of this area as winters blanket covers it.
Have you been? Whether its your first time or tenth time, this place is special. Do yourself a favor, and visit it.
You’ll be glad you did!