Photography by Teague Whalen
2.5-miles one-way (1-2 hours) • 5 miles round-trip (2-3 hours) • 100 feet elevation gain
Directions: From downtown Ketchikan, 6 miles north on Tongass Hwy to Ward Cove. Right on Revilla Rd. for just over 1 mile. Trailhead 1: Right on Ward Lake Road for 0.5 mile. Right into a parking lot. Cross the road, by the entrance to the parking lot, and pick up the trail here. Trailhead 2: Continue on Revilla Rd. for a couple more miles until you come to a small parking lot on the right with an outhouse. Trailhead 3: About a half-mile past Trailhead 2 is Last Chance campground on the right. The trail can be found on the river towards the back of the loop. During the months of October through April, the entrance to the campground is gated and locked, but one can still park and walk from here.
From trailhead 1 at the Ward Lake parking lot, Ward Creek became my go-to trail to run after work in the spring and fall because it was on my way from work back to home. Located in the Tongass National Forest, Ward Creek trail is wide enough to drive a truck down, though no vehicles are permitted. I would go so far as to say that this trail is wheel-chair accessible because there are no steps in this even, gravel pathway, though there are some hills. For the most part, the trail follows Ward Creek, which flows out of Connell Lake by the Last Chance campground, and through Ward Lake and eventually into the ocean at Ward Cove.
Ward Creek is popular with the locals for walking dogs. My sister, her husband, and I sometimes would dig out our headlights and walk here at night in the fall and wintertime with their two American bulldogs and a Tibetan mastiff. The trail winds through the lush rain-forest and climbs above the creek that flows steeply below, where you can hear and see the whitewater. Occasionally, you can glimpse Brown Mountain through the trees on the right. Along the way, three short spurs lead to decks perched on the creek. Here people can fish, or just watch the river, or sometimes watch black bears catching salmon in the late summer and early fall. The trail skirts besides a couple of muskeg fields on the left backdropped by a mountain ridge. Just after crossing a bridge and ascending a small hill, a rock wall on the left of the trail would sometimes glimmer in the sun. Upon a closer look, someone had gently wedged in pennies, quarters, nickels, and dimes randomly throughout the face. It would seem that we had our own cliff version of a wishing well. Outhouses are available at the Ward Lake parking lot, the trailhead 2 parking lot, which is about two miles away from the Ward Lake parking lot, and at the Last Chance campground, which is just another half-mile from trailhead 2. Occasional backless, trail-side benches are available, where one can rest or just meditate on the river below. For extended walking, this trail connects to the Pipeline, Salvage, and Ward Lake trails. One winter storm, enough snow fell where I could actually cross-country ski the trail. Downy puffs of snow weighed down the pine boughs and whitened up the green landscape. Reminded me of skiing back home in northern Michigan, a rare treat here.
At the far end of the trail on my runs, I would circle through the Last-Chance campground loop before returning back down the trail. Here in the summer season, I would note the comings and goings of new campers and reminisce about my camping excursions. One season, one particular camp caught my eye because of the semi-permanent setup that sprawled across two camp sites with multiple two-man tents. A large canvas wall-tent opened up to two picnic table with a couple two-burner propane stoves and coffee cans. I wondered if this wasn’t where the young and bronzed, chap-wearing, chainsaw-slinging, weed-whacking trail crew stayed with their overgrown 4x4 van. I had run into them earlier that season out on the Connell Lake trail and they worked in unison like a sharpened, well-oiled chain buzzing down the trail. So, if you ever run into these folks out on the trail, make sure to let them know how much you appreciate them keeping the trails maintained for our enjoyment. These are our unsung heroes and heroines carving the way into our backcountry bliss. Because of them, during most times of the year, this is a great trail for a weekend-afternoon walk with your loved one. Easy to walk side-by-side, hold hands, and talk, or to just walk in comfortable silence together and listen to the river’s ceaseless babbling about its short but lively journey from lake to ocean shore.
Teague Whalen, Owner & Operator