The rugged Alaska coast offers limitless opportunities for uncrowded, pristine kayaking and paddle board adventure. You'll have the opportunity to experience paddling a two-person Long Haul Mark II Kayak or a Ridewell 10'6" Inflatable Paddle Board. We'll provide two kayaks and four paddle boards for your group.
On this adventure, you'll enjoy an amazing experience paddling in the astonishing blue-green waters of calm coves and bays, and among haunting icebergs adrift in mystical fjords. You'll observe the amazing wildlife and breathtaking wilderness of Southeast Alaska, home to eagles, black and brown bears, humpback whales, orcas, stellar sea lions, sea otters, porpoises and harbor seals. The 95' Glacier Bear offers an outstanding platform from which to launch this paddling adventure, and a comfortably warm place to relax after long days in your kayak. The Crew will pamper you, while the Captain maneuvers Glacier Bear to place you in perfect paddling locations.
John Schnell has lived in Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon, and Vermont, as well as Canada, Thailand and Zimbabwe. John is our kayaking and photography guide.
Join us for an incredible paddling adventure with Alaska Wilderness Charters. John has worked with Alaska Discovery as Expedition Photographer on all of their kayaking routes (1993-2001). He also guided kayaking kayaking expeditions for Spirit Walker Expeditions (2008), Sea Wolf Adventures (2008-2009), and Alaska Sailing Charters (2007-2012).
John has been making award-winning images in Alaska since 1991. His photographs have appeared in Audubon, Sierra Club and Nature Conservancy calendars. He won the Alaska Magazine photography contest, and his images have been selected by Alascom and AT&T for distribution (as a large-format calendar/poster) to over 27,000 businesses in Alaska. In addition, John's images have appeared in numerous magazines (including Canoe/Kayak and Defenders of Wilderness), and on the websites of several adventure travel companies (including ours).
In 2019, John Schnell will guide the following trips for Alaska Wilderness Charters:
Our Kayak Expedition offers amazing opportunities for beginners and those who are highly skilled at paddling their craft. Although we have a carefully planned schedule, this trip may differ slightly from our intended objectives, due to wind, weather and tides, wildlife viewing opportunities, and the goals of participants.
Arrival. Plan to arrive in Juneau, Alaska on May 25, 2018. We suggest spending the night at the luxurious Westmark Baranof Hotel in downtown Juneau. We heartily recommend the fantastic menu at the Twisted Fish Company on Franklin Street. On your way, be sure to browse through the many art galleries. A great selection of work by local artists is available. If you're looking for an "off-the-beaten-path" experience, two of our favorite hikes are the Perseverance Trail (easy to moderate) and the Mt. Roberts Trail (moderate to strenuous). Ask your concierge for directions.
Day 1: After breakfast (on your own), passengers are invited to come aboard Glacier Bear, docked at Auke Bay Harbor (ten miles north of downtown Juneau) or Aurora Harbor (less than one mile north of downtown Juneau), by 11:00 am. Our journey begins with a morning orientation and preview of our eight-day kayaking adventure, The crew will familiarize you with your quarters aboard Glacier Bear, and show you where to stow your gear. We'll quickly settle into our cabins, take a tour of our beautiful vessel, and begin our journey.
This morning we cruise into the heart of the Inside Passage. Along the way, we'll have the opportunity to hike along seclude beaches, paddle in scenic coves, and photograph whales, bears, eagles, and other wildlife. We'll head south through Stephens Passage, and watch for Dall's porpoises, orcas, and sea birds, with a short stop at Taku Harbor. Our destination this evening is a small cove nestled safely inside of Holkham Bay. Wildlife abounds throughout the area. Our anchorage in No Name Cove provides a great opportunity for a beautiful sunset paddle.
Day 2: Glacier Bear is underway in the early morning hours. We have planned our day to make the slack tide across Wood Spit and into Endicott Arm. Along the way we'll be alert for drifting icebergs, as well as humpback whales and orcas. We are bound for Sanford Cove, near the Sumdum Islands. Sanford Cove is the abandoned site of the mining community of Sumdum. Not much is left of the town, other than a few pilings. This is prime salmon-spawning habitat, which lures brown bears to the creeks and rivers in the area. We hike along the banks of tiny Sanford Creek, through an old growth Sitka spruce and Douglas fir forest, to a stunning waterfall, illuminated by the morning light in a remarkable grotto of ferns and mosses.
It's only a short run to Fords Terror, one of the most spectacular paddling destinations in Alaska. There are many places to explore by kayak Surrounded by 3,500-foot granite faces, we marvel at the mist clinging to the precipices. We'll make our way through the tidal rapids (at slack water, of course) into the majestic and stunning inner fjord. Rushing tidal currents and whirlpools prevent us from entering (and exiting) when the current is at full strength. We cautiously cruise through Ford's Terror into a T-shaped terminus, as we slowly wind our way into the fjord. We are in a vertical world of granite cliffs and glacier-carved cirques. Dozens of waterfalls cascade down their slopes, emptying into the turquoise waters of the fjord. Our evening anchorage is near a delightful waterfall. Black bears often visit the area, grazing on the abundance of berries in the meadows, and fishing for salmon in the stream.
Day 3: After an early breakfast, we depart for our day-long cruise into the Endicott Arm, a narrow fjord that twists and turns through towering mountains. Massive glaciers carved their way through these coastal mountains, over the course of thousands of years. Waterfalls drop thousands of feet off the granite mountains, and sapphire blue icebergs serenely float by in the emerald green water. We'll continue to Dawes Glacier, at the ice-choked end of the fjord. Extraordinarily blue and beautiful, this glacier is quite famous for its active calving, and we’ll likely witness gigantic chunks of ice breaking away from the face of the glacier.
We'll linger at the face of the glacier, and witness the calving and booming of the icebergs. We'll paddle through iceberg-laden waters, and we'll observe the antics of the many harbor seals hauled out for a rest on the ice. We'll hear the glacier rumbling and thundering, and we'll safely watch as waves surge down the shoreline of the fjord. Like the explorers here before us, the majesty and awe of this ice-carved land has etched itself into our memories.
If conditions permit, we may hike up a newly-formed valley on the north side of the fjord, just recently uncovered by the receding North Dawes Glacier. The icy glacial outwash river divides a meadow and scree slope, and features a big waterfall. Black bears commonly come down to the meadow to graze. We'll take in the magnificent vistas, and listen for the mournful howls of wolves. In mid-afternoon, we'll reverse directions. Our destination this evening is a small cove nestled safely inside of Holkham Bay. The evening light is beautiful, as we dodge icebergs and wind our way back down Endicott Arm and into the bay.
Day 4: After a relaxed breakfast, Glacier Bear is underway once again. We have timed our departure to make the slack tide across Wood Spit. Today our destination is The Brothers, a group of small islands near the southern coast of Admiralty Island. The scenery changes dramatically, as we leave behind the granite cliffs of Ford's Terror Wilderness.
Throughout the day, we'll watch for whales, sea lions, Dall porpoises, orcas, and sea birds. We'll be cruising to Admiralty Island, known for its dense bear population. We'll pass by Five Finger Islands Light, and pause to view a colony of Stellar sea lions, crowded on the rocks of tiny Sail Island. The males vie noisily for dominance over their harems. As we continue cruising, we'll watch for breaching whales, fast-moving pods of orcas, and Dall's porpoises.
Arriving at The Brothers, we anchor in an idyllic cove between two small islands, where the sounds of breathing whales, grunting Stellar sea lions, and screeching eagles drift in. During an extra-low tide at The Brothers, various anemones gleam brilliantly. The choice is yours hikiing or paddling? Eventually we have to depart, but first we'll pause for a close-up look at another colony of Stellar sea lions, crowded on the rocks of one of the outer islands that comprise The Brothers. We'll anchor in an idyllic setting inside Pybus Bay, at Scenery Cove. The sounds of nature drift in across the evening calm. Beautiful, remote and protected from outer waters, Scenery Cove is pristine wilderness. We often catch a glimpse of brown bears fishing in nearby salmon-filled streams and rivers. With the largest concentration of nesting bald eagles in the world, Admiralty Island offers many chances to also see Canadian geese, trumpeter swans, cormorants and blue herons found in the fringe habitats between the forest, muskegs, meadows, and along the shore.
Day 5: After breakfast this morning, we'll continue our journey. We'll cruise west through Frederick Sound, across the top of Kupreanof Island. Humpback whales surround us along the way, showing us their tail flukes, and loudly slapping the water with their pectoral flippers. We can smell their fishy breath as they surface, and spout through their blowholes.
As we near Chatham Strait, we'll begin looking for larger pods of humpback whales, this time exhibiting a number of varied feeding behaviors. Some practice bubble-net feeding, swimming in circles while blowing bubbles to form a curtain to corral in a mass of tiny fish. Others practice lunge feeding, breaking the surface at a 45-degree angle, mouth fully open, and throat cavities expanded like an accordion to collect all the fish scooped up by the lunging maneuver.
We cruise west past Saginaw Bay, with striking limestone cliffs and rich marine life, on the northern tip of Kuiu Island. The Northland Trading and Packing Company built a cannery, wharf and a warehouse here in 1916, and produced pickled herring, mild-cured king salmon, canned salmon, fish meal and herring oil.
Our destination is Baranof Island, where we'll view dozens of waterfalls cascading into Red Bluff Bay. Our evening anchorage will be at Red Bluff Bay, located on the west side of Baranof Island. We enter the bay through a narrow passage with frequent turns, and suddenly find ourselves in a secluded jewel of a fjord, with an open meadow at the end. We count dozens of small waterfalls, with a single spectacular waterfall that roars into the waters. of the fjord. Steep mountains surround us on all sides. It's a glorious place to paddle.
Day 6: We set sail this morning for Baranof Warm Springs. We'll cruise along the east shore to Warm Springs Bay, where a natural hot spring is situated next to a rushing waterfall. Baranof Warm Springs is the outlet of Baranof Lake and the Baranof River. There are natural outdoor hot pools, and a public bath house which features three separate tubs and communal hot springs pools. A boardwalk takes us through the flora and fauna to picturesque Baranof Lake.
After our short stop, we'll continue north up Chatham Strait. We enter a narrows between Baranof Island and Chichagof Island, and sail west into Peril Strait. Not named for its navigational challenges, it gets its name from an unfortunate occurrence in 1799, when nomadic Aleut hunters stopped to camp there. Finding the shore lined with large mussels, they helped themselves to a fabulous feast. Unfortunately, the mussels were infected with paralytic shellfish poisoning, and more than a hundred Aleuts were poisoned and died.
Our afternoon is spent either paddling in Warm Springs Bay, or exploring Lake Eva, on the northern shore of Baranof Island. We'll take time to explore the region, in area known for Alaska's famous brown bears. We'll walk along a forest trail, stepping over tracks left by passing bears in the soft mud, and pausing to admire the abundance of mosses, ferns, and small flowering plants. Huge hemlock, Sitka spruce and cedar trees are all flourishing because of the amply supply of rain. Coastal brown bears are sometimes spotted grazing on newly sprouted grasses, and they quickly retreat into the forest, perhaps spooked by our approach. We'll enjoy a small lake that ends in a cascading waterfall.
Later in the day we'll pass by Deadman's Beach, a location that lives up to it name. In the 1800's, Russian fur traders frequently visited Southeast Alaska to hunt for sea otters. They captured many Aleuts, enslaving them to help with the hunt. Their attempt to enslave the Tlingits, however, ended in disaster. A group of Russian trappers captured several Tlingits, and insisted that they prepare dinner. The Tlingits went out on the tidal flats, and collected clams and mussels – and the Russians ate their fill. Unfortunately the shellfish were toxic with paralytic shell poisoning. The Russians perished along this stretch of beach, and ever since it has been known as Deadman's Beach.
Our evening is spent at a quiet anchorage in Appleton Cove, dining on fresh king salmon.
Day 7: On our journey today, we'll encounter the Sergius Narrows. Here the shore seems close enough to touch, and a very strong current flows through the channel markers. The forest is hushed, except for the occasional call of an Arctic tern. Periodically the surface of the water is broken by the silver streak of a leaping salmon. We'll scan the shoreline to see Sitka black-tailed deer, elk and moose, as well as black and brown bears. As we enter the Narrows, we'll power through the strong current. A mere hundred feet away, the forest passes by ever so slowly.
Southeast Alaska has semi-diurnal tides, meaning that there are two low tides and two high tides each and every day. When the moon and sun are in alignment, the tidal range is at its greatest vertical difference. The vertical tide range as we pass Pond Island is almost 20 feet! Such a low tide, of course, exposes all sorts of wonderful invertebrates, all of whom must make their living in these incredibly difficult tidal cycles. Perhaps the most beautiful and colorful animals is the sunflower star, the largest and fastest moving sea star in Southeast Alaska. When it really gets going, it can move up to six feet in a single minute! Growing to almost three feet across, its rays break easily and then regenerate. It is so aggressive that even the lethargic red sea cucumber will gallop away when the sunflower star approaches.
We'll cruise through Hayward Strait and Salisbury Sound, and arrive at our evening anchorage in Kalinin Bay. As we navigate the narrow entrance to the bay, several playful sea otters paddle slowly past us. We'll explore the pristine Alaskan wilderness on Kruzof Island. Our first stop will be at Iris Meadows estuary. The meadow is full of Alaska's beautiful vegetation and wild flowers, and is a great place to look for brown bears and Sitka black-tail deer. The trail to Sealion Cove is a 3.5 mile hike through forest and muskeg, to a lovely one-mile-long white sand beach. The cove is on the Pacific Ocean, and big waves are always breaking. Locals come to here to ride the extreme surf of the outer coast. But it's also a wonderful location for beach coming, hiking, photography, relaxing in the sand, or just simply taking in the views.
In the evening, we'll enjoy a quiet anchorage in Kalinin Bay, dining on Halibut Olympia.
Day 8: After breakfast, a light breeze fills in out of the north, as we cruise sail quietly into the protected waters of Olga and Neva Straits. This morning we begin our entry into Sitka Channel, on our way to docking at the downtown marina. We'll see the delightful puffins at St. Lazaria Island, and watch humpback whales and mischievous sea otters – right in Sitka Harbor.
In the late morning we'll arrive in Sitka, the former capital of Alaska in the 1800's. With views of island-studded waters and stately spruce forests reaching to the water's edge, Sitka is considered Alaska's most beautiful seaside town. The scenic community is nestled between forested mountains and the great Pacific Ocean, on the outer waters of Alaska's Inside Passage. Sitka offers an unparalleled combination of Native culture, Russian history, and Alaskan wilderness.
There's plenty to see and do around Sitka. You'll want to visit the Alaskan Raptor Center, for a close encounter with the local wildlife. The Center does great work rehabilitating injured birds of prey, especially bald eagles, and then retrains them to return to the wild. The flight training center includes a huge indoor coastal rainforest, large enough for rehabilitating eagles to relearn their flying skills without leaving the facility. If you like fishing, Sitka boasts the highest saltwater sport-fishing catch rate for king salmon in the nation. Novice or expert, you can be guaranteed a first-class fish story! Fishing is best from June through August, and commonly hooked fish include king salmon, silver salmon, pink salmon, halibut and ling cod. Licenses are required, and can be obtained at one of the sporting goods stores in Sitka.
The National Park Service provides guided tours of the restored Russian Bishop's House, one of the few surviving examples of the Russian colonial architecture in North America. The National Historical Park includes details of Battle of Alaska in 1804 between the Tlingits and Russian colonists. The Totem Pole Park was established as a place to display Tlingit totems. In the center of the park a 35-foot totem pole marks the original Tlingit Kiksadi Fort. The Totem Pole Park has a lovely one-mile trail with carved poles situated among Sitka spruce and Western hemlock. The Visitor Center has a substantial collection of Tlingit art and artifacts, and Native artists design red alder bowls, helmets, silver and gold jewelry, and weave the threads of raven blankets.
You'll be able to catch an Alaska Airlines flight from Sitka, with connections to Juneau or Seattle. If you're in Sitka this evening, and would like to have dinner with the remnants of our group, join us in the lobby of the Westmark Sitka.
Exploring Alaska's Inside Passage by kayak and aboard the Glacier Bear was a fantastic eco-adventure! The gastronomy, flora, fauna, megafauna, migratory birds, sea of greens, wilderness, fjords, crew and guests all contributed to heightening the experience. Moreover, I appreciated learning about the many unique ecosystems that we visited from Captain Neil, Assistant Captain Josh, Chef Katie, and John the Sharpshooter. Everyone was kind and generous with their time and knowledge. In a sentence: It is a tremendous opportunity for anyone that appreciates becoming immersed in nature, but at the same time, having all the modern-day luxuries. No doubt, I will be on another Glacier Bear voyage in years to come.
On our amazing eight-day Alaska Kayaking Expedition, we'll experience hiking, kayaking, and paddling in the Inside Passage and the spectacular Outer Coast of Alaska. On our journey we'll see charming fishing villages, an incredible array of wildlife, and breathtaking scenery.