Plan to arrive in Sitka, Alaska, the day before trip departure. We suggest spending a night at the Westmark Sitka. If you'd like to spend an extra day fishing, check out the stunning Island View Resort & Charters.
Sitka is the former capital of Alaska. Sitka is Alaska's most beautiful seaside town, with views of island-studded waters and stately spruce forests reaching the water's edge. The scenic community, nestled between forested mountains and the great Pacific Ocean, offers an unparalleled combination of arts, 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 excellent work rehabilitating injured birds of prey and then retrains them to return to the wild. The flight training center includes a massive indoor coastal rainforest, large enough for rehabilitating eagles to relearn their flying skills without leaving the facility.
Check out Ludvig's Bistro for dinner. Ludvig's is proud to offer fresh local seafood from Sitka's fishers, house-made bread, and desserts. They use organic ingredients from Sitka's Down-to-Earth Farms and Sitka Sound's own Alaska Pure Finishing Salt. On your way, take some time to browse through the art galleries and gift shops. A great selection of work by talented local artists is available.
Sitka boasts the highest saltwater sport-fishing "catch rate" for king salmon in the United States. 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 lingcod. Those wishing to go fishing can obtain licenses at one of the sporting goods stores in Sitka.
Our journey begins at 10:00 am at Eliason Harbor. The Crew will welcome you at the dock and will help you get your gear aboard Glacier Bear. The Captain will introduce the Crew and provide a boat and safety orientation. The paddleboard guide will preview the eight-day paddling adventure. We will have your staterooms assigned, take a tour of the beautiful vessel, settle into our cabins, and begin our journey.
A light breeze fills in out of the north as we cruise quietly into the protected waters of Olga and Neva Straits. Time-permitting, we'll stop to see the delightful puffins at St. Lazaria Island. And we may even see humpback whales and mischievous sea otters – right in Silver Bay. We'll cruise through 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. This afternoon we'll explore the pristine Alaskan wilderness on Kruzof Island.
Our first hiking stop will be at an estuary. The meadow is full of Alaska's beautiful vegetation and wildflowers and is a great place to look for brown bears and Sitka black-tail deer. Continuing along the trail, we begin a short steep climb toward Sea Lion Cove. The route is an ambitious 2.5-mile hike (each way) through forest and muskeg to a lovely white sand beach. After gaining 500' in elevation, we arrive at a muskeg teaming with various unusual plants, including the carnivorous sundew. We conquer a rope bridge and treacherous rope handholds on a steep descent through the rainforest to a lovely one-mile-long white sand beach.
Sealion Cove is on the Pacific Ocean. In the winter, big waves break on the igneous rocks along the shoreline, sculpting them smooth. It's reminiscent of the coastline at Acadia National Park in Maine. Locals come here to test their surfing skills in the extreme surf of the outer coast. It's a beautiful location for beachcombing, hiking, photography, relaxing in the sand, or simply taking in the views.
After a couple of hours of spectacular hiking, we gather one last time—this time directly in front of the Pacific Ocean, for our first group photo. And it’s a keeper! As the light gets lower on our return hike, brown bears begin to appear in the estuary and along the shoreline. They are searching for a quick meal and occasionally quarrel with one another over "territorial disputes." One bear chases another for a hundred yards along the shore. Probably a sow is driving an adolescent male away from her cubs.
We arrive at the trailhead and return by skiff to the Glacier Bear. Our evening is spent at our quiet anchorage in Kalinin Bay, dining on fresh Dungeness Crab.
After a relaxed breakfast, Glacier Bear is underway. On our journey today, we'll pass through the Sergius Narrows in Peril Strait. Here the shore seems close enough to touch, and a powerful current flows through the channel markers. The forest is calm, 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 two low tides and two high tides each day. When the moon and sun are in alignment, the tidal range is at its most significant vertical difference. The tide range can approach 20' or more!
Beautiful invertebrates often appear during a low tide. They live their lives in these challenging tidal cycles. The beautiful and colorful sunflower star, the most giant and fastest-moving sea star in Southeast Alaska can move up to six feet in a single minute! The sunflower star grows to almost three feet across, and 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.
Today will be an action-filled day! We enter a channel separating Baranof Island and Chichagof Island and sail east 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, mussels carried paralytic shellfish poisoning, and more than a hundred Aleuts were poisoned and died.
During the afternoon, we'll explore Lake Eva, on the northern shore of Baranof Island. This area is 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. Giant 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.
And suddenly it’s 6:00 pm. Where did the day go again? Our evening is spent at a quiet anchorage in Hannus Bay, dining on Sockeye Salmon with a fruit torte for dessert.
Following a relaxed breakfast, Glacier Bear is underway once again. This morning we continue east to Chatham Strait, and we’ll soon need our cameras and binoculars. In this area of Chatham Strait, humpback whales often catch herring and other small schooling fish using a technique called bubble-net feeding.
Unique to humpbacks, bubble-net feeding requires a group of whales to work together cooperatively. They form up below large fish schools and begin releasing bubbles, confusing the fish and bunching them tightly together. The cylindrical wall of bubbles acts like a net, which fish are reluctant to swim through. On cue, the entire group surges upward through the bubble net, mouths agape – a dozen or more humpback whales all rising to the surface in unison. Each whale collects a massive mouthful of water and then expels it, straining the fish through their baleen. Often the group will display this feeding behavior over and over again.
Suddenly we encounter a pod of orcas. It's a group of three or four, including a male with his large dorsal fin, one or two females, and a juvenile. We observe their behavior as they linger in the area for 15 to 20 minutes. After the pod of orcas departs to the north, we continue cruising to the south. But there's never a lack of wildlife viewing in Alaska. An hour later, humpback whales begin to make their presence known. Some are near enough that the boat swings in their general direction. Others are far off in the distance. But always exciting.
We're soon cruising once again, pointed toward our anchorage entrance near the small settlement of Baranof Warm Springs. We'll move 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. We'll visit the public bathhouse featuring three separate tubs or the communal hot springs pools. Or both – your choice! A boardwalk takes us through flora and fauna to picturesque Baranof Lake.
We're excited to experience it all, but first, how about a paddle through a beautiful narrow passage to a salt chuck lagoon? If you're ready to challenge your paddling skills—the current runs strong here. We've timed our arrival for the high slack tide so that we can easily paddle through the Narrows into the lagoon. As we enter, there's a dramatic change in the landscape. It's mystical. But we'll save that surprise. We plan to linger in this Shangri La for an hour or so until we observe the lagoon starting to empty. Then we'll ride the current building back through the Narrows and return to Warm Springs Bay.
We see the Glacier Bear, the Baranof dock with a dozen or more fishing boats and sailing boats tied up, the boardwalk, the hot tubs, and of course Baranof Falls. It's the perfect opportunity to pose for photos in front of the thunderous waterfall that drains Baranof Lake into Warm Springs Bay. Two groups take their turn in the shuttle boat for a return to the dock. Most people head straight for the hot springs or hot tubs. But a couple of stragglers find time to gather wild strawberries and salmonberries along the boardwalk. Hey, what’s the rush?
Aboard the Glacier Bear, we prepare for another glass of wine and a tasty dinner of Black Cod. We’re swinging slowly in front of a delightful waterfall. Black bears often visit the area near our anchorage, grazing on the abundance of berries in the meadows and fishing for salmon in the stream. With each passing day, wonder and amazement build. Such anticipation for each unfolding day. What's in store for tomorrow?
This morning we have crab benedict for breakfast. It's the Captain's favorite. After getting underway around 8:00 am, we have a short journey to Frederick Sound. The cliffs of Red Bluff Bay on the starboard shore are brownish-red in color due to heavy metals, including iron, chromium, and magnesium.
Around noon, we're feeling hungry. OK, who's ready for a Halibut sandwich on a brioche bun? And an enticing salad of watermelon, fresh basil, and feta cheese?
Soon we’re underway. This evening’s destination is Pybus Bay. We cross Chatham Strait, continuing east through Frederick Sound. We pass by Murder Cove and beautiful Chapin Bay, along the southern shore of Admiralty Island. Small pods of transient orcas are seen along the way, showing us their large dorsal fins as they pass by. We can smell their fishy breath as they surface, spouting through their blowholes.
Throughout the day, we'll watch for fast-moving pods of Dall's porpoises. One group notices us, and they intercept our course heading. The porpoises joyfully ride our bow wake, darting in and out, and everyone has their iPhone in hand, filming the experience. As we continue cruising west, we're also looking for humpback whales. This time they may be lunge feeding, breaking the surface at a low angle, mouth fully open, and throat cavities expanded like an accordion to collect all the fish they can scoop up by the lunging maneuver.
The Glacier Bear arrives in Pybus Bay in late afternoon, and we prepare for a hike before dinner. We often catch a glimpse of brown bears fishing in nearby salmon-filled streams and rivers. With the largest concentration of nesting bald eagles globally, Admiralty Island offers many chances to see Canadian geese, trumpeter swans, pigeon guillemots, cormorants, and blue herons in the fringe habitats between the forest, muskeg, meadow, and along the shore.
The feeling while ashore is one of excitement and danger. Our guide has pepper spray, and several people carry air horns. We want to see bears up close, or do we? But it doesn't matter—tonight is not our night. No bears. Still, we jump for joy in our photos.
Arriving back at the Glacier Bear, the Chef announces that dinner is ready. We have sockeye salmon with honey, basil, and garlic glaze. Delicious. Following dinner, several people wander up to the flybridge deck and jump into the hot tub. The sound of Latin music and happy dancers lingers into the night.
After a relaxed breakfast, Glacier Bear is underway once again. We have a long transit today to a location known as Ford’s Terror Wilderness. But first, we'll pause to observe a colony of Stellar sea lions crowded onto the rocks of a small island. The males vie noisily for dominance over their harems. The sounds of grunting sea lions and screeching eagles drift across the morning calm.
Beautiful, remote and protected from outer waters, our stop at a small cove near Sail Island provides a pristine sanctuary—and the perfect place for reflection. During an extra-low tide, anemones gleam brilliantly. Verdant green moss covers Sail Island's forest floor, and with good luck, we may see a profusion of blue gentians, Indian paintbrush, river beauties, lupine, and other colorful wildflowers.
We’re soon cruising once again, pointed toward the entrance to Ford’s Terror Wilderness. Two fjords provide access to the wilderness area:Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm. We plan to visit both. As we pass by Five Finger Islands Light, another fast-moving group of darting Dall's porpoises graces us with their presence. Throughout the day, we'll watch for whales, Dall's porpoises, orcas, and shorebirds.
We have planned our day to arrive at Wood Spit at slack tide. It's the optimal time to proceed through the entrance of Endicott Arm. Along the way, we'll be alert for drifting icebergs, as well as occasional humpback whales and orcas. And no sooner do we think it—and a pod of orcas appears near the spit. These are resident orcas, and they are feasting on the salmon in the whirlpools caused by the significant volume of water moving in and out of Endicott Arm.
We pass the Sumdum Islands, cast aside centuries ago in the wake of the retreating Dawes Glacier, and enter Ford’s Terror Wilderness in the early evening. One mesmerizing waterfall after another enters our view, cascading down the side of the mountains and cliffs. Glacier Bear slowly glides through the water, hugging oh-so-closely to the steep granite walls. We settle into a small cove, surrounded by massive ridges cloaked in mist-covered rainforest. It’s an idyllic paradise.
Our evening anchorage provides an excellent opportunity for a quiet paddle in the turquoise-blue water and a tasty dinner of Black Cod. We're swinging slowly in front of a delightful waterfall. Black bears often visit the area near our anchorage, grazing on the abundance of berries in the meadows and fishing for salmon in the stream. With each passing day, wonder and amazement build. Such anticipation for each unfolding day. What's in store for tomorrow?
Today will be an action-filled day! An early morning departure takes us deep into the Endicott Arm, a narrow fjord that twists and turns through towering mountains. Massive glaciers have carved their way through these coastal mountains. Waterfalls cascade thousands of feet off the granite mountains, and one looks like stair-steps. Sapphire-blue icebergs serenely float by in the murky emerald green water. We'll continue to the Dawes Glacier, at the ice-choked end of the fjord. Extraordinarily blue and beautiful, this glacier is famous for its active calving, and we'll linger at the face of the glacier, hoping to witness gigantic chunks of ice breaking away.
We'll also paddle through iceberg-laden waters. Here drysuits are not only available but are strongly recommended. We'll have a morning fitting while underway to our destination. Today we'll also need warmer clothes, including jackets and hats. After all, there are icebergs in the water—safety first!
While paddling among the icebergs, we’re able to observe the antics of dozens of harbor seals hauled out on the ice. The glacier continues rumbling and thundering. Like the explorers here before us, the majesty and awe of this ice-carved landscape are etched in our memories. If time and conditions permit, we may hike up a newly-formed valley on the north side of the fjord, recently uncovered by the receding North Dawes Glacier. The icy glacial outwash river divides a meadow and scree slope and features a giant 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.
It’s early afternoon, and we have an exciting destination to visit! We proceed for an hour to Sanford Cove, near the Sumdum Islands. Sanford Cove is the abandoned site of the mining community of Sumdum. Nothing remains of the town, other than a few pilings. This prime salmon-spawning habitat frequently lures brown bears to the area. Black bears are on the prowl, too, feasting on abundant berries. We hike along the bank of tiny Sanford Creek, through an old-growth Sitka spruce and Douglas fir forest, and discover a stunning waterfall, illuminated by the late afternoon light in a remarkable grotto of ferns and mosses. It's unbelievable, and it's the perfect location for (you guessed it) another group photo!
Sometime in the early afternoon, we'll proceed toward Tracy Arm, and there are several places to explore by paddleboard.
We cautiously explore the entrance to Tracy Arm. Dozens of waterfalls cascade down their slopes, emptying into the turquoise waters of the fjord. Surrounded by 3,500-foot granite faces, we marvel at the mist clinging to the precipices. We'll make our way back before the tidal rapids begin to build, leaving behind the majestic and stunning inner fjord.
And suddenly it's 6:00 pm. Where did the day go? We have a short cruise to our evening anchorage in No Name Cove. And what a dinner awaits! Halibut, risotto, and asparagus. With boysenberry pie and ice cream for dessert.
It's a beautiful evening, with many boats on anchor, nestled snuggly within the cove. As the sun slowly slips behind the mountains, music and dancing emanate from the hot tub area. It's party time!
Another relaxed breakfast, and Glacier Bear is underway once again. The scenery changes dramatically as we slowly slip by the granite cliffs enclosing Tracy Arm. Like Endicott Arm, Tracy Arm is also a narrow fjord that winds its way through towering mountains. The mountains here seem more barren, evidence that this fjord was carded more recently than Endicott Arm. Fewer waterfalls are cascading off the granite mountains, although they are still spectacular. Hundreds of icebergs serenely float by in the blue-green water.
We'll continue as far as we can toward the Sawyer Glacier, at the ice-choked end of the fjord. This glacier is more massive than the Dawes Glacier. We depart the safety of Glacier Bear, team up with our paddling partners, and paddle closer to the face of the glacier, hoping to witness active calving underway. It's an exciting world of ice, and we approach cautiously. Our guide Michelle sets distance parameters for us, keeping us well away from the danger zone. As massive chunks of ice break away from the face of the glacier, we marvel at their size and impact. The water volume that they displace builds into a series of rolling waves, and we drop down to our knees and ride them out safely.
A general malaise descends upon the group. Our journey is nearing completion, and we can all feel it. We want to remain as long as possible in this magical world, and the Captain fully understands our emotions. After all, he's a waterman and a surfer and paddleboarder! After a couple of spectacular paddling hours among the smaller icebergs, we gather one last time, directly in front of a gigantic iceberg, for a final group photo. And it's a keeper!
Now it’s time to begin the final journey home. We board the Glacier Bear and turn back towards civilization. Our evening destination is Taku Harbor State Marine Park, a natural, bowl-shaped harbor that was once home to a significant salmon cannery. The 700-acre marine park is located on the eastern shore of Stephens Passage, about 22 miles southeast of Juneau. The harbor sees use as a night anchorage by commercial fishing boats and small tour ships.
We’ll explore the small cabins and abandoned building in Taku Harbor and gear up for a quiet, reflective paddle inside the safe, protected waters. It has been a fantastic week of new friends, new challenges, and unparalleled scenery on our nearly 400-mile journey. Tonight, we'll celebrate the many memories we have shared.
Our eight-day adventure concludes today. This morning we’ll cruise back to the comforts of Juneau. We're heading north through Stephens Passage, and we’ll be docking right where we started, at Aurora Harbor in downtown Juneau. We plan to arrive no later than noon, so if you need to catch an afternoon flight, you'll make it to the airport in plenty of time.
The Chef prepares a salmon quiche and lots of tasty goodies. We'll enjoy breakfast while watching a slideshow of the week's highlights on the television above the buffet. Some fight back the tears of joy or melancholy. It has been a memorable week, and it's still sinking in.
Juneau's scenic community, wedged between forested mountains and Alaska's Inside Passage waters, is home to 32,500, making it the third-most populous city in Alaska (after Anchorage and Fairbanks). There's plenty to see while you're in Juneau, especially in the historic downtown district. You'll be able to catch an Alaska Airlines flight today or morrow from Juneau, with connections to Seattle. If you're staying in town tonight, join the Crew for Happy Hour at McGivney's Sports Bar and Grill on the Four Points' main level by Sheraton.