Kodiak, Alaska, is a great spot for bear viewing. // © 2010 KCVB
When people think of going to the islands, they usually imagine the warm tropics and Hawaii. But agents who know northern adventure send their clients to Alaska’s very own “banana belt,” the islands of the Kodiak Archipelago.
“There’s much to be excited about,” said Janet Buckingham, executive director of the Kodiak Island Convention and Visitors Bureau (KCVB). “We have a list on our website of 75 things to do while on Kodiak. And if that isn’t enough, we’ll add more to your list. No one can deny it takes a little extra time and money to visit Kodiak, so if you’re going to do it, do it big with a trip to the Emerald Isle where the bears are big and commercialism is small.”
I’ve been visiting Kodiak for nearly three decades, and it’s impossible to do it all in one visit. I mark off my completed adventures each time I visit (much like a birder’s life list). There’s also plenty of variety: including museums, an old shipyard, a rocket-launch facility and even fossil hunting.
The city of Kodiak is a good place to start. Just the St. Paul Harbor, with its myriad of fishing boats and nearby cultural attractions, can keep your clients busy for days. I recommend a guided tour, although anyone can easily navigate Kodiak on their own with a rental car and the KCVB’s list of 75 things to do.
Flightseeing is a superb way to view Kodiak, as well as access the island’s remote hot spots. Roland Ruoss, owner of Seahawk Air, is one of the most knowledgeable pilots on the island and I can vouch for his professionalism. With over 23 years of experience, he has flown me to several remote areas, and his expertise is both comforting and impressive.
In addition to flightseeing trips, Seahawk Air offers fishing, kayaking, hiking and wilderness lodge transportation, as well as access to remote cabins. Remember, Kodiak has a very limited road system, and travel is by air or boat to most of the island.
“We have set charter rates for many of our tours, cabins and our special floating cabin, located in a remote bay off Afognak Island,” Ruoss said. “A fly-out trip takes people away from the crowded cities where they have the opportunity to see wildlife and enjoy fishing, investigating the tide pools and nature in solitude.”
One of my favorite activities is the island’s bear viewing opportunities. Kodiak is home to the Kodiak brown bear, with an estimated 2,000 bears on the island. Most every salmon stream has at least a handful of local bears congregated nearby.
One of the remote camps I have visited is Spirit of Alaska, which offers kayaking trips based out of an old cannery. From this location, visitors not only have the opportunity to view brown bears, but can also spot a slew of other wildlife, including foxes, whales, seals, puffins, blacktail deer, eagles and mountain goats. Equipped with an adventure package, clients stay at a renovated, abandoned cannery bunkhouse or a remote cabin. Davis is the lodge’s main guide. As a year-round resident, he has an upper hand in assisting your clients explore the bays he knows so well.
Birders can expect to stay busy while birding on Kodiak. Over 240 species of birds attract visitors from around the world, even in winter. Many rare types of sea ducks are found here in the marine waters, including the king eider. Guided hikes are available throughout the summer and fall months, and many lodges offer transportation to various rookeries and nesting sites. Jeff Peterson, with Kodiak Combos, has a special remote fishing camp that caters to a variety of bird watching, fishing and outdoor recreational activities. Peterson is a year-round resident and former U.S. Marine with whom I’ve had several memorable adventures.
Old Harbor and Three Saints Bay are two of the most rugged areas visitors will find on the islands, and they are my favorite scenic areas. The sides of the mountains shoot straight up to alpine areas where deer and bear viewing are possible, and fishing and kayaking are good in the offshore waters. It’s the best hiking and adventuring you’ll find, and about as remote as it gets. Fully guided lodges in nearby Old Harbor will handle any overnight accommodations, and many choose to overnight on one of the larger commercial fishing boats that are available for hire when the season is closed.
Three Saints Bay is an ideal location for guided kayaking, hiking and other cross-country family activities. While many of Kodiak’s offshore waters can be dangerous, the island also has many protected bays. Guides usually know the best ways to keep visitors safe and protected from dangerous currents and swells. The marine waters are so clear at times, however, that I’ve enjoyed just paddling and looking at everything from salmon to starfish.
While Kodiak may be off the beaten path of mainland tours, it should be one of the top recommendations to your clients, especially those who claim to have seen it all.