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I’ve lived in various Alaska cabins for nearly all my adult life, ranging from my personal “man cabin” to a three-story log home that sports a cathedral ceiling and 24-foot picture windows showcasing Denali in all its splendor. I’m the author of a bestselling book on Alaska recreational cabins, and over the past four decades, I have attempted to stay in cabins whenever possible on my journeys throughout The Last Frontier.
And there are plenty of reasons why savvy travel agents should love Alaska cabins as much as I do.
Remote cabins take clients to an Alaska that is well beyond what’s shown in television specials or scripted reality shows. They can fulfill travelers’ most cherished Alaska dreams, and as an agent, you can provide the map to these memorable adventures.
I recall staying in a cabin with my wife, where a fireplace filled with crackling wood cast an orange light on everything in the room, as if we were part of a monochrome movie. I took her hand, and together, we reached up to the skylight and traced the outline of aurora plumes blazing overhead with our fingertips. Another time, while staying in a floating cabin, I laid face down on the salty deck and was gently rocked back and forth by the water, keeping metronome-like time with the waves lapping the nearby shore.
But for Alaska’s remote cabins to wield such opportunities, they must have visitors who are willing to embrace off-the-beaten-path adventures, rather than those who would prefer a visually sanitized view from a bus window or the perceived safety of a group.
“Alaska as a brand is still a bucket-list, exotic destination that is generally outside of people’s normal comfort zone” said Sarah Leonard, president and CEO of the Alaska Travel Industry Association. “Surveys show that after repeated visits to the state, Alaska tourists exhibit increased comfort levels in embracing do-it-yourself itineraries, which include remote packages.”
Here are some of the different cabin options available to clients who are seeking remote wilderness experiences.
Floating CabinsA floating cabin offers travelers a unique way to spend time in Alaskan waters.
One example of a floating cabin operator is Alaska Wilderness Outfitting Company in Cordova, where owners Katie and Tom Prijatel offer packages that explore the remote, scenic coves of eastern Prince William Sound.
“All of our floating cabins are less than a half-hour flight from our floatplane dock,” Katie said. “Clients appreciate not spending half a day traveling the state on in-state commercial and private aircraft to get to their cabin.”
Each two-story, cedar-finished floating cabin has a spacious kitchen with a refrigerator, a stove and a large dining table; picture windows; a living room with comfortable chairs; full baths with hot showers and flush toilets; and up to four bedrooms. Some cabins offer a gas fireplace and are located in quiet coves away from the crowds.
During my floating cabin stay with Alaska Wilderness Outfitting, I watched my friend delight in the lodge’s covered porch, the cozy comforters on the large beds, the outdoor gas grill and especially the plastic food tubs packed to the brim that Katie sends out with each group. A week’s menu might include chicken, chops and steaks, with hefty selections of produce and multiple meal and drink options.
For several days, we roamed the protected bay using the boat and outboard that comes with a cabin rental, viewing granite monoliths, cascading mountain waterfalls and distant alpine glaciers.
We watched 200-pound seals chase salmon up shallow streams, and we waded knee-deep across tidal flats as thousands of the pink fish boiled around us, moving like errant torpedoes, glancing off our legs and trekking poles. Later that afternoon, we caught and released our share of salmon, halibut and rockfish, which we were able to have picked up daily; flown back for flash freezing or smoking; and vacuum-packed for the return trip home.
A complete six-day floating cabin package, which includes the cabin, a boat, gear, all food and roundtrip floatplane airfare from Cordova, is $2,195 per person.
Denali Backcountry Lodge offers 42 remote cabins in Denali National Park. // © 2018 Christopher and Heather Batin
One of Alaska Wilderness Outfitting’s floating cabins in Prince William Sound // © 2018 Christopher Batin
The author has often seen the northern lights from his Talkeetna-based cabin; aurora viewing is best from October through mid-April. // © 2018 Christopher Batin
Alaska Collection operates Denali Cabins, just 8 miles south of the entrance to Denali National Park. // © 2018 Christopher and Heather Batin
“Maggie’s Cabin” from Adventure Denali is a remote cabin near Denali National Park, on the shores of Chavey Lake. // © 2018 Christopher Batin
Fish from the comfort of a cabin in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. // © 2018 Christopher Batin
Enjoy solitude at a remote mountain lake in the Wrangell Mountains. Some cabins are so remote that it’s common not to see another person for an entire week. // © 2018 Christopher Batin
A Denali-based cabin // © 2018 Christopher Batin
This intertidal area in Prince William Sound features waterfalls and excellent wildlife viewing. // © 2018 Christopher Batin
This land-based cabin in eastern Prince William Sound is operated by Alaska Wilderness Outfitting// © 2018 Christopher Batin
Many floating cabins include boats that can be used for fishing. // © 2018 Christopher Batin
A Wrangell-St. Elias cabin operated by Alaska Wilderness Outfitting // © 2018 Christopher Batin
Land-Based CabinsWhile floating cabins may offer a novel Alaska experience, land-based cabins provide just as much adventure. For more than 30 years, I would explore the Talkeetna Mountains every summer, helping to spread the word about master guide Jim Bailey’s rental cabins — some of which are located at more than 4,000 feet in elevation.
“For cabins to work with clients, they need to be assured that support infrastructure is there,” Bailey said. “Trust is a key to getting people excited about remote cabins that are 80 air miles from the nearest hospital. If there’s a medical emergency, they want to know you’ll be there to transport them to civilization.”
I once joined Bailey on a quick flight one evening to one of his high-alpine cabins, where I acted as a bombardier. He wanted to surprise his group of German tourists who had made a daylong hike in warm temperatures. While he slowed the plane by their cabin, I reached out of the side window and air-dropped a package containing several ice-cold beers. With all the waving and shouting I saw the Germans doing as we flew back to camp, I knew this was the type of attention to detail that makes a good Alaska cabin experience a great one.
Travelers Will and Deb Tinnesand’s love affair with Alaska — which now exceeds 50 visits to the state — began with one of Bailey’s remote log cabin packages.
“We were new to Alaska and didn’t know what to expect,” Will said. “But the rustic cabins shouted ‘This is Alaska. This is the real thing.’ to us. In our world travels, it has been rare to find the type and size of log cabins that Alaska offers. For me, the cabin is just as important as the activity. Most of all, when the weather gets nasty, Deb and I can get out of the storm and stay warm and dry.”
(While Bailey recently sold his lodge business and has an established clientele, he still dabbles in the cabin culture he helped to refine. Agents are welcome to reach out to him through his website, www.kodiakguides.com.)
For clients with wilderness-trekking savvy, Alaska offers a wide selection of bare-bones lodging.
The Chugach and Tongass national forests hold an array of cabins along the southeast and south-central Alaska coast. Many of the 180-plus cabins, which rent for $35 and up per night, offer the basics, with various amenities such as an aluminum boat and a stove. Visitors need to supply food and cooking and camping gear. Alaska State Parks also offers a selection of cabins that stretch from Ketchikan to interior Alaska. The cabins in the Chena River State Recreation Area, for example, run about $60 per night and sleep eight to 10 people, with plenty of nearby attractions.
Alaskan Wilderness Outfitting has a remote cabin located in the heart of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. Of all the Alaska rental cabins I’ve stayed in, this fully furnished accommodation is one of the most scenic and solitary. The high-alpine location also offers superb bull moose viewing areas.
Custom CabinsSince 1996, Peggy McDonald, Dennis Montgomery and their three daughters have operated South Passage Outfitters in Gull Cove, located about 70 miles west of Juneau. The business embodies the essence of Alaskan hospitality that, like a rare flower, blossoms best in remote areas of the state. The family motto says it all: “Visitors may arrive initially as guests, but when they leave, they will always be friends.”
The land-based, custom cabin rental operation is high on quality but low on price.
“Guests don’t have to worry about shopping and shipping groceries air freight from town, which can be expensive in remote areas like ours,” McDonald said. “We have all our food delivered by barge once a week, so it keeps the price down and provides the food items our guests want. Special diets or requests are welcome.”
The family’s easygoing nature and lighthearted demeanor — which makes them a hit with guests — is imbued into each of the cabins, which each sleep two people and are named This, That, The Other and Another. Each cottage is furnished with a futon, a shower, a toilet, kitchenette furnishings and a heater or wood stove.
While guests are out exploring, the family handles various support chores.
“Even though this is a do-it-yourself outfitted camp, we handle all the food and gear prep so that guests have as little to do as possible — except have a good time,” McDonald said. “We try to stay in the background. Guests receive a mandatory familiarization briefing upon arrival, which include tips on how to operate the 18-foot Lund skiffs, the 40-horsepower Yamaha outboards and the cabin plumbing and heating.”
Good cabin packages have accommodating schedules, and South Passage Outfitters does not disappoint. McDonald says that some clients like to make the most of Alaska’s long daylight hours by staying out several hours past supper to fish or birdwatch. For them, she’ll leave directions on how to heat up the meal, while daughter Alice keeps watch until all guests are safely back. Each group has an emergency radio, which is monitored by the family.
McDonald stresses that although the cabins are about 10 to 20 feet apart and built along a rocky beach outcropping, solitude is within arm’s reach.
“We have honeymooners who want their privacy,” she said. “They are welcome to come to the cookhouse, get their food, and take it to their cabin or eat it on the boat. There’s no obligation to eat with the others.”
South Passage Outfitters’ cabin package runs $2,000 for six nights and includes a cabin, all meals, rain and safety clothing, the boat and outboard (and backup outboard) and shrimp and crab traps.
Alaska cabins may be weathered on the outside, but few other accommodations form the foundation for Alaska experiences that are second to none.
Alaska State Parksdnr.alaska.gov/parks
Alaska Wilderness Outfitting Companywww.alaskawilderness.com
South Passage Outfitterswww.southpassageoutfittersllc.com