On the Water
Alaska’s waters offer an endless range of boating opportunities, and in many coastal towns, particularly in Southeast Alaska, there are almost as many boats as cars. Boats are also important in inland parts of Alaska, particularly along major waterways such as the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers, where they provide a vital means of traversing undeveloped country. Skiff rentals are available in the larger coastal towns for those who want to head out on their own to explore or fish. Dozens of companies offer boat tours or charter-boat fishing trips throughout the state, in vessels ranging from 13-foot aluminum skiffs to luxury motor yachts offering multiday ecotours.
White-water rafting trips are offered by numerous adventure-travel outfitters around the state. Several of the more reasonable, short, and accessible trips include floats down the Sixmile Creek south of Anchorage, Nenana River at Denali, Kenai River at Sterling, Susitna River near Talkeetna, Mendenhall River near Juneau, Sheridan River near Cordova, and the Lowe River outside of Valdez.
A large number of float-trip companies and wilderness outfitters offer overnight, several day, and up to three-week-long trips, particularly within Wrangell–St. Elias National Park. Check the list in the state’s Alaska Vacation Planner (www.travelalaska.com) for names and addresses. Those looking to do it by themselves should buy Karen Jettmar’s excellent Alaska River Guide.
Sea kayaks are quiet and fairly stable, providing an outstanding way to explore hidden Alaskan coves or to watch wildlife. Because of this, kayaking has increased in popularity in recent years, both for independent travelers who rent a kayak and for those who choose a package trip with a professional guiding company.
Kayaks originated as skin-covered boats crafted by the Eskimo of Alaska and Siberia, but today’s versions are built from more modern materials. Most sea kayaks have a hard outer shell of plastic or fiberglass, but folding kayaks, made with wooden or aluminum supports and waterproof covers, are also available. The latter can be folded into relatively compact packages, making them useful for travelers heading into remote areas accessible only by floatplane.
Companies offering sea kayak rentals and tours are in Southeast Alaska (Glacier Bay, Gustavus, Haines, Juneau, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Sitka, Skagway, and Wrangell), Kenai Peninsula (Homer, Seldovia, and Seward), Prince William Sound (Cordova, Valdez, and Whittier), Southwest Alaska (Kodiak, King Salmon, and Unalaska), and Western Alaska (Dillingham).
Canoeing is a common activity on lakes and rivers in Alaska. Two canoe routes (Swanson River Route and Swan Lake Route) connect lakes within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, and another route links lakes across Admiralty Island National Monument. The Yukon River is a popular float trip, with many people starting in either Whitehorse or Dawson City and floating to the town of Eagle (or beyond). The country around Fairbanks is also very popular with canoeists who enjoy the relatively gentle Chena River. Canoe rentals are available in all these areas.
Alaska has a small but active community of sailing enthusiasts, with sailboats in coastal towns from Ketchikan to Kodiak. Resurrection Bay near Seward generally offers the state’s top wind conditions, and companies there offer day trips, sailing lessons, and bareboat charters. Other popular sailing areas (they have relatively dependable winds) are around Prince William Sound and in Kachemak Bay near Homer.
Surprisingly, surfing is growing in popularity in Alaska. It will never be a particularly common sight, but many coastal towns—including Yakutat, Kodiak, Sitka, Homer, and Unalaska—have a few hard-core souls who head out when conditions are right. The state’s best-known area is Yakutat in Southeast Alaska, where miles of uncrowded black-sand beaches attract surfers. Surfing supplies can be found in Yakutat and Kodiak. Homer is also an increasingly popular destination for kite-surfers, with good winds most afternoons.
Alaska is a thermally active region, a fact attested to by its more than 100 hot spring sites, of which roughly a dozen are accessible and developed. Accessible, in Alaska, is a relative term: Possibly the most accessible hot spring in the state is at Chena, 60 miles east of Fairbanks on a paved road. Also accessible near Fairbanks is Manley Hot Springs, over 150 hard dirt-road miles. Circle Hot Springs, a similar distance from Fairbanks, is no longer open to the public.
Other popular hot springs are in Southeast Alaska: White Sulphur and Tenakee on Chichagof Island west of Juneau, Chief Shakes near Wrangell, and Baranof on Baranof Island. Contact the Alaska Department of Natural Resources for its map of thermally active areas in Alaska.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition