The friendly village of Yakutat (pop. 600) is in a protected harbor on Yakutat Bay, halfway between Juneau and Cordova along the Gulf of Alaska. The name of this out-of-the-way settlement was derived from the Eyak name Yak-tat (“lagoon behind the breakers”).
Behind Yakutat soars the pyramidal 18,008-foot summit of Mt. St. Elias, second-tallest in the United States. Across the bay is Malaspina Glacier, the largest piedmont glacier on the continent (it’s bigger than Rhode Island). Both of these lie within mighty Wrangell–St. Elias National Park.
Yakutat is a famous fishing destination, particularly for steelhead on the Situk River, but also for king, silver, and sockeye salmon, plus halibut. But it isn’t just fish that attracts visitors; in recent years Yakutat has drawn cold-water surfers who come to ride the big ones on the 70 miles of sandy beaches that stretch southeast from town. These beaches are also great places for bird-watching, beachcombing, or simply relaxing.
The weather in Yakutat can be summed up on one word: wet. Summers are rainy and winters are snowy. The town gets over 130 inches of precipitation annually, so visitors can plan on seeing their share of that. All this precipitation feeds the enormous glaciers and productive salmon and trout streams for which the area is famous.
Yakutat is home to several fishing lodges and a hodgepodge of businesses: two general stores, three places serving meals, two car rental outfits, an upscale fly-fishing shop, air-taxi operators, a little visitors center for Wrangell–St. Elias National Park, and—most surprisingly—a surf shop.
Fairweather Days each August at Cannon Beach is a good time to camp out and party with the surfers. There’s live music, food, and local crafts.
Situk River Fly Shop (907/784-3087, www.situk.net) is well worth a visit even if you aren’t a fly-fisher. Owner Bob Miller knows not just fly-fishing but also the area’s history and attractions. The shop is housed in an aging World War II hangar. Inside is far nicer, with a good collection of outdoor and fishing gear, plus an ongoing restoration effort (detailed on his blog).
Getting to Yakutat
Yakutat is the smallest community in the world served by year-round commercial jet service. Alaska Airlines (800/426-0333, www.alaskaair.com) connects Yakutat to the outside world with two flights daily: a morning northbound flight to Cordova and Anchorage, and an evening southbound to Juneau.
The Alaska Marine Highway (907/465-3941 or 800/642-0066, www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs) ferry Kennicott stops in Yakutat on its twice-a-month summertime sailings between Juneau and Whittier. Weather sometimes makes it impossible for the ferry to dock, so it really isn’t a dependable service.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition