Anchorage, AK

-- Last Updated: Aug-23-12 12:40 PM EST --

I just moved to Anchorage, AK a month ago and am looking for places to paddle. I'm an ocean guy and have been down to Whittier to paddle there, but I want something closer to home (and don't want to pay the tunnel fee).I know the water isn't great around Anchorage, but I'd love to try it. I saw tons of paddlers in Whittier and haven't seen a single one around Anchorage. So, any advice? The two Meetup groups here don't seem all that ocean active.

Eklutna Lake
Paddled there when I was waiting for a flight out of Elmendorf. About a 30 min drive as I recall.

Yes, that is on the plan. But, it’s not the ocean (or inlet, sound or arm), which is my goal.

So, I live in Alaska and have paddled here for two years. I’m reporting on this trip 'cause I’ve seen several posts on the Paddling.Net and elsewhere about people wanting to paddle Alaska. I think they are overdoing their trip planning. All people talk about are expedition type trips to the extreme wilds of AK. You don’t need to do that. Lots of places in Alaska are on the edge of towns and yet, wild and free. One of the problems of kayaking here is the air quality, in fact. It’s too clean. When I paddle Resurrection Bay out of Seward, I can see Seward from Fox Island clearly. That’s twelve miles southeast. Clear as a bell. That sucks because as soon as I start the return journey, I can see my goal. Every stroke, I can see where I’m going. To me, that makes for hard going because I’m too focused on where I’m going and that makes the return seem like work, not play. Which actually hurts my point about “wild and free” from anywhere, now that I think about it. But, stay with me.
My point is, just shoving off from even a big town (and Seward is one of the big ones, small as it is to the lower 48) gets you in clean water and clean air instantly. And, what is so great about Seward kayaking? Several things. One, whales. I’ve done three trips on a kayak and haven’t seen a whale, yet. But, I’ve done two trips on sightseeing boats and have seen whales in places I’d been to on my kayak. So, it’s possible with good timing. Two, and more easily realized, the stunningness (yeah, made that up). The west side of Resurrection Bay is where the whales are, so that’s where I went my first two trips. This is an area that has a hilly coastline with some cliffs. I see seals, dolphins and otters there, so that’s nice. The coast is pretty, even beautiful, just not awesome.
The east side of the Bay is where the wow factor hits. Thumb Cove, nine miles out of Seward that I spent the first night camped in, has three glaciers. None reach the water, but one is a hanging glacier that wraps around this huge rock cliff and seems suspended above you. Of course, the camping is free, with two cabins available to rent. About that, every place I’ve camped while kayaking is free, and most have a bear box and outhouse. I’ve once been forced to leave the shore and hike 100 yards up to a wooden platform because the closer spots were full, but that is a rarity. And I’m going on nice days during the prime season. Platforms are big here, especially around Whittier where the rain is.
The other great place that many folks paddle around is Fox Island, also marked as Renard Island on some maps. This has two State Marine Parks (SMPs) on it. One, Sandspit Point, is a half mile long spit sticking out from the island and into Eldorado Narrows. This is the kayak camping spot, for the most part. The north shore is protected from the sea and has smaller cobbles, making for easier landing. The southern side has rougher waves and larger rocks. The center of the spit is a huge tide pool, filled with starfish ad all the rest of tide pool life. It is cool to stand and watch the tide water rush in or out from the 10 foot cut in the spit. The other SMP on Fox is Sunny Cove, at the southern end. The rest of the island is vertical rock cliffs with trees.
That description is a defining characteristic of the eastern side of Resurrection Bay, towering cliffs and high ranges, sprinkled with glaciers and trees. The incredible beauty of this area cannot be overstated. This is also an area of coves. Humpy Cove is the place I watched two separate pods of dolphins feed from mere yards away (they came to me, I was not in pursuit). This cove also has an amazing collection of yurts and a kayak dock for overnighters called Orca Island Cabins. As almost everywhere in the bay, a ferry trip is required if you don’t want to paddle out on your on.
I camped on the beach of Sandspit Point, right in front of a very nice campsite, with driftwood benches, fire pit, flat tent sites and a clump of woods. The beach, though, allowed me to watch the seal swim by and the sea otter hang out and feed. No whales, though.
These spots are really the norm out here. I’ve posted about Whittier before, equally amazing. These are spots very close to big (for Alaska) towns and are truly pristine. I shared the Spit with another group, but they were all the way at the end of the Spit and couldn’t even be seen (they were a group of 4 tandem kayakers). Most folks take a boat ride out to Fox and kayak from there. There are a group of islands clustered there, with many cool spots to delve into and a total of six SMP’s within 4-5 miles of each other (Thumb Cove, Sandspit Point, Sunny Cove, Driftwood Bay, Safety Cove and Caines Head (where the best whale watching is). Enjoy.

So, this is a trip that comes out ok at the end. Understand that AK has a surprisingly relaxed attitude to safety for kayakers. I got an invite from my wife’s co-worker that he was getting a group together for an overnight camping/kayak trip out of Whittier to one of the numerous free campsite platforms (think of 15 X 15 decks overlooking a bay with wooden paths connecting them to an outhouse and bear boxes on site). He had done this or similar trips in the past, was bring his 14 year old daughter and a friend with limited kayaking as well as the friend’s 12 year old son. The father and daughter would be in separate 'yaks, the father son would be in a tandem. I had declined to take my son, not liking the safety aspects and was VERY glad I did. I figured, well, I know several rescues and if they get in trouble, I can help them out, 'cause they are going anyway.We’d met in Whittier at the rental place after coming in on the 3:30pm tunnel (it’s a one-way tunnel, switching ways every hour).
After work, I gathered my stuff and made the tunnel. We all met there, taking some time to load up. We made an ambitious plan (15 miles of paddling to Surprise Bay), but had cut-outs, if needed. They discussed whether they needed to wear the drysuits they had or have them “when needed”. I stressed that I was wearing mine while on the water. So, they did suit up (even though the organizer had done a similar trip two weeks ago without one!).
It was raining the whole time, but the light was good, there were no waves or wind. We got on the water at 5:30pm. It was immediately apparent that the two dad’s were ok in a 'yak, but just that. They choose the shorter route about 50 yards offshore, I hugged the rocky shore to enjoy the view and so that I could paddle a bit faster and not outpace them. I still ended up waiting, but that’s OK. The first crossing is Shotgun Cove, about a mile wide. That went OK, seems the father/son and the solo daughter were getting tired some and we still had six miles and the two mile Blackstone Bay to cross. We had an on water rest/food break and kept going.
We managed to cross Blackstone Bay. Two of us had radios and I made two “Security” calls warning others that four kayak vessels were crossing the Bay as we went. Upon reaching the far shore, we still had two or so miles to go. The weather was calm, but, as you round the point after Blackstone, you are open to the Sound and some 1-2 foot waves started bothering the tandem.
We pushed on, tired crew and all, 'till we rounded the last point into Surprise Cove. This was in no way the call I would have made; I’d have cut-out at Decision Cove if we had a discussion. We didn’t. My wife’s co-worker was calling the shots. I was fine, just not joyous that we were pushing on at 10pm. We reached the Cove, beached and set up our tents on the platforms (needed 'cause the ground is soaked all the time). Had a good dinner, slept, ate breakfast and launched for Decision Point campsites five or six miles back at 11:30am.
Much more wind and waves. Wind in our face 10-15 mph, waves 2-3 feet. The tandem wasn’t comfortable taking waves on his side, so he zigged-zagged the two miles we took to round the point. Hitting Blackstone Bay, we hit more waves (long fetch). It was decided to go into the Bay and cross at a narrower point. We hit a beach and had lunch. The crossing was tough, but we had a seal follow us from our launch , across the entire bay, often coming within four feet of the back of our boats. The girl was slowing waaay down, the tandem was, but not so much. I stayed with the girl and her dad, as I had a radio, and the tandem went ahead, also with a radio. The light was bad with the rain and clouds, so more “Securities”. I got cold waiting so much for the girl and, once we were across but needed to follow the shore around the point, I told the dad I was going to go to the tandem and check on them. He said to go ahead and set up camp.
I paddled hard to the tandem one quarter of a mile away, getting nice and warm. He was fine, intended to round the point and get to camp 1.5 miles away. I went with him to the point and when he got out of the wind/ waves, I went back to the two single yaks, now even further back. Upon arrival, I paddled with them, informing them of the other’s plans. The girl was VERY tired, so slow that I again became cold waiting (I was barely even paddling, just holding position for the most part). I asked the father about the possibility of a tow for the daughter. He declined, saying that they’d make it and insisting I go on ahead. I offered the radio, he also declined, not wanting the “hassle”. So, I went ahead, rounded the point, caught the tandem and paddled into the camp. We unloaded his yak (I was leaving them there, having to go back to work the next day), set up what we had and the two singles with the father and daughter came in 25 minutes later.
I had a quick dinner, said my goodbyes and paddled away at 6:30pm to make the 8-9 mile trip back alone so that I could be picked up by the rental company (even though I had my own boat; they were great), load up and leave through the 9:30 tunnel (I’d love to stay, but have to be at work as a lifeguard at 5am). All went well. I texted them (no service) that I was off the water. They texted me back the next day that they were off the water (two hours later than they’d planned) and had an exciting time of it.
So, yes, all went great.

The main problem was the leader didn’t solicit any comment from us (or his daughter). I had paddled that area several times and was quite comfortable with the distance and conditions. Mostly, though, I didn’t have my kid with me so I had no worries. Getting on the water at 5:30 PM isn’t the ideal way to start a 15 mile paddle in the rain (re. “Deep Water”- " . . . we got off on a late start . . .") but the water was flat and the seas were calm and were forecast to stay that way. There is no way I would have taken my child out there without much more input on the plans and a solid feeling that this guy would actually modify his plans. It is different when you trip with your wife’s co-workers, also. How you act could reflect poorly on her, so I was Mr. “Whatever you want” the whole time.

The air was 50-52, via the radio’s weather channel. Water temp was 'bout 55. I was wearing polypro medium weight top and bottoms. Just sitting there, nose to the waves, waiting in the wind; when I did paddle their speed with them, it was literally stroke twice, hold paddle in water for five beats (to keep place in the wind/waves), stroke twice, hold, etc., etc. I was dressed for paddling, not that. The one time I got nervous (OK, the first time of two, make that three) was when I had just crossed Blackstone on the return leg with the two singles and realized how far ahead the tandem was. That’s why I left them and went ahead. The third time I was nervous was when the dad in the single 'yak told me that he had almost dumped twice on the return leg rounding the point from Surprise to Blackstone. That had me worried 'bout the skill set he (the best of the four) had.

Just to make you jealous;
Went to Homer, the Spit to be more exact, with my river-running brother from Seattle to paddle around some islands. You get to Homer Spit (a long skinny tail sticking into the Kachemak Bay) and find a kayak rental place. Don’t worry 'bout which one, the prices vary very little. We paid $45 for the kayaks and $70 for the ferry (which you must take, they don’t rent kayaks to paddle from the spit). We choose one that had the first available ferry time.
The ferry drops us off on Kayak Beach, a nice protected sandy beach. The swells are 2-3 feet, the sun is out, the temps are low 70’s, there is a slight breeze and the tide (about 25 feet, I’m guessing) is ebbing. We are in bathing suits and shirts sleeves. The water is warm enough for us to swim in a few places along the trip.
We paddle off the beach and around Yukon Island, with a trip through the Elephant Arch just offshore. We start to see otters, which don’t like to hang, and seals, which will shadow you. Yukon has great holes and mini-caves, just deep enough to fit a kayak. Nice wave play, too, on the western side (open to the Bay). My brother did great, pushing a bit beyond his comfort level in the waves and rock gardens. After circling the five miles around Yukon, we went to the small island north stopping to have lunch and enjoy a group of seals laying in the sun on a cluster of rocks offshore. We then went back to Yukon, headed south and west to the next island. This was a beauty. Nice rock gardens, tall cliffs, lots of play.
We shot south on a1.5 mile crossing with following seas to the next island, circuited that and headed the 1.5 miles back to the shore that Kayak Beach is on. We hit to the east of the beach and had one last chance to surf, play and garden as we made our way back. A phone call and 25 minute wait for the boat back ended our day.
The best trip I’ve ever had in AK.

OMG, I forgot the cool part! On landing at Kayak Beach the last time, I found a seal oosik. Google it.

I left from Whittier on Wed at noon and launched from the free public ramp on the edge of town. You can also park your car for free there. When I launched, there was a group of divers testing equipment and they told me the water was 50 degrees. The air temp was about that and, low and behold, it wasn’t raining! I was packed to the gills with drybags full of gear but the Tempest felt the same. I was bringing my new camera and was carrying it in my new PFD. Love that pocket, I’m a believer, now.
I also had another new piece of gear, one o’ them fancy rope cutting blades that is like a hook with a sharp blade tucked in the crook, where it can’t hurt you. By the end of my trip. I was totally ready to leave that thing behind, but . . . I launched the last day to get home and my skeg wouldn’t deploy. With the tide, waves and wind, I liked the ease of tracking this provided, so I beached again in a mile or so. Some rocks had jammed my skeg and what could I use to free them? That formerly useless rescue cutter was perfect for the task, getting things cleared out like magic dental floss. So, that’ll stay, too.
So, I paddled away into nice weather and took lots of pics. My wife was letting me go and I’d better be sure to reward her with some great pics. I paddled the south end of Passage Canal (which is a lame name, as there is nothing remotely "canal"y about the wide, beautiful waterway), across the first crossing, Shotgun Cove, which is just under a mile across. The weather held up and, what with the recent rains (the norm in the Whittier area) the waterfalls were out in abundance. Saw a few otters and seals, not pictureworthy close, though. The easy to spot difference is, a seal looks like a person’s head sticking up and a sea otter is always seen as two things sticking up, as he lays on his back and his head and feet are in the air. Also, a seal will dive showing more of his body and an otter just disappears.
I made the nine miles to Decision Point campground and, as I had my pick of all the campsites, I choose the tree sheltered river stone site with a view of Squirrel Cove behind me and Wells Passage in front of me. A strong breeze blows through there, but my tent was pitched to avoid the worst of it. There are two river stone bottomed sites on the beach among the trees and 3 or 4 other sites back up the hill that are wooden platforms accessed by sets of slippery wooden walkways. There is also an outhouse and a large bear box to store food. These are all free to use and non-reservable. I set up camp, gather some semi-dry driftwood and, with the help of my handy blowtorch, got a wee fire going.
The next morning was the start of my big day. I was heading to the southern end of Blackstone Bay to paddle up on a tidal glacier. That was the goal, but . . . it’s a bit far. Here is a great chart,
as you can see, it’s much further to the glacier (on the west southern end) than back to Whittier, and I had to make the round trip to get back to my campsite. Now, yes, I could have made a new campsite, but there is no campgrounds in Blackstone Bay and the ground, even if it appears to be a grassy meadow, is soggy. You sink 3-6 inches just standing there. With the 11 foot tide, the exposed rocky beaches are out as well. I had thought of hammock camping, but just didn’t do it. So, round trip it would be.

On that chart link, Whittier and Blackstone Bay are on the upper right.
Anyway, I set off on a dry(!!) but cloudy morning. I had my trusty blowtorch and a can of soup for lunch, lots of Cliff’s bars and other stuff for snacks. The water in Blackstone Bay is noticeably cooler through the kayak bottom, probably low 40’s. It also turns more milky blue from the glacial silt. I left with a rising tide (a mean of 11 feat, so this does help) and calm wind.
The character of Blackstone Bay is that of Christmas morning. As you paddle along, hugging shore, you come up on tiny bays, like the teeth of a saw. These are often only a kayak deep and wide, but contain treasures. Many have a waterfall, some have stone windows, each is an intriguing cleft of beauty in stone. I would see nothing, but hear pounding water and, peering inside the latest gift, would unwrap with my senses the offering contained therein, another beautiful waterfall. Really, being there makes you want to talk like this, sorry.
Towering rocky cliffs followed sweeping hillsides of trees and meadows capped by misty peaks. With the tide being low, there were many opportunities to beach on smooth stone shores. In the photos, you’ll see the brown sea plants clinging to the rocks. The tide would later rise up 2-3 feet above these.
I stopped at noon after getting even with the middle of Willard Island on the western side of Blackstone Bay. I was realizing that the actual glacier would elude me this trip. The wind was picking up behind me and would be in my face for the return. Also, fog had billowed in and rain was visibly darkening the skies. The spot I choose to eat was a beautiful shallow open bay about a mile long with about a dozen waterfalls cascading down the hillsides. One was massive, another just grand. My spot was sheltered in the northwest corner of the bay with a gentle stream coming in. I beached, heated my soup and walked around eating and crossing the rocks to straddle the stream. Which was one too many tasks to juggle and I went ass over teacups on the rocks, saving the soup but smashing my right pointer finger, which nail blackened immediately.
Luckily, the cold soon numbed it nicely. I had poogies in reserve, but did without to stave off the useless pain message. Turning sadly back, I did indeed fight the wind and some waves. I was rewarded in my choice, however, by realizing how tired I was. The last two miles were done without pause, as the tide was still high (though slack), giving me few beaching opportunities and the wind, with the combined fetch of Well’s Passage and Prince William Sound, stacking up the waves, forcing me to paddle on.
I got back to camp at 4:30 and fell asleep at 5:30 for a much needed two hour nap. My rough estimate was a 22 mile day.
The next morning, homeward bound. Of course, it had rained all night and that day. Mists clung to the hills, cutting off views of the northern shore of Passage Canal, which was fine. I took my time, exploring every little cove and cleft, doing some rock arches and wishing for whales on the flat seas with a helpful rising tide taking me to Whittier. Once back on shore, I of course had to contend with a black bear 150 yards away, wandering amongst the hillside tailings of the port. After some pics, I got about the never fun but oddly rewarding job of unpacking a kayak and packing a car.
That’s all.

Two things; First, Blackstone Bay is named for an explorer named Blackstone who fell down a crevasse and, knowing he was gonna die, wrote a letter to his wife saying goodbye and describing the piteous howls of his trusty dog above him.
Two, it’s the backdrop to the final scene in Adam Sandler’s “Fifty First Dates”

I posted these old trip reports 'cause they might be helpful or fun for people planning on kayaking AK.

Ok, just realized these are in the wrong forum (should be in “Getting together”) but how do I move them there? Sorry.

Paddled out of Seward, Ak on Resurrection Bay. Gotta say, beautiful. It was a rainy day, mid fifties at launch. The rain went, but the sun never showed. The paddle was a ten mile out and back from the parking lot of the Seaquarium to the southern tip of Caines Head rec. area. I only saw one seal (lots of times, folks see plenty of walruses and orca) and a bunch of huge jellyfish. The water was clear and I followed a rocky, cliffy (is that even a word?) coast with waterfalls every so often. The cliffs were hundreds of feet high with tiny 10 foot rocky beaches between them. Lots of other kayakers to start. They dropped out when the winds kicked in. I heard a group decide to turn back before entering the Narrows past Engineer Point (at which time they were told to “Get off channel 16!”). The Narrows were actually not that bad, Four foot waves but the wind died out. This is where the tall cliffs, narrow beaches and almost sea caves (they were above the waterline, being low tide) came in. A glacier cruise boat came right in front of me, I thought, oh boy, they must be spotting sea lions! But, it was just the caves. I’m in lots of tourist pics, though. On the way back, the following sea made things exciting and I couldn’t sightsee much, but I made great time. The great thing 'bout Seward is that it is a straight shot, wide open to the Bay, so line of sight for the VHF is perfect, I could hear everything from the harbor master and the Coasties the whole trip (quite reassuring for a solo kayaker on the Gulf of Alaska). I didn’t make it to Fox Island (14 miles out, for a 28 mile round trip, not including sightseeing) , I only had a five hour window while the family did the seaquarium. My new (to me ) Shuna Werner paddle was great, I like the shorter (215) length for high angle paddling (why do any other kind?). The folks at Sunny Cove kayaking gave me the info on where to launch and were very friendly.

We visited Seward for a few days.No kayaking the wind was coming right up the bay with whitecaps… Wish Fox Island (or ite archipleago) was closer… That big exposed water is a little intimidating for visitors. who don’t quite have the handle on how the weather can change how ast

I paddle out in The Arm fairly regularly since I moved here 5 years ago. This

was last week

Nice! I never paddled off Anchorage, wasn’t able to find nice launch spot.