Alaskan Cabin Comforts
Though perhaps best known outside Alaska as the site of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, Prince William Sound is locally revered as one of the state's premier backcountry playgrounds. (Not all of the Sound was harmed by the spill a decade ago; of the parts that were, some have recovered while other portions are in various stages of recuperation.)
A Wealth of Options
Tucked into a corner of Alaska's Gulf Coast and ringed by a curving wall of mountains and icefields, the Sound is a 15,000-square-mile wilderness area that's a special favorite of Anchorage-area kayakers. And for good reason: with 3,500 miles of shoreline, a multitude of protected bays, passages, and inlets, plus relatively easy access from Anchorage via the town of Whittier, Prince William Sound offers a full spectrum of sea kayaking experiences, from low-budget weekend affairs to month-long expeditions. Some of the Sound's coastal lands are privately owned; others belong to the state; but the great majority of the wildlands used by paddlers as they explore the region's waters and shorelines are managed by the U.S. Forest Service, as part of Chugach National Forest.
Besides limitless opportunities to explore a largely wilderness coastline, kayakers are likely to share the land and seascape with an abundance of wildlife, from seals to sea otters, sea lions, bald eagles, seabirds and shorebirds, brown bears, and whales.
Rain, Rain, Go Away
For all its great appeal, Prince William Sound—like much of coastal Alaska—is notorious for its wet and often stormy weather. Come here expecting to get soaked. Fortunately, more than 20 public-use cabins are scattered throughout the region, including the Cordova area at the Sound's eastern edge; nearly all are along the coast or a short hike away. Several of the cabins are most easily reached from Whittier; others are closer to the communities of Cordova, Valdez, or Seward. A few cabins are within a day's kayaking journey of towns, but many, like those on Montague and Hinchinbrook islands, are 50 miles or more from any port. Charter boats or air taxis can be arranged for transportation to and from cabin sites.
Managed by the Forest Service, these cabins come in several styles: natural log, A-frame with loft, and pan-abode frame. All are furnished with table and benches, oil or wood stoves, and wooden bunks for four to eight people. None have cooking utensils or bedding. In most cases, visitors are expected to provide their own heating fuel, whether wood or stove oil. Here, as in other areas, drinking water is normally available from creeks or lakes; to ensure protection from giardia, be sure to boil or treat your water.
A couple of cautionary notes: The solitude to be found in much of the region may gradually disappear; a new road linking Whittier to the state's highway system is expected to greatly increase boating traffic within the Sound. And some areas within the Sound have been logged by Native corporations that own land inside Chugach National Forest; when making cabin reservations, be sure to ask if timber harvesting has occurred nearby.
Cost: $35 to $45 per night
Reservations: Up to 180 days in advance
Maximum stay: 7 nights
For more information: Chugach National Forest, 3301 C St., Suite 300, Anchorage, AK 99503, 907/271-2500; call 877/444-6777 toll free for reservations
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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