Alaskan Cabin Comforts
A low-lying island whose high point is only 660 feet above surrounding Gulf of Alaska waters, Shuyak is small as well as flat, the seventh-largest island in the Kodiak Archipelago and an unnamed dot on many maps of Alaska. More significant than its size are Shuyak's large stands of old-growth rain forest. Only the island's storm-battered outermost fringes remain bare of trees; there, long benches of tundra meadows sit atop steep rocky bluffs.
Shuyak's forest is home to brown bears, Sitka black-tailed deer, porcupines, squirrels, beavers, eagles, and songbirds. Its coastal environments offer even greater wildlife riches: More than 100 species of birds have been identified here and numerous marine mammals inhabit the waters: sea otters, seals, sea lions, porpoises, and whales.
The abundance of diverse wildlife, combined with a ruggedly picturesque coastline and views of distant mountain ranges, make Shuyak's outer coast a kayaker's paradise—when seas are calm and skies clear. Yet even when storms stir up outer waters, plenty of kayaking opportunities exist, thanks to an intricate network of protected inner channels and bays. With dozens of coves and lagoons to visit, this network offers a bounty of hideaways.
Perfect for Solitude
For all its wilderness appeal, Shuyak's cool, wet climate and remoteness (250 miles southwest of Anchorage, it's accessible only by floatplane or boat) keep the crowds at bay. It also helps, for those in search of solitude, that there are no towns on Shuyak. No place to buy groceries, fuel, or souvenirs. No roads, airstrips, or harbors. No year-round residents.
It wasn't always this way. Ancient village sites suggest that Native peoples lived on Shuyak for thousands of years. But by the mid-19th century, they had abandoned the island. Humans returned in the early 1900s, drawn by herring and salmon fisheries. Commercial seiners still harvest silver salmon each August, but Shuyak is now mostly a recreational retreat, used by hunters, anglers, and boaters. Kayakers have come in growing numbers since the mid-1980s, following the birth of Shuyak Island State Park (expanded from 11,000 to 46,000 acres, it now encompasses nearly the entire island).
Besides boosting Shuyak's recreational profile, park managers made it easier to endure the island's often stormy weather by building four public-use cabins. Capable of housing up to eight people each, the 12-by-20-foot cabins have many comforts of home: propane lights and two-burner hot plate, wood-burning stove, bunk beds with foam pads, picnic table, and cooking utensils. There's even a kitchen sink, storage shed, outdoor shower stall, and outhouse. And both propane and firewood are provided.
Placed within Shuyak's inner passages and hidden beneath the spruce forest canopy that offers added protection from storms, each cabin is a short walk from shoreline. All are located on the island's western edge, one to three miles apart, a convenience for those who wish to go cabin hopping.
Shuyak's recreational cabin system—the first to be established in any of Alaska's wilderness state parks—has proved to be extremely popular. Beyond the cabins, development has been kept to a minimum, to enhance the park's scenic wildness. There's a single ranger station, few trails, and no campgrounds or other visitor facilities.
Cost: $65 per night.
Reservations: Up to 6 months in advance.
Maximum stay: 7 nights.
For more information: Alaska State Parks, Kodiak District Office, HCR 3800, Kodiak, AK 99615, 907/486-6339; or, DNR Public Information Center, 550 West Seventh Ave., Suite 1260, Anchorage, AK 99501, 907/269-8400.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication