Alaskan Cabin Comforts

Seeking Shelter from the Storm
  |  Gorp.com

You have seen the pictures and heard (or read) the stories, so you know it's true: Kayakers exploring Alaska's wild coastline paddle across glassy waters that mirror calm, cerulean skies, while warm sunshine caresses bare flesh. A harder truth is this: Sun-bathing weather and calm, cloudless days are something of an illusion in the North Pacific. The rule of thumb is thick overcast, rainy 50-or 60-degree days, chilling winds, and more rain. And that's in midsummer. The rest of the year is cooler, wetter, stormier. In most of Alaska's prime sea-kayaking areas, you can go days or even weeks without seeing the sun.

Thank goodness, then, for public-use cabins.

Simple Comfort in the Wild
Some kayakers use public cabins as a kind of "base camp" from which they explore their coastal surroundings on day-long paddling trips; those who are long-distance voyageurs may instead prefer to go cabin-hopping or mix cabin stays with tent camping as they travel the wilderness coast on extended expeditions. Whatever a paddler's strategy or desire, there's no question that cabins provide dependable protection from Alaska's often stormy marine weather. And, if necessary, they can serve as emergency shelters.

Maybe it has something to do with middle age, this desire for the simple comforts of cabins. Somehow it makes all the difference to spend the day paddling in wet, raw, windy weather, and then, when sufficiently soaked and chilled, to return to a roomy, dry, heated shelter. Here you can spread out your soaked clothing, pull up a chair and read a book beside the wood- or oil-burning stove, while your paddling partner grabs fresh greens from the cooler and prepares a gourmet dinner on the two-burner stove. No crowding, no leaking tent, no soggy sleeping bag—and little worry of a bear or other wild critter getting into your food supplies, safely stored inside the cabin.

Balancing these "comforts of home" is the wildness to be found immediately outside the doors of Alaska's coastal cabins. Most are located in remote and pristine wilderness areas that can be reached only by boat or plane. Built to blend with their surroundings, many cabins are hidden beneath the forest canopy, usually within a short hike of the beach. Virtually invisible from either the air or the water, they have a minimal impact on the environment or the aesthetic sensibilities of backcountry travelers. And because they tend to funnel travelers into defined, manageable spots, these cabins may save more fragile neighboring areas from the damage that inevitably accompanies sustained human use, even if low-impact camping methods are practiced.

Access to Top Kayaking
Scattered along the North Pacific coastline, public-use cabins can be reserved at several of Alaska's most popular sea kayaking destinations: from Misty Fjords and Admiralty Island national monuments in the Tongass National Forest to Southcentral Alaska's Prince William Sound, Kodiak Archipelago and Kenai Peninsula. The following round-up describes the many possibilities and tells how to reserve a cabin when planning your next trip to Alaska's wet-and-wild coastline.

Besides the contacts listed for each area, a good general reference is How to Rent a Public Cabin in Southcentral Alaska (Wilderness Press, 1999), by Andromeda Romano-Lax.


Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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