Kenai Wilderness Cabin
This is my fifth trip into Alaska's 580,000-acre Kenai Fjords National Park, known for its abundant marine wildlife, tidewater glaciers, and, of course, the coastal fjords: long and steep-sided glacially carved valleys now filled with seawater.
I've done the wildlife boat tours out of Seward, listened to the booming echoes of calving glaciers in Aialik Bay and Holgate Arm, mingled with tour-bus crowds at road-accessible Exit Glacier, and hiked to the Harding Icefield overlook. But never before have I explored the park's remote and largely unpeopled southern fringes. Of the 231,000 people who visit Kenai Fjords this year, less than 100 will come to North Arm, which is easily accessible only by air.
The solitude is one reason I've come here with Dave. That and the coastal scenery and the wildlife. A resident of upper New York state, Dave, like me, has always loved wild places and wild creatures. Here he'll discover an ecosystem different than any he's known, one with glaciers and old-growth coastal rain forest, puffins and sea otters and harbor porpoises. I'm excited to share it with him.
A small town on the shores of Resurrection Bay, Seward is the primary gateway to Kenai Fjords, but North Arm lies much closer to another Kenai Peninsula coastal community, Homer. On a straight line, it's only 35 miles away. After our half-hour flight we quickly settled into our temporary home: North Arm Cabin, one of the park's five public-use cabins.
North Arm is the least popular of Kenai Fjords' coastal cabins. Along with Delight Creek (one fjord to the east), it's the most isolated and difficult to reach; and unlike Delight, it doesn't have nearby sockeye or silver salmon runs to lure in anglers. "North Arm tends to attract loner types who are comfortable in remote wilderness settings," says park superintendent Anne Castellina. "In fact we try to discourage inexperienced people from going there." Because it gets so little use, North Arm cabin can be reserved for up to nine days; the others have three-day limits.
Built to blend with their surroundings, the cabins have a minimal impact on either the environment or the aesthetic sensibilities of backcountry travelers. They also provide dependable protection from the park's often stormy weather. It makes all the difference to spend the day paddling or hiking in wet, raw, windy weather and then return to a roomy, dry, heated shelter. Ours is a 16-by-24-foot cedar-sided cabin with front porch, dining table, chairs, bunkbeds, and oil-fueled stove. It's connected to the beach by gravel trail and has an outhouse that smells of cedar: wonderful surprise.
Outside the cabin in mid-August are berry patches rich with ripened blueberries and salmonberries; sweet and easy pickings for snacks and pancake breakfasts. Equally bountiful is the wildlife. In our first few hours we meet several local residents: black-capped chickadees and golden-crowned kinglets sing brightly in the trees, gulls screech along the shoreline, bald eagles do fly-bys, a splashing sea otter dives for its dinner, and black oystercatchersstrange-looking, crow-size shorebirds with long red bills, pink legs, yellowish eyes, and all-black bodiespeck for food along the gravel beach. A stone's throw from the cabin's path is a small, shallow clearwater creek, source of our drinking water and home to a small run of pinks, the only salmon species to spawn nearby.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication