Alaskan Cabin Comforts
Among Alaska's most popular wildlands, 580,000-acre Kenai Fjords National Park is 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. Those attractions, combined with a bounty of remote and seldom-visited wilderness coastline, have made Kenai Fjords one of the state's premier sea kayaking destinations. In all but the most accessible fjords, ocean paddlers can go days or perhaps even weeks without meeting another person.
Kenai Fjords' most heavily used coastal area, by far, is Aialik Bay. Mostly this is because of access: Aialik is the nearest fjord to Seward, a coastal town 120 highway miles south of Anchorage and the park's primary gateway. Only 20 air miles from Seward, Aialik Bay is 50 miles distant by water, across often rough seas; thus many kayakers travel here on charters or the tour boats that visit regularly in summer.
Besides easy access, the bay's chief attraction is Aialik Glacier, whose tidewater face calves immense blocks of pale blue ice into the ocean, accompanied by thundering booms. There's also the ruggedly beautiful landscape and plentiful wildlife: bald eagles, ravens, several species of shorebirds and seabirds, sea otters, seals, porpoises, and occasionally whales, black bears, or mountain goats. One final appeal: For those who want dependable shelter from the often wet, cool and windy weather, Aialik has one of the park's three coastal cabins (available only from late May through late September). Like the others, Aialik's is a spacious 16-by-24-foot cedar-sided cabin with front porch, dining table and chairs, work counter, oil-fueled stove, and bunkbeds. This one, however, also has a couch and sleeps only four. Unfortunately, it can be reserved for three nights only; that can make your stay a brief one if stormy weather delays your arrival.
Eight paddling miles from the Aialik cabin is one at Holgate Arm, another fjord frequently visited by both tour boats and coastal kayakers. Holgate too has a tidewater glacier. And it's close enough to Seward that coastal tours come here daily. The cabin, with bunks for six, presents a spectacular front-porch view of Holgate Glacier's calving snout; visitors also are likely to see humpback whales. This cabin, like Aialik Bay's has a three-day limit.
The Remote North Arm
The most remote of Kenai Fjords' coastal cabins is one at North Arm, in the park's southwest corner. This cabin sleeps six and is most easily reached by plane, from Homer, 35 miles away by air (and much farther by water). Unlike the other two, North Arm is immersed in wilderness solitude: No tour boats and few other visitors come here. And because demand isn't as high, this cabin can be reserved for up to nine days.
Another alternative, for those exploring the lower Kenai Peninsula, are three state park cabins located along the shores of Resurrection Bay, within seven miles of Seward. Named the Caines Head and Thumb Cove cabins, they each sleep eight people. Though not nearly as remote as Kenai Fjords, Resurrection Bay presents excellent opportunities for coastal exploring and marine wildlife viewing.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Reservations: Can be made the first working day of January
Maximum stay: 3 to 9 nights
For more information: Kenai Fjords National Park, P.O. Box 1727, Seward, AK 99664, 907/224-3175.
Alaska State Parks, Resurrection Bay
Reservations: Up to 6 months in advance
Maximum stay: 7 nights
For more information: Alaska DNR Public Information Center, 550 W. Seventh Ave., Suite 1260, Anchorage 99501, 907/269-8400.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication