This Intimate Kayaking Safari Is the Ultimate Way to See Alaskan Wildlife
Alaska’s waters are rich with wildlife just waiting to be discovered on a kayaking adventure.
In my fantasies, when I picture myself escaping the hustle of life on a remote island, I’m on a sun-drenched, white-sand beach surrounded by turquoise waters — you know, the Maldives. Maybe somewhere in the Caribbean. I’m not frolicking on a remote, rocky seashore, where the high temperature is about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, even in summer.
But that’s exactly what I got on Fox Island, which sits in the middle of Alaska’s Kenai Fjords National Park — one of the few national parks that’s only reachable by boat. To get there, it takes a scenic, glass-domed train ride on Alaska Railroad from Anchorage to Seward, followed by a 45-minute boat ride from Seward across Resurrection Bay.
Often shrouded in ghostly fog, Fox Island is known for jagged cliffs, clear water, and beaches covered with flat, smooth pebbles perfect for skipping. The destination — exclusively accessible through adventure company (and lodge operator) Pursuit’s Kenai Fjord Tours — is only open to visitors between the end of May to the beginning of September (this year, the season wraps on September 1), so the window to experience its mysterious shores is short. But, as I learned, well worth it.
As a New Yorker, a typical outdoor adventure for me consists of walking the 10 minutes to Prospect Park and perhaps traversing its Great Lawn. Once, I took advantage of a 15-minute free kayaking lesson on the East River. With Alaska celebrating its 60th year of statehood, I felt the time was right for an adventure, though I was both intrigued by Pursuit’s trips and anxious it might test my limits. The package (starting from two nights at $1,340 per person, based on double occupancy) includes the boat ride to and from Seward to the island; meals that highlight local Alaskan ingredients; and a two-hour guided kayak tour. Somehow, I let myself be talked into upgrading to the full-day tour, lured by the promise of puffin and sea lion sightings.
My first night on the island, a torrential storm hit. There are no power outlets, no WiFi, no televisions, and spotty cell service in the cabins (the lodge has a charging station and staff have backup communications to the mainland), so I was essentially forced to unplug. The island’s main source of energy is solar power (which shockingly provides reliable hot water and electricity, despite the fog). Each cabin is equipped with a copy of American artist Rockwell Kent’s Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska, which he completed after spending the winter of 1918 to 1919 on the island. With nothing else to do, I cracked open chapter one and waited for the rain to pass.
The next morning, I headed to the lodge for a way-too-brief kayak instructional by Danny from Sunny Cove Sea Kayaking, which operates all the tours from Fox Island in partnership with Pursuit. I was reassured by Danny that the fact that it was overcast was a good thing — sun often brings wind, which makes staying upright in a kayak more difficult. But as soon as we pushed off, I immediately felt out of my depth, as my companions paddled easily past me and my forearms already throbbed. Danny was patient, and demonstrated (again) for me how to hold my paddle so I wouldn’t become sore.
And then, he told me to look to the right, where I was confronted with a giant rock wall dotted with puffins. I squealed, grabbed my camera, pointed it at the chubby, cheerful little birds flying all around us. Soon, the hours fell away as we paddled across the bay, spotting more puffins, furry sea lions, and bald eagles overhead. Danny led us to a hidden hamlet called Humpy Cove, where the sea meets a freshwater river that’s filled with spawning salmon and fed by a gigantic waterfall . River otters also slipped in and out of the water to say hello. On the paddle back, the sun peaked through the clouds. I had made it, with two nearly numb arms as proof. That night, after an exceptional dinner of local salmon and foraged fiddleheads, I slept soundly.
The next morning’s six-hour tour of the Kenai Fjords National Park was dazzling in a whole new way, as we glided past three towering glaciers, including the majestic Ailik Glacier, where we stopped amid its floating icebergs to hear its thunderous calving. On our journey back to Seward, we passed humpback whales and orcas, plus more sea lions, otters, and puffins.
In the end, mine was just a small taste of the epic adventure Alaska has to offer. Whether yours is a 10-day cruise, hiking through Denali National Park, skiing in Girdwood, or bear-spotting in Katmai National Park, this is the year to make it happen.