Do you love whales? Do you love spectacular coastal scenery in one of the wildest stretches of coastline in the world? Do you love good food? If you answered yes, this Alaska trip might be for you. We use a comfortable 50-foot boat as our sleeping and eating base, and can take up to seven passengers. We make shore excursions nearly every day.
We start in historic Sitka, a remarkable coastal town accessible via Alaska Airlines jet. You’ll want to spend a couple of days here, as there’s a lot to do and amazing photos to be had. For example, the Alaska Raptor Center, one of the largest raptor centers in North America, rehabilitates bald eagles, owls and hawks and provides kind sheltering for those birds who can no longer live in the wild. A few miles from the heart of town, Fortress of the Bear offers spacious quarters for rescued Alaska brown bears. Using a catwalk as a vantage point, you can get incredible photos of these huge, frisky bruins. Or simply wander downtown Sitka, with St. Michael’s cathedral that pays homage to the days of Russian occupation, or enjoy the many art galleries. Close by downtown, stroll along one of the harbors crammed with fishing boats to the artifact-jammed Sheldon Jackson Museum or the tiny Sitka Science Center with its displays of intertidal life. Just beyond is Sitka National Historic Park, which features Tlingit Native American craft workers and an impressive totem pole collection, with carvings all standing in hushed rainforest by the water’s edge. If town life isn’t your preference, the Sitka area features a massive network of hiking trails.
From Sitka we make our way past groups of sea otters lolling in kelp beds right outside of town. Weather permitting, we might venture to St. Lazaria Island Marine Wildlife Refuge, a rugged basalt outcropping crowded with murres, gulls and puffins. Then we meander north, perhaps to enchanting Magoun Islands, where you can wander in green, moss-spongy rainforests so magical that you just might expect an elf to show up. The protected waters are great for kayaking; we have a kayak for each passenger. We’ll continue north to the magnificent West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness, with miles-long, log-strewn, white sand beaches with nary another human being anywhere except us. Here, in the heart of the wilderness, we’ll spend a day at White Sulfur Springs. A short hike leads to magnificent hot tubs in a beautiful building. From the hot tubs, enjoy the view of Bertha Bay, a wilderness inlet right below. You just might glimpse a whale or two.
Then it’s on to the passage known as Lisianski Strait, with its rugged peaks rising on both sides of the waterway. We detour for a short stop at the tiny fishing village of Pelican before continuing north. Then we cross a corner of Cross Sound to rugged George Island and the Inian Islands (a little-known part of Glacier Bay National Park), which features Steller sea lions and bird rookeries. We also go to Elfin Cove, a charming little village noted for its sport fishing lodges snuggled around a hole-in-the-wall cove.
From there we meander east along Icy Strait to Point Adolphus, one of the best whale watching spots in Alaska. Indeed, the entire trip includes prime whale watching. On the outer coast, gray, sperm and humpback whales, along with orcas, swim the Pacific waters. As we proceed eastward, we’re in humpback and orca country. What makes this trip unique is that anytime we find great wildlife moments, we linger. We might find a bear working the shoreline in a search for intertidal snacks and so we’ll jump in our Zodiac for a closer look. We might find breaching or bubble-net-feeding humpbacks. Although wildlife is abundant, it’s not always predictable and that is part of the charm of this adventure. We value these wildlife experiences above a lock-step schedule.
Our captain, Ronn Patterson, has been cruising these waters for decades. An expert on whales, he knows where to find them and also stays in radio communication with other whale watchers, especially near our final destination, Auke Bay just north of Juneau, Alaska’s capital city. Co-photo leader is the award-winning Juneau photographer, Mark Kelley. Joining him yet again is Betty Sederquist, now in her twentieth year of leading trips with Dolphin Charters.
The cost does not include gratuities, airfare or hotels/meals in Sitka or Juneau.