Smart Traveler: A Roof with a View

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, May 1996

Smart Traveler: A Roof with a View

Staking out a rental cabin in the wilds of Alaska
By Tom Kizzia

A trip into the Alaska wilderness doesn't have to mean flattening yourself in a storm-battered alpine tent or lying awake as the tide rises toward the suspiciously aquatic-looking beach plants where you pitched camp. These days it's possible to bunk in one of a growing number of cabins throughout Alaska's wild public lands.

Though it's the smallest of the park's four coastal cabins (with one bunk bed instead of three), this Aialik Bay cabin has spectacular views of Pederson and Aialik glaciers and is best for exploring the area's nooks--such as Three Hole Bay and Paradise Cove--by kayak. Watch for humpback whales feeding on a nearby reef.

Access: Fox Island Charters (907-224-5271) charges $230 per person for a round-trip boat ride between Seward, 125 miles south of Anchorage, and Aialik Bay. Sea kayaks can be rented in Seward at Adventures & Delights ($120 per week for a single, $325 per week for a double; 800-288-3134).

Information: For reservations, taken after the first of the year, write the Alaska Public Lands Information Center, 605 W. Fourth Ave., Suite 105, Anchorage, AK 99501; 907-271-2737. Cabins cost $30 a night, and there's a maximum three-night stay.

Along the Resurrection Pass Trail, on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage, the Juneau Lake cabin makes a good fishing stopover. The 12-by-14-foot cabin, which has a woodstove and bunks four, is one of 42 Forest Service cabins on the peninsula and along the coast of Prince William Sound. A small rowboat is provided to help fishermen reach the lake's trout and grayling.

Access: Drive to Cooper Landing, about 105 miles south of Anchorage; the south trailhead of the popular, well-marked Resurrection Pass Trail starts just after the second bridge across the Kenai River. From there it's 9.5 mostly uphill miles to the cabin.

Information: Chugach cabins cost $25 a night. The Juneau Lake cabin has a maximum stay of three nights from May 15 to August 15, and seven nights during the off-season. Reservations may be made up to 179 days in advance, through the Alaska Public Lands Information Center, 605 W. Fourth Ave., Suite 105, Anchorage, AK 99501; 907-271-2737.

Set among towering Sitka spruces, the Salmon Cove cabin is on sheltered Big Bay in this maze-like park. Shuyak's four cabins, each with four bunk beds, are among the most civilized in Alaska, equipped with propane stoves and lights, sinks and gravity-fed running water. Shuyak, one of the northernmost islands in the Kodiak archipelago, offers countless sea-kayak routes. Fishing draws crowds, especially for silver salmon in August, but earlier in the summer you might have the whole park to yourself.

Access: Several air services, including Uyak Air (800-303-3407), fly from Kodiak for $1,180 round-trip for a group of six. The Tustumena, a state ferry, departs Homer three times a week ($96 round-trip; 800-642-0066) for Kodiak.

Information: The cedar-log cabins cost $50 per night, with a maximum stay of seven nights, and can be reserved six months in advance. Call park headquarters in Kodiak (907-486-6339).

The Mountain House, which has a small woodstove and sleeps up to six, is perched at 6,000 feet on an outcrop overlooking the bowl of Ruth Amphitheater and makes a great base camp for glacier skiing. Ski the 12-square-mile bowl, surrounded by granite faces, and gaze straight up at Mount McKinley. Skiers are advised to test slopes for crevasses and to stay roped together.

Access: Book flights with air charter services out of Talkeetna. Try Doug Geeting Aviation (800-770-2366), which charges $160-$190 per person round-trip, depending on the size of the party.

Information: The cabin rents for $85-$100 per day, and the season runs from mid-March to mid-July, after which snow conditions deteriorate, making glacier landings difficult. The cabin is usually booked a year in advance, but the standby list may get you in. Contact Roberta Sheldon at Alaska Retreat, Box 292, Talkeetna, AK 99676; 907-733-2414.

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