Kayaking and rafting near Juneau

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of November 7-13, 1996
Exploring the Dominican Republic's parks
Kayaking and rafting near Juneau
Choosing a mountaineering school
Off the map in Baja Sur Mexico

Kayaking and rafting near Juneau
Question: We're a party of 6-8 people and we're looking for an outfitter and lodging, reasonably priced, during the last week of May '97. No hunters or fishers, but canoeing, hiking, etc. Area: around Juneau.

Linda Briggs
San Diego, CA
[email protected]

Adventure Adviser: Considering the sheer immensity of the Last Frontier's wilderness, you're wise to narrow your adventure options to the Juneau area. If you're thinking about canoeing, you'd do well to loosen the limits on that front and think paddling--in kayaks. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is arguably one of the country's premier sea kayaking destinations, thanks to calving tidewater glaciers, quiet side bays, and spectacular wildlife. And it's an easy 25-minute flight from Juneau.

Alaska Discovery (800-586-1911) runs week-long, 60-mile group kayaking trips in Muir Inlet, the bay's east arm. Cost per person is an admittedly pricey $1,800, including airplane drop-offs at the far end of the inlet. If you think you might be up for a guideless-trip, you'll want to make your first stop the tiny community of Gustavus, where Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks will rent you two-person, hard-shell kayaks for $50 per day; call 907-697-2257 for details. From there, head north to park headquarters in nearby Bartlett Cove, where you can bed down at the Glacier Bay Lodge (bunk rooms, $26 per person; private rooms, $78 per person; 800-622-2042) before heading out for at least a week of paddling the small side bays and hiking remnant glaciers and ridgelines. Be aware of bay hazards such as capsizing icebergs, breaching humpback whales, and the very chilly 35-degree water.

If you're looking to explore the park on foot, your best bet is to catch a lift on Glacier Bay Lodge's tour boat to one of several designated drop-off points in the bay. Call the rangers at 907-697-2232 for a rundown of next year's sites, plus detailed maps and helpful backpacking route suggestions. The best transportation option to Glacier Bay is via Alaska Airlines (800-426-0333) from Juneau, which will cost you about $65 one-way.

Other area options include raft trips on the Class III Tatshenshini River or the Class III-IV Alsek, both of which begin in the British Columbia mountains and end--dozens of whitewater rapids later--in the west end of Glacier Bay National Park. Be forewarned: The Alsek has a terrifying drop that requires a helicopter portage. Call Chilkat Guides at 907-766-2491 for trip details.

Another Juneau-area outfitter worth investigating is Wilderness Swift Adventures (907-463-4942), for multi-day kayaking trips in the Tracy Arm and Pack Creek wilderness areas. If price is a big concern, you may also want to consider bunking down in one of several Forest Service cabins in the surrounding backcountry. Most are accessible via hiking trails and tend to fill up well in advance, so if you plan on taking this route, be sure to call the Alaska Public Lands Information Center (907-271-2737) well ahead of time for reservations. Hike-in cabins such as the ones at Peterson Lake, Douglas Island, and Eagle Glacier usually go for $20-$30 per night and come equipped with bunk beds, wood stove, and great views. Spartan, yes, but well worth the extra effort.

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