Kayaking Alaska’s Kodiak Island: Part 2

There are no tidal glaciers on Kodiak, just fjord-like bays that cut up to a dozen miles into this long, narrow island 100 miles long and only 30 miles wide.

Tidal fluctuations vary by about 10 feet on the east side, half again as much on the Shelikof Strait sides. The tide book is the coastal bible because influences from different regions mean constant interpolation of posted tidal fluctuations and times. Narrow entrances between islands and mainland create tidal currents that can surge through rocks at seven or eight knots during a 10-foot change in depth.

Exploring the rock outcroppings near a Kittiwake rookery beyond Near Island.

Day trips out of Kodiak, or anywhere along the road system will take paddlers to sea lion haul out beaches, puffin and kittiwake rookeries and summer feeding grounds for sea otters in almost any direction from almost any beach. Summer runs of all five species of Pacific salmon ensures kayaking anglers of great kayak fishing opportunities.

Shear cliffs are strung together by long stretches of fine sand like a geological necklace lined out along the shore. The island’s east side orientation is to the entire fetch of the North Pacific Ocean. Southeasterly winds and storms create some of Alaska’s gnarliest surf conditions. Kodiak is being looked at as a future hotspot for surf kayaking competition, rivaling the growing reputation of its sister community, Yakutat, across on the other side of the Gulf.

The Pacific can be as gentle as a mountain lake, and Kodiak has those days, too. It is not uncommon to be four or five miles off shore in water so calm, all motion seems suspended.

Kayakers Venture Forth From Kodiak
While several individuals have circumnavigated the Kodiak archipelago, most kayakers venture forth from Kodiak and either paddle out and back or take one of several for-hire charter boats and get dropped of at key destinations around the northern half of the island. From town, paddlers can head out and circumnavigate nearby Spruce Island featuring the rocky slalom course of rocks through Monk’s Lagoon or the thousands of puffins and storm petrels roosting on the Triplet Islands.

The west side stretches out along the Shelikof Straits, a tempestuous body of water that separates Kodiak from the Alaska Peninsula mainland and Katmai National Park. Two villages, a few fish camps and lodges, coupled with two shore-based Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge cabins are the extent of development on this side of the island. Air charters or the mail plane can fly in paddlers with folding boats to the villages of Larsen Bay or Karluk for a one-way paddle back to Kodiak if circumnavigating the island doesn’t suit your wanderlust.

Kayak bear viewing off the Katmai Coast, on the mainland across from Kodiak Island.

Several islands north of Kodiak lies Shuyak, a small, irregularly shaped island cut with myriad bays. It’s a kayaker’s paradise. Nearly the entire island is part of the Alaska State Parks system. A seasonally staffed ranger station at Big Bay keeps tabs on the waterways and the four public use cabins scattered throughout the park. Access to this water wonderland is via charter flights out of Kodiak or Homer, Alaska, on the mainland. Paddlers wanting to kayak Shuyak need to either bring folding boats or consider a fleet of rental kayaks from a private concessionaire in Kodiak who has his boats stored near the Big Bay Ranger Station.

Several lodges have included kayaking on their list of activities in recent years. At least one charter boat operator provides single kayaks for customized, extended day tours around Kodiak or across the Shelikof Straits along the Katmai coastline. Two companies offer guided kayaking tours throughout the summer, and one offers rental singles as well. Two Native villages have entered the cultural tourism arena offering guided sea kayaking tours from their villages. The Kodiak Island Convention & Visitors Bureau has information in the form of a visitors guide to the island.

Like many destinations in Alaska, Kodiak is expensive to get to and very weather dependent. However, if remote, unspoiled beaches, raw but beautiful scenery and a chance to paddle in one of the regions from antiquity where kayaks were developed excite your paddling spirit, Kodiak Island offers it all.

In fact, there are still Native islanders in some of the villages who remember their grandfathers building kayaks in the villages as late as the 1920s. The kayaking spirit is definitely alive on Kodiak Island.

For More information:
FACT file: Kayak Kodiak – Alaska’s Emerald Isle
Boat Rentals / Outfitters & Guided-
Mythos Expeditions
POB 2084
Kodiak, AK 99615-2084

Guided Tours-

Mid-May through August for guided operations and support. Kodiak has a moderate winter climate making kayaking available all year long although some bays do freeze over. Mosquitoes are not a problem in summer but “No-See-Ums” are devastating at times.

Maps / General Information
Kodiak is a commercial fishing community; NOAA nautical charts are readily available, as are most USGA topographic maps. Other maps, road information, cabin rentals, brochures, etc. are all available from the following:

Kodiak Island Convention & Visitors Bureau
100 Marine Way
Kodiak, AK 99615

Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge
1390 Buskin River Road,
Kodiak, AK 99615.

Alaska State Parks / Kodiak Island (and Shuyak Island)
HCR 3800
Kodiak, AK 99615

Resort Options:

The following lodges offer sea kayaking as part of their activities:

Afognak Wilderness Lodge
Seal Bay
Kodiak, AK 99615

Raspberry Island Remote Camps
POB 888
Kodiak, AK 99615

Katmai Wilderness, Inc.
POB 4332
Kodiak, AK 99615-4332

Tides fluctuate by 10 to 15 feet or more around the island. A tide book is essential. Strong tidal rips and constricted entrances make for fast, strong currents among many rock outcroppings and at entrances to many bays.

Southeasterly winds typically bring rain, wind and high seas (open North Pacific fetch). The west side tends to get windy on clear days as westerlies bring in dry air from the mainland. Extended rocky shorelines and high tides require careful scrutiny and local knowledge regarding take-out points — many beaches disappear at high tide.

This is bear country! Learn how to camp with bears and follow procedures. Camping on some islands along high bear population coastlines isn’t necessarily a guarantee from encounters as bears are excellent swimmers. Bears tend to gnaw on folding boats more than glass or plastic models — unless food is stored in them, then nothing is sacred!

Getting There:
Kodiak is served by two commuter air carriers from Anchorage: Era Aviation and Alaska Airlines. Local air charters can take you to remote villages or drop-off points. Homer, Alaska, also has several air taxis that provideshuttle service to Shuyak Island — all spendy! The Alaska Marine Highway (state ferry system) also serves Kodiak. Kayaks can be carried aboard with walk-on passengers (1-800-526-6731).

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