5 Must See Out-of-the-Way Places in Southeast Alaska
Editors Note: This blog was originally featured on Gotsaga.com, a website devoted to adventurous people who love travel and culture.
If you want to see the world the way it was before the giant corporations and mega cruise lines shaped it, you have to find places off the beaten path. Places you’ve never heard of. Untouched places. Places without souvenir shops.
Southeast Alaska, while dominated by the huge cruise industry, still has those hidden places. On the M/V David B we’ll take you to some of these amazing spots. A few of them are: Tracy Arm/Fords Terror Wilderness, Admiralty Island, Thomas Bay, Baranof Warm Springs, and Frederick Sound. Each one of these places is unique and affords the solitude you won’t find on a ship with 2500 of your best friends. Sorry, no T-shirt shops.
Tracy Arm/Ford’s Terror Wilderness
The Tracy Arm/Ford’s Terror Wilderness is nestled into the Tongass National Forest. This wilderness area consists of over 600,000 acres of heavily glaciated mountains with three tidewater glaciers. As we travel among countless fancifully-shaped icebergs to the face of Dawes glacier, we witness the change in landscape. It goes from mature forest to a near moonscape of land that was recently scoured of it’s soil.
When we reach the glacier, we float silently, watching and listening to the movements of this slow motion frozen river. The silence is often punctuated by mountainous three-story high blocks of ice falling into the fjord. Sometimes the impact of the falling ice causes a sound wave you can feel through your body. It’s nature turned up to eleven.
Besides watching Dawes Glacier, Tracy Arm/Fords Terror has an incredible diversity of wildlife; Arctic terns, Red-throated loons, Marbled Murrelets, Surf Scoters, Harlequin Ducks and Bald Eagles create a chorus of songs that fill our remote anchorages and provides a feeling of solitude. When we anchor in Wood Spit or No Name Cove it’s not unusual to watch humpback whales feeding in the nearby deep waters, or to see a brown or black bear meander out of the forest to comb the beach for food.
There’s no better place for whale watching in Southeast Alaska than Frederick Sound. Every year, a hundred or more humpback whales come to the cold and nutrient rich waters of Frederick Sound and neighboring Stephens Passage to feed on dense populations of krill and small fish such as herring. Because we have a flexible itinerary, we are able to spend real time watching the whales. When we will come to a pod of humpbacks we stop and drift nearby. We watch for the expelled air of whales making bubble nets to catch their prey far beneath the surface. From time to time, bubbles rise along the hull of the David B and a few minutes later, a group of whales will surface several hundred feet away from us, their mouths open and water cascading from their bodies. If we are down wind, the salt and fish smell of their breath is carried past us. When this happens you know you are really experiencing Alaska.
Baranof Warm Springs
Out of the way and definitely off-the-beaten-path, Baranof Warm Springs is a favorite stop for our passengers. Access to Baranof is only by boat or float plane. There is a small community of about fifteen houses that surrounds the main dock. On our visits we’ve enjoyed meeting fishermen, locals, and cruisers who’ve come to enjoy a relaxing soak in one of the most dramatic settings. The main hot spring pools are located right beside a huge roaring waterfall and the feeling of soaking in this natural setting can only be described by visiting it yourself. Besides maintaining the pools, the community maintains the boardwalk and three beautiful bathhouses that look out over the bay.
Not far past the hot springs, the trail leads up to Baranof Lake. It’s waters are crystal clear and make for a beautiful spot for reflection or photography.
Many commercial fishermen wait out the days between salmon openings at Baranof Warm Springs. Since there are often fishing boats tied to the dock, it’s is a fun spot to catch up on the fishermen’s gossip, and since we’re not tied to a tight schedule, there’s lots of time to share in their long yarns.
Admiralty Island – Gambier Bay
A favorite place to take people on the David B is Gambier Bay on Admiralty Island. This wide yet protected bay is great place to kayak. The waters are calm and there are many nooks and crannies to explore. Admiralty is famous for it’s high concentrations of coastal grizzly bears, known as brown bears. There are approximately 1600 brown bears on the island. It is a not uncommon for us to paddle along the shore of Snug Cove and be able to watch a bear as it feeds.
On our beach walks we track aging footprints of bears and deer before we duck into the forest to get a close look at plants with attractive names, such as devils club or skunk cabbage. Once we enter the dense underbrush of the forest, it opens up to reveal a soft ground made of spruce needles and moss.
Many times, as we’ve entered Gambier Bay, we’ve had the fortune to share the main channel with humpback whales. One time, we watched a young whale breach several times in a row. It seemed so close to the islands that we all wondered if it knew just how close to land it was.
We enter Thomas Bay over a shallow moraine which marks the ancient reaches of the once tidewater, Baird Glacier. It now sits on solid ground, but what makes Thomas Bay famous is The Strangest Story Ever Told by early Wrangell resident Harry Colp. In his narrative, he describes Thomas Bay as the “Devil’s Country”, but the promise of gold-rich veins of quartz drew Harry and other prospectors to brave the tales of amnesia and devils that haunted and tormented the men who searched for gold.
While we have never found Thomas Bay to be haunted, we have found it to be beautiful place to explore, especially by kayak. An easy paddle along the shore gives you spectacular views of high mountain glaciers, while the curious seals that follow our route are as close to a haunting as you’ll get.
About the M/V David B
Motor Vessel David B is owned and operated by Capt. Jeffrey and Christine Smith. They provide adventure cruises in Alaska, the Inside Passage, and San Juan Islands. The M/V David B is the perfect alternative to the mainstream cruise ships for anyone searching for a cruise that is out of the ordinary and on an uncommon boat.
For more information on cruising aboard the M/V David B or to contact Christine visit NWNavigation.com.