Trip Number: 12021A
Staff: Jim Murphy
- Observe whales, seals, birds, and other wildlife while traveling on
a small yacht
- See bears fishing for salmon in their natural habitat
- Hike through temperate rainforest to beaches, waterfalls, and wildflower-covered
- Yacht lodging and all meals
- On-trip naturalist/marine biologist
- Use of sea kayaks
Join us as we explore the natural history and tribal heritage of southeast
Alaska's Inside Passage from the comfort of a small yacht. We will watch humpback
whales, journey into fjords to see icebergs and a tidewater glacier, and look
for bears and other wildlife. Most of our voyage will take place in the Tongass
National Forest -- the largest in North America. Each day, we'll go ashore to
experience beautiful beaches and forests, tumbling waterfalls, alpine meadows,
and wetlands filled with incredible plants. Accompanied by a naturalist, we'll
comb the shoreline for intertidal creatures, birds, plants, and marine animals.
Additionally, the trip will include a visit to the Anan Creek Bear Observatory
where we’ll likely see bears feasting on salmon.
Photo: Daniel Leighton
We'll begin our voyage in picturesque Wrangell, Alaska. Our group will gather
the evening before the trip begins to get acquainted and take a look at the
Our flexible daily itinerary will be based upon group interests, weather conditions,
and, of course, animal sightings. Therefore, what follows is only a sample itinerary!
Days 1-2: The trip officially begins at 10 a.m. at Wrangell’s
municipal harbor. We’ll board the Snow Goose, assign cabins, have a safety
talk and then get underway.
We have obtained a permit for a visit to the Anan Bear Observatory through
the Forest Service's lottery system. On the way, we’ll likely stop for
a short hike, or perhaps visit Virginia Lake, where the hardy can enjoy a chilly
The Anan Creek has the largest run of pink salmon in southeast Alaska. It has
long been used by bears and humans as a fishing and food-gathering site. Twenty-five
years ago, the U.S. Forest Service improved a trail to the falls and built a
simple observatory on the site of a former Tlingit village. The Forest Service
has a half-mile boardwalk trail, deck area, and blind that give us an opportunity
to watch the bears up close. We’ll spend an entire day at Anan!
Day 3: Heading north through the Wrangell Narrows, we may
stop at some interesting petroglyph-inscribed rocks before stopping near Petersburg,
an interesting small town. We may take a hike through a nearby bog full of fascinating
unique plants that are native to that environment, or take a hike out of Petersburg
itself. We will then continue north on Frederick Sound to Thomas Bay.
Days 4-5: With good weather, we’ll awake to see spectacular
mountains, seascapes, and glaciers. Frederick Sound, Chatham Strait, and Stephens
Passage are considered the best areas in southeast Alaska to see humpback whales.
We'll explore all of these areas. With luck, we'll see some spectacular whale
behavior. We also likely observe sea otters, orcas, Dall porpoises, terns, and
other interesting seabirds. We’ll spend a night at an island group called
The Brothers, where we can take our skiff or kayaks to observe sea lions. A
gorgeous hike through a rainforest also awaits us at these islands.
Days 6-7: A treat is in store for us as we cruise up one of
the fjords to the foot of a large tidewater glacier, perhaps the Dawes Glacier.
These glaciers extend hundreds of feet above the water and are constantly calving
icebergs into the water below. Depending on schedule and interest, we may continue
to Five Fingers lighthouse for a shore excursion, or even go as far as Kake
-- one of the native villages in this part of Alaska.
Photo: Daniel Leighton
Days 8-9: We'll visit Baranof Warm Springs for a relaxing
soak and a chance to hike to a lake above the picturesque falls. During this
time we will also visit Admiralty Island National Monument, which has the highest
concentration of brown bears (coastal grizzlies) and nesting bald eagles in
Day 10: Weather and sea conditions permitting, we’ll
head to St. Lazaria Island, a wildlife refuge, where we should see tufted puffins,
pigeon guillemots, rhinoceros auklets, and several other bird species. We will
aim to reach our final destination, Sitka, by noon.
Although the trip is officially over when we dock in Sitka, you should spend
at least another day in this fascinating city. Sitka, rich in Native American
(Tlingit), Russian, and American history. Visit the Sitka National Historic
Park, which memorializes the battle of Sitka in 1804 between the Russians and
the Tlingits, and contains remarkable Tlingit and Haida totems. On the way,
stop by wonderful native exhibits at the Sheldon Jackson Museum. Also within
walking distance of the park is the Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center, which
provides medical treatment to various birds of prey and allows you to see these
creatures up close.
You will need to make your transportation arrangements to arrive in Wrangell
and depart from Sitka. Alaska Airlines serves both cities. In both places, taxis
are available between the harbor, airport, and town.
Because weather in Southeast Alaska is unpredictable, we always recommend that
you plan to arrive at least one day before trip departure. There is much to
do and see in Southeast Alaska, and this trip can serve as the centerpiece for
an extended trip. Our gateway city Wrangell provides some interesting options
for those curious about history and the Tlingit native culture. Visit Chief
Shakes Island, Tribal House Historic Monument, and Petroglyph Beach State Historic
Park. Or take a day trip to the mighty Stikine River, experiencing the same
incredible scenery, glaciers, wildlife, and adventures as John Muir did in 1879.
The trip leader can provide you with suggestions for ways to extend your trip.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Daniel Leighton
Our home will be a 65-foot-long Snow Goose. Built in 1973 as a private yacht,
this U.S. Coast Guard-certified passenger vessel boasts a motorized inflatable
raft for shore excursions, and several sea kayaks to allow any or all of the
passengers to quietly explore islands and shorelines. The knowledgeable crew
consists of a captain, a professional cook, and an experienced deckhand. We'll
also have a naturalist onboard with expertise in marine biology, ornithology,
The yacht sleeps 12 passengers in six private, fully-heated cabins, and has
three toilets and two hot showers. The main deck features an airy salon, a library,
a galley, and a dining area. Large windows permit unobstructed views out all
sides, and access to the outside is easy. The upper bridge deck provides a good
vantage point for spotting wildlife and has comfortable seating for passengers
who wish to learn about navigation. Please note that smoking is not permitted
aboard the ship.
The small vessel allows access to shoreline areas inaccessible to larger ships.
We will spend days traveling from place to place, observing marine life, and
stopping for shore excursions one to three times each day.
All meals will be onboard the ship. We will have a social hour before dinner
and evening discussions about our experiences that day. Most nights will be
spent anchored in quiet coves. The trip price includes all meals, starting with
lunch on the first day and ending with breakfast on the last day. A professional
cook will prepare all the meals. Volunteer help is always welcome. There will
be ample quantities of fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, and dairy products.
Delicious, wholesome meals will be served family- or buffet-style. Complimentary
wine is served before and with dinner. Otherwise, guests are responsible for
bringing their own alcoholic beverages or soft drinks. Coffee and tea are also
Photo: Daniel Leighton
This will be a leisurely trip. Hikes will be optional and generally easy,
covering moderate terrain. Insects should not be a significant problem, although
mosquito repellent will be useful on some hikes. You must be able to descend
a short ladder to board an inflatable launch for shore excursions. Daytime temperatures
usually range from 55-85 degrees. Although we should have days with sunshine,
we must be also prepared for rain and gusty winds. The minimum age for the trip
is 12 years.
We use a professional captain, cook, and naturalist for our Southeast Alaska
cruise. The industry practice is that outfitters require participants to sign
a waiver similar to the Sierra Club waiver you will be asked to sign. Your trip
leader will provide you with the details for your trip.
Equipment and Clothing
Interests may vary from one person to another, so the equipment list may vary
a bit too. You'll certainly want to bring layered clothing with excellent raingear
and knee-length rubber boots, a camera, and binoculars. Photographers of all
skill levels will have ample opportunities to take pictures of wildlife and
scenery. For all except serious photographers, a point-and-shoot camera -- preferably
with a zoom lens -- works quite well. Those who are particularly interested
in bird-watching will have a treat in store, so good binoculars are essential.
Although this is not a fishing trip, there may be some limited opportunities
to fish. An Alaska fishing license is required and may be purchased in Wrangell
or online before the trip. You will receive a detailed clothing and equipment
list specific to this trip from the leader after signing up.
Photo: Daniel Leighton
- Otteson, Paul, Alaska Travel Smart. This guidebook gives excellent
overviews of places of interest in Alaska.
- Muir, John, Travels in Alaska. Discover Alaska through the eyes
of the Sierra Club's founder.
- Mitchner, James A., Alaska. Explore Alaska and its peoples from
early times to the present day.
- Reid, William, The Raven Steals the Light. Savor Reid's fascinating
stories and legends of the Haida people.
- L'Amour, Louis, Sitka. An early adventurer faces the dangers of
- McPhee, John, Coming into the Country. Alaska is far more complex
geographically, culturally, ecologically, and politically than most Americans
appreciate, and few writers are as capable of capturing this complexity
as McPhee, who describes his travels through much of the state.
- Wiley, Sally, Blue Ice in Motion, The Story of Alaska’s Glaciers.
This book provides an illustrated introduction to Alaska's glaciers,
with details on how they form, why they move, and the landforms that result.
- Hedin, Robert and Gary Holthause, Alaska, Reflections on Land and Spirit.
This book provides a collection of stories by writers who are native to
Alaska, or have traveled and lived in Alaska. It includes accounts of explorers,
natives, naturalists, and others.
- Heacox, Kim, The Only Kayak. An account of the past 25 years that
the author has spent living in Glacier Bay. Includes a look at his own development
as a conservationist.
- Schooler, Lynn, The Blue Bear. Schooler worked for many years
as a guide in the Alaska Panhandle. This book chronicles his search with
photographer Michio Hoshino for the rare glacier bear, a blue-tinted variation
of more common black bears.
Photo: Daniel Leighton
The Alaska Inside Passage is a vast and delightful wilderness, but human impacts
increasingly affect this area. Drawing upon the knowledge of our crew and your
trip leader, we will experience and discuss several environmental issues for
southeast Alaska, including logging in the Tongass National Forest, mining,
and climate change. Further information will be coming as we prepare for our
Travel in Alaska and the Arctic
Sierra Club outings in Alaska and Arctic Canada are special experiences in true wilderness, but they also carry an element of risk. Trip locales are often remote, away from the amenities of civilization, including sophisticated medical care and immediate evacuation possibilities. Many of our Alaska and Arctic Canada trips now carry satellite phones, but even with this technology, communication with the outside world can be difficult and emergency assistance can be days away. Weather in Alaska and Arctic Canada is unpredictable, and inclement weather can be severe. Among other hazards are cold river and stream crossings, tidal activity, calving glaciers, the psychological effects of remoteness, and the presence of large wild animals. You're in good hands, though, so don't worry: Your trip leaders have vast experience in the Last Frontier, and they'll provide all the guidance you need.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
Jim Murphy has been a Sierra Club Outings leader for 14 years. He has been an avid river enthusiast and kayaker for 30 years. This is the fourth Alaska trip Jim has led. He enjoys helping fellow trip members get a spiritual and life-changing experience out of this once-in-a-lifetime, must-do trip. Being on the water is his passion. In real life Jim is an emergency medicine physician.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips