The world of Alaska adventure opens up when you move beyond "road trips” and commit to a visit by air or by sea. Most of the state is accessible only by plane or ferry -- and there’s a lot of state to see.
Kodiak, for instance, is just a one-hour flight from Anchorage on either Alaska Air or Ravn (formerly Era Alaska). Airfare from Anchorage tips the scale at $221 roundtrip on either airline between May 25 and June 9. This is a promotional fare in conjunction with Crabfest, Kodiak’s biggest community event of the year that runs May 22-26. Check out all the community activities, including the famous survival suit races here. If you want to fly another time, consider using your Alaska Airlines miles. You can travel there from many Alaska communities for just 15,000 miles.
Let’s get one thing straight: Kodiak is a fishing town. One look at the harbor, and you’ll see it’s the center of all the action in town. There are big boats, small boats and everything in between. According to retired harbormaster Marty Owen, there are active fisheries all year.
“The season here in Kodiak starts on Jan. 1 and runs to around Dec. 1. That gives everyone a chance to take a month off for Christmas,” he said.
For anglers, there are plenty of options. Local air charters like Andrew Airways and Island Air will fly you to a remote stream or river. Or, you can book space on a number of charter boats in the town harbor, including Mel Roe’s boat the Lana J. We fished for halibut in Whale Pass, northwest of Kodiak. There were whales leaping out of the water all around us as the wind blew. We didn’t care, since we were able to land some great fish. Another plus: when we return to the harbor, Mel drives the boat right up to the seafood packing plant. The crane lifts the pallet of fish out and they are processed right away -- and packed up for your flight home!
If salmon is your fish of choice, you can still go out on a boat, but you’re just as likely to catch fish at one of the nearby streams. The Buskin River, for example, runs right by the airport. Of course, where there are fish, there are bears. So be bear aware.
Want to see lots of bears at once? Book a bear-viewing tour with one of the air charters. Island Air offers a 4.5-hour bear-viewing tour to Frazer Lake in southern Kodiak. The bears are big and the guides are experienced. There’s a well-marked trail and a set observation point to view the bears. Depending on the time of year, air tours also are available from Kodiak across the water to Katmai National Park.
What used to be a big Army installation at Fort Abercrombie now is Kodiak’s glorious park. There is a wonderful trail system that leads past sparkling Lake Gertrude and down to the beach. You can walk back past an impressive vista where there are remnants of the Army’s giant 8-inch guns that protected the harbor in World War II. There’s even a World War II museum in the park. It’s run by volunteers, but includes some fascinating maps, uniforms and even motor vehicles inside a renovated ammunition bunker.
There are several other museums in Kodiak just a block from the ferry dock. The first one, the Alutiiq Museum, is an impressive repository for the work of Alaska Natives who settled the area thousands of years ago. Kayaks, clothing and tools are on display to help tell the story of the Alutiiq people.
Kodiak enjoys a rich Russian heritage, as the city once was the capital of Russian America. Looking at the skyline of Kodiak, you cannot miss the onion towers of the Russian Orthodox Church. Additionally, there is a Russian Orthodox Seminary about a block away from the church. Much of the history of the Russian influence in Kodiak is documented at the Baranov Museum -- just around the corner from the Alutiiq Museum.
Although not technically a museum, the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge visitor center gives you an up-close view of the refuge’s wildlife and environment, including a 36-foot Gray Whale skeleton, maps, pamphlets and an award-winning film.
If all this hiking, fishing and exploring makes you hungry and thirsty, fear not. Be sure and visit the Kodiak Island Brewery (117 Lower Mill Bay Rd.). You can taste any number of craft beers made on site, including porters, IPAs, wheat beers and ambers. I recommend going next door to Sparrow’s (113 Lower Mill Bay Rd.) to order a pizza. Walk across the parking lot, retrieve your pie and return to the brewery for another tall, cool one. You can order by the glass or by the growler. The brewery is open between noon and 7 p.m. daily.
Like sushi and sashimi? Choose the Old Powerhouse restaurant. It’s located beneath the bridge to Near Island on the main channel into the harbor from the north (516 E Marine Way). Since fresh fish arrives daily, the staff can choose from the best-of-the-catch.
My favorite dining experience in Kodiak is a dinner cruise aboard the Sea Breeze. Marty Owen and his wife Marion offer a delicious dinner each summer evening on their yacht. Meet the Owens at around 5 p.m. on the dock for a cruise around the harbor and nearby islands. You’ll see sea lions, eagles, puffins, an occasional whale, cormorants and some glorious scenery before Marty picks a sheltered cove to drop anchor. “After we drop anchor, I take off my captain’s hat and become the busboy,” said Marty. During the cruise, Marion prepares a dinner featuring Kodiak’s feast from the sea, including salmon, halibut and/or scallops. Before the cruise, she goes out to her garden and picks fresh greens for the salad. Marion, like Marty, is a mariner by training. But she’s also an accomplished gardener and photographer. So if you have your camera (please…don’t forget it!), she’s quick to point out wildlife and landmarks along the way.
Whether you’re a hunter, a naturalist, an angler, a kayaker, a hiker or a sightseer, Kodiak offers some great opportunities -- and it’s just an hour away by air.
Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based travel marketing consultant who has lived in Alaska for three decades, spending much of that time traveling the far-flung corners of the state. Visit his website at www.alaskatravelgram.com or follow him on Twitter for breaking travel news.