Yep, another bucket list item, for Mike this time… To visit Kodiak Island, and to see some Kodiak Bears. We were on Kenai, it only makes sense, we decided to go for his birthday. I decided to take vacation for this, so I was giddy excited the day before.. And I successfully did not turn on my IBM computer all week!
Kodiak is the second largest island in the US, second to the Big Island of Hawaii, and in the top 100 of islands in the world. However I’ve been to Hawaii and this feels bigger, with lots of ice capped mountain tops, deep fjords, glaciers, 7 villages, and home to the Kodiak Wildlife Refuge, which takes up the majority of the land. The island is 100 miles long and 60 miles wide. It lies about 130 miles off the Kenai and looks like it is at the top of the Aleutian chain.. heck. I’ll just show a map.
The Marine Highway System is an inexpensive “water bus” as it were. The next stop for the ferry from Homer is Kodiak. The trip takes 8-1/2 hours. Since it is a ferry, and since a rental car for the week would have cost more than bringing our car with us, we decided to bring the car with us.. However, we should note that taking the RV over was a lot more than getting an AirBnB for the night.. So we did not take the RV. The Homer spit has free parking for any car/RV, free for 7 days which worked out perfectly.
We had to check in at the ferry 2 hours before leaving, so we had to be there at 8:30am. We stayed about 30 minutes up the road, wanted to top off the propane so the fridge wouldn’t run out while we were gone, and were not sure where the parking/check-in was etc. So we left with plenty of time… And were first in line to get on the ferry.
We saw a lot of wildlife from the boat, We saw lots of sea otters, a pod of orcas, and humpback whales. It was pretty good, although nothing really close. The scenery was gorgeous, the weather was perfect… No complaints whatsoever.
Sherry and Gary Gates
Most everyone on the ferry were friendly and in “excited vacation mode” as previously mentioned, I was. Most were going to Kodiak expecting an amazing time, a few live there and were just transporting over. When the loud speaker announced that you could see whales for example on the right side of the boat, everyone grabbed their cameras and ran. We met some folks that were taking photos outside the window behind us on the ferry. We asked them what they saw and that started a conversation, that carried on for an hour. They live in Fairbanks but spend about 6 months of the year traveling around in an RV. They have an RV in Fairbanks, an RV in Washington.. and actually two in Fairbanks because they are in the middle of upgrading.
Shortly after, they pulled out some cards and asked if we wanted to play (and of course I’m a sucker for cards!) They taught us a couple new games. Dinnertime came so we headed to the cafe together for a rather sub-par birthday dinner for Mike. We had a choice of ribs, fish, or pasta… Mike doesn’t eat fish, at all, we are gluten free (pasta out) and 10 minutes after they opened they ran out of ribs… humm.
Gary was coming to Kodiak to do some construction work for a family business. Sherry came along to hang with him, see the island, and hopefully get some sewing done. We decided we would spend some time with them while on Kodiak Island. We got off the ferry at 9pm, just enough time to find our accommodations and go to sleep.
The largest brown bears in the world live on Kodiak Island. 12,000 years ago the brown bear on Kodiak was geographically separated from the brown bear on the Alaskan Peninsula. Now they have evolved to be two different subspecies. This link has more bear facts. This was the main reason we had come to Kodiak.
Of course there are lots of flights you can take in to see the bears catching Salmon in the river. And few places in Alaska you can see them without flying in. Of course these flights are expensive. We decided not to take a flight, but were highly motivated to try to find some bears off the roads.
The first thing we did on the first morning was to go to the visitor center. After chatting with them, I got a little panicked… what if we came all this way and did not see a bear?! She described the bear flights as expensive but life changing. She described the one she had taken. And this was the best week to take part. She said we probably would not find availability at this late date. We left there thinking we needed to try to do that. We had no trouble finding availability, and after checking around, settled on Kingfisher Air for Tuesday afternoon.
Monday evening we drove out to a river crossing that had been suggested as a possible place to see bears. We sat out there for a couple hours. Didn’t see anything. Tuesday morning we drove out a different direction to the Anton Larson Bay (17 miles from the apartment) and the end of that spur of the road system. There in the middle of the bay we saw a Mama Bear and 3 cubs eating in the tall grass. They were also quite a way away, but we could easily watch them and sat there for an hour doing just that. We were pretty satisfied with that, but not enough to cancel the flight. This experience (and all experiences on Kodiak) just made me want a better camera lens.
On a bear flight (with Kingfisher), they fly you out in a small plane to the other side of the island, which takes about an hour (71 miles). We landed on Frazier Lake, then hiked about 3/4 mile to a fish latter, and fish counting station. You sit for about an hour watching the beard in their own habitat, then hike back and fly back home.
from the air..
All the way there I was scanning the ground for random bears. I saw a group on the beach, then we saw one standing on a falls. (There are 3600 bears on Kodiak). Mike and I discussed that we wanted to see bears catching a salmon as it jumped up the river so I snapped a few photos just in case a fish jumped out at just that time. Mike said he saw another bear in the area, so when I got home I pulled the photo off to zoom in and see if I could see the other bear and I was shocked to find 13 bears in the photo. I love this photo!
On the ground…
Shortly after seeing the falls, we saw a bear nursing her cubs right on the trail we were going to be hiking on! So we proceeded with caution, and when we got to that part of the trail they had us stop. She walked up an intersecting trail, coming to about 30 feet of us. Looked at us, and turned and walked the other way, followed by her cubs! OMG. Amazing!
We then took our spot overlooking the river. There was so much bear activity we stayed an extra hour and a half. We must have seen 30 bears. Mom’s, babies, one young male, catching fish, nursing, eating, feeding the babies, protecting the babies, digging a hole to sleep in, fighting each other. It was unbelievable! They paid no attention to us, although there were a few times I was kind of uncomfortable with how close they got to us. Definitely one of my favorite days.
And besides the bears….?
Monday, after the visitor center, we headed up to a Kodiak landmark and favorite overlook spot with the Kodiak Wind Terbines on Pillar Mountain. The views were incredible and the turbines are elegant as usual. I’d recommend any visitor to Kodiak Island make this a destination. Lots of locals walk up for exercise, so it’s a favorite spot for all.
White Sand Beach
Also Monday afternoon we went to the North end of the road. We passed Fort Abercrombie on the way and stopped at the overlooks and read up on a little WWII Military memorabilia they have there. Nice, but not a favorite.
We continued on that road to the end where White Sand Beach is (10 miles from the apartment). That was a favorite of mine. Where the surf is, there is a band of white sand. At the parking area it is totally black. Walking between them you cross some black sand with white mixed in and then White sand with black mixed in, and all 4 have completely different textures. The wind had made great patterns in the sand. And all 4 sections had uniquely different textures. It was interesting.
Olds River Inn Restaurant & the drive to the end of the road
On the third day on Kodiak we drove to the South end of the island and the ends of both spurs on that end of the road. Sherry and Gary decided to take a break and go around the island with us. There are less than 100 miles of road on Kodiak and we explored every last mile of it, some directions more than once. We were sure glad we brought our car. We even tried the Saltery road 4WD trail (ATV really) which the car probably could have done, but there was too much brush overhanging the road.
It was an enjoyable day. We took a picnic lunch. One spur took us past the Pacific Spaceport Rocket Launching Complex and on to Fossil Beach (46 miles from the apartment), where we did actually find fossils. We saw a herd of buffalo (not native), and a special find was the Eagles Nest with two eaglets in it.. at a perfect distance and angle to view from the road!
Olds River Inn Restaurant had been recommended by many people.
They all suggested the burger. We saved our picnic lunch for dinner and ate there. Mike and I chose to split a Burger and a Fish & Chips. The fish and ships was ok… But the burger… OMG. To die for! Guess we should listen!
We finished the afternoon on the other spur of the road which went to another village and some logging sites. After getting home we enjoyed our picnic and finished the evening with a card game and rootbeer floats (Thanks to Sherry and Gary).
Going home, and misc other comments
The AirBnB we stayed at was named “Fisherman’s Place“, and it was really a “fishing retreat”. As many people come to Kodiak to fish as come to Kodiak to see bears. Kodiak Island has the second largest fishing port in the world, the largest Coast Guard Base. It also is home to the largest Halibut beds in the world. And of course the Salmon is fantastic too. Stephen’s place, although we and twin beds, and mine was a bunkbed, was really comfortable. We had a kitchen so we could cook our own food and save a ton of money. It was right in town, could walk everywhere. It was clean, had a view of the ocean, and we used the laundry. But the best thing was Stephan. He kept in touch, brought us anything we needed, and best of all guided us on what to do on the island.
We came over on the Kennicott. This happened to be the same boat my parents took a month earlier. So that was fun. We didn’t get a cabin because it was a day ride. But going back we were on the Tustumena, a smaller ferry. Recognized a lot of the people from the other ferry. We boarded this ferry at 4pm, leaving at 5pm and had two other stops on Kodiak before heading back to Homer. The Ferry arrived in Homer at 7am the next day… we did splurge for a cabin.,, And primarily what we did on the ferry home was sleep, so thankful we did that.
One final comment is that the weather was just unbelievable! The locals say they NEVER have a week without rain. We had clear blue skies every day we were there. No wind, warm, beautiful! We were so lucky! On many, many accounts this week.