For the naturalist, few places on earth can compare with Southwest Alaska. Brown bears, sea otters, walrus, fur seals, and sea birds share a variety of environments ranging from the volcanic terrain of Katmai National Park to the windy grasslands of the Aleutian Islands.
Kodiak is the principal town onKodiak Island, and the home of Alaska's largest fishing fleet. The original inhabitants of the island were the Alutiiq, and 7,000 years later their descendants still live here. The Alutiiq Cultural Center and Museum documents local Native history and culture. From 1783 to 1700, the town of Kodiak was the capital of Russian America, and reminders of their residency can be found at the Russian Orthodox Church and the Baranof Museum, formerly a fur storehouse and one of Alaska's oldest wooden structures.
The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge covers two-thirds of the island, offering protected habitat for world-famous Kodiak brown bears. These bears are the world's largest carnivorous land mammals, and should be treated with caution and respect. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game offers pamphlets explaining the safest methods for avoiding contact with bears.
Fort Abercrombie State Park provides a forest setting for picnics and camping. Originally a World War II coastal fortification, and one of the first secret radar installations in Alaska, the fort is a national historical landmark. Concrete bunkers still remain, and offer the curious a chance to explore Alaska's wartime history.
On nearby Afognak Island you can watch or participate in archaeological digs of Native sites, view wildlife, or enjoy excellent hunting and fishing.
The Alaska Peninsula extends 550 miles into the Pacific Ocean, leading to the Aleutian Islands. In the west, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve offers a wilderness of seacoast, mountains, and glaciers, and lakes filled with trophy-sized rainbow trout.
Use scheduled air service from Anchorage toDillingham, Iliamna, or King Salmon for access to the region's fly-in fishing lodges.
King Salmon is the gateway to beautiful Katmai National Park and Preserve, an excellent place to view brown bear. Katmai's many fumaroles (volcanic openings) were caused by a 1912 eruption of Novarupta volcano. The eruption covered 40 square miles with ash and pumice up to 700 feet deep. Streams have cut dramatic gorges through the settled debris, creating one of Alaska's most striking landscapes. You can walk the fantastic Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes independently, or take a bus tour. You can photograph brown bears from the riverside trails, relax at a lodge or tent site, or fly to other locations within the preserve to take advantage of some of the finest sockeye fishing in Alaska.
Iliamna provides access to the Kvichak River drainage, an important habitat for red salmon, and possibly the largest contributor to the Bristol Bay fishery.
Past the tip of the Alaska Peninsula, the Aleutian Islands begin their 1,500 mile sweep toward Asia. These beautiful windswept isles, now the location of numerous national wildlife refuges, were the theater for a 19-day battle between Japanese and American troops in May 1943.
You can reach Unalaska/Port of Dutch Harbor via scheduled jet from Anchorage, or you can take a summer ferry from Kodiak Island. Unalaska was the early headquarters of the Russian-American Company and center of the sea otter fur trade in the 1700s. A bridge links Unalaska and Dutch Harbor, where the local fishing fleet leads the nation in the quantity and value of landed catch. There are two excellent examples of early Russian churches. You can also explore a vast network of bunkers, pillboxes and other World War II military sites. Accommodations and other visitor services are available.
Bristol Bay is the world's largest producer of red salmon, with fishing fleets based in Dillingham and Naknek.
Sportfishing enthusiasts give high marks to the lakes and rivers surrounding Bristol Bay. Access is provided by fly-in fishing lodges and guided river float-trips. The Wood-Tikchik State Park system, an undeveloped wilderness half the size of Connecticut, offers excellent fishing for large salmon, trout, grayling, and arctic char in several interconnected lakes. The area is reached by float plane from Dillingham.
Bethel, a major deep-water port and commercial fishing center at the mouth of the Kuskokwim River, is the largest town on the Bering Sea. Scheduled air service provides access from Anchorage. An Eskimo trading center in the 1870's, Bethel is still a marketplace for Eskimo ivory carvings, baskets, and other craft items. The Yupik Cultural Center features Native exhibits and demonstrations of dancing and carving. The town's Visitor Center and Museum Annex is called Yugtarvik, meaning "a place for people's things." The center offers exhibits of traditional Native tools and clothing, a collection of vintage photos, Native art classes, and a gift shop.
Visitors can fly out of Anchorage to visit the world-famous sea bird and fur seal colonies on St. George and St. Paul islands in the Bering Sea. Nearly 200 sea bird species, including colorful puffins, can be seen on the rocky cliffs. With a nesting population of approximately 2.5 million birds, St. George may have the largest sea bird colony in the Western Hemisphere. The Pribilof Islands were settled by Aleut Natives, transported by Russian fur traders to harvest valuable seal pelts. Several of the islands' many Russian churches are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Accommodations are available on both islands.