Kenai Fjords National Park Trip Report Trip 1, May/June 2022
Since I have been a full time professional photographer who has done a number of assignments in Kenai Fjords National Park, I can put together marketing materials of images that would look very impressive, but wouldn’t be obtainable in just one week. This trip report is made up of images from my phone and real camera that were only captured during the photo tour to give you a better feel for what you could expect on this trip. By the way, we still have space available on this same trip in 2023, you can read more about it here: Kenai Fjords Photo Tour.
This particular trip came about thanks to a keen interest in orcas by some previous guests of mine. I knew orcas gathered in early summer near Seward, and I talked to my friend and orca biologist Dan Olsen about what he thought were the most ideal dates, and that dictated the timing for this particular trip. Spoiler alert, the timing couldn’t have been better!
Day 1 Welcome dinner and night at the Lakefront Hotel in Anchorage. Since I had traveled with three of the four ladies in the past, dinner was more of a reunion rather than an introduction. It was great to see everyone again, and exciting to talk about the upcoming week!
Kenai Fjords Trip 1
Kenai Fjords National Park Trip Report Trip 1, May/June 2022
Day 2. An early start for the train to Seward. The bus took us to the train station at 5:30 a.m. while Janine drove South with everyone’s luggage - nice not to have to mess with bags on the train.
The Goldstar Service with beautiful dome cars and dining rooms are sure first class. Brings back some memories as I photographed these cars for the railroad when they arrived in Alaska. The weather was spectacular, and the scenery was beautiful. We saw lots of eagles, and moose on the flats. It was a cold, snowy spring here in Alaska, and there was still a lot of snow on the ground near the top of the pass.
Once in Seward, Janine met us with lunch as we got geared up for our helicopter flight! The late winter also meant lots of snow in the mountains which precluded my favorite landing area, but “Helicopter Mike” had been texting me photos of alternative landing zones - he is exceptional to work with. So we flew out in two groups, me with the first group and Janine with the second. We landed on a snow ridge looking dramatically down on Resurrection Bay before moving on to Bear Glacier Lagoon where we were dropped off for several hours. This lagoon contains numerous huge icebergs, and coupled with the beautiful, sunny weather, made for a great place to hang out, photograph and hike around and just take in the beauty of such a remote, hard to access location.
Mike flew us all back to town, where everyone was able to check into their waterfront rooms and clean up for dinner. Ray’s restaurant was packed, but Tiffany the manager whisked us past the lines of people to our own table - nice getting the local service! Dinner was delicious, and we sure had plenty to talk about as we saw so much today!
Day 3. This would be the beginning of 4 nights and 5 days on the yacht in search of orcas and exploring Kenai Fjords' National Park. This trip usually includes a kayak trip into Bear Glacier Lagoon, but the ladies weren’t that much into kayaking, so we skipped that option for this trip.
We were barely out of the harbor when we spotted two humpbacks. These guys had been in front of our house most of the spring. Then we had two very cooperative sea otters - I still had my camera gear packed away! Enjoyed a great lunch at Sunny Cove - this is my second summer with Natalie as chef, and third with Tommy as Captain - they do a great job!
After lunch, we found mountain goats near the water by Callisto Head. Another common occurrence this time of year. Then on to Agnus Cove, our destination for the evening, and gathering place for Orcas this time of year. They are feeding on migrating salmon that gather in early summer.
We debated over the number of orcas we saw. We all agreed there were at least 15, and very possibly as many as 25. There were sea lions and even a young gray whale. There was so much to see and photograph! Orcas passed by the boat right up until we turned in for the night, and I could even hear them during the night from my room!
Everyone was up early and was rewarded with a beautiful morning. After a great breakfast, we pulled anchor and joined some humpback whales. Next, more orcas and sea lions, lots of marine mammal activity!
It was hard to pull ourselves away, but the puffin and other birds awaited us on the Chiswell Islands. We didn’t have many puffins perching, however there were lots on the water which is helpful for getting flight shots as they take off. It is still challenging, but it helps if you can track them from the water. We also had numerous sea lions at haul outs along with many other sea birds.
From the Chiswell’s we moved into Aialik Bay, a dramatic fjord containing a couple of tidewater glaciers and beautiful scenery. For lunch, we swung into Three Hole Bay before moving to the tidewater glacier, Holgate. There was actually a cow and calf humpback whale in front of Holgate Glacier, at times very close to the face of the glacier! That is unusual. On our way out of Holgate we spotted three black bears, one was a tiny cub! To cap off our Holgate Glacier experience, we had a mountain goat down on shore close to the ocean, perfect for photography!
For the evening we dropped anchor in secluded Coleman Cove. Not another person or boat in sight!
Another beautiful morning, one of the nice things about this time of year. After breakfast we pulled anchor and moved in front of Aialik Glacier. Aialik is a very active tidewater glacier which leaves plenty of icebergs in its vicinity that are popular haul-outs for harbor seals.
Most of the group went kayaking, while I took the remainder for a walk along the beach. After a while the kayakers joined us. We didn’t see any bears on this hike which is unusual for this location, but we did have two really cooperative black oystercatchers. In addition, we had very fresh land otter tracks, we must have missed seeing it by minutes. We actually had the Aialik Glacier area all to ourselves until 12:30 when the first day tour boat from Seward finally showed up. Rare these days to have such a beautiful National Park location all to ourselves.
After lunch we headed out of Aialik Bay where we spotted sea otters, harbor seals, humpback whales, Dall’s porpoise and even an orca. The orca was AT 6, a member of the famous Chugach Transient pod. We moved out of Aialik Bay and into Northwestern Fjord with the first stop at Cataract Cove. This cove has 1,000 foot plus granite walls covered with a waterfall dropping right down to the ocean - such a dramatic location! Plus, there are always many mountain goats hanging out on the cliffs above. As with all my Kenai Fjords trips, we spent a fair amount of time here photographing the waterfalls and watching the mountain goats, many of which had babies.
To finish the day, we motored well into Northwestern Fjord where we dropped anchor in the Southwestern Arm. Here we had a black bear on the beach. This is such a raw, young region, geologically speaking. The mountains rise dramatically above us, and throughout the evening many avalanches falling from hanging glaciers high above entertained us.
Everyone was up by 6:00 a.m., and it was worth it as the perfect weather continued and the soft light on the surrounding mountains was beautiful! After breakfast,we moved over in front of Northwestern Glacier, where we splashed the kayaks. This is such a dramatic location, and being in your own little boat (kayak) is such a great way to experience the cracking ice, and curious seals.
After a good amount of time at Northwestern, we decided to move on down the “road”. At the moraine we saw a few humpbacks, and just outside the moraine we had 4 fin whales! A four whale species trip! A biologist friend pointed out we actually had more by counting the Dall’s porpoise. I really have had good success with seeing fin whales on this trip over the years. I can remember a time years ago where I rarely saw fins in this area. We had lunch in Fire Cove before returning to Agnus Cove - this was the location of our first night’s anchorage, and in the heart of the orca activity, there is no way we couldn’t spend the last night here!
The whole time we were in Northwestern Fjord (evening / morning) we never saw another boat or person!
Well, the orcas were still there in force! A few of us went out in the kayaks, hoping for a better look. We did get a close look at a huge male sea lion. They can be intimidating! Later that evening my friend and orca researcher Dan pulled into the bay in their research vessel accompanied by some researchers from the San Juan Islands in Washington. I tossed them a bottle of wine as a thanks for all the advice, and later that evening Dan grabbed his ID charts and other information and kayaked over to our vessel and put on a fascinating show and tell! To see an orca swim by, and have someone like Dan there to ID it, and talk about it is as good as it gets! Everyone loved it including the crew!
Everyone was up by 5:30 this morning. I was really hoping to capture some images of the orcas in sunrise light, but it didn’t quite come together, but it was still magical.
As we made our way towards Seward, we checked out some beaches where I have seen orcas rubbing their bellies in the past. No luck with that, but we did see plenty more whales including orcas and humpbacks. The weather was still fantastic, it actually hit 75 degrees! We moved over to the East side of the bay so that we could see some more sea lion haul outs. We also explored Humpy and Thumbs Coves before finally returning to Seward. I saw the group off at the train station as they headed back to Anchorage with Gold Star Service and one final night at the Lakefront Hotel.
Here is a link to many more Kenai Fjords National Park Photos.
Let me know if you have any questions. This is a trip we can run as a custom trip if we have four people. There would even be options to head even further out West to areas of Kenai Fjords that are rarely visited by humans.
As a comparison, here my trip report from the 2021 Kenai Fjords Photo Tour Trip Report.