I have offered a Kenai Fjords Photo Tour in the past, however this is a completely revised and improved version that includes trains, helicopters and an adventure into Bear Glacier Lagoon. It is such a treat to be doing a photo tour in my backyard where I have spent some 30 years exploring and photographing. I have been the photographer of two books and performed numerous photo assignments, including with the National Park Service and even accompanied Ken Burns on his filming in the area. By the way, all these photos were captured during the actual trip - I didn't stack it with images from the past this way you can get a good feel as to what you can expect.
This trip was two and a half years in the making since I had to cancel it in 2020 because of the pandemic. One couple had actually signed up nearly two and a half years ago! So glad to be finally leading this trip. Here are the details.
Day 1. We all checked into the Lakefront Hotel and met for the welcome dinner. Since both couples joining me on this trip had traveled with me on multiple occasions before, the welcome dinner is a reunion where we talk about the upcoming trip, but also reminisced about past trips.
Day 2. This one started early as we met the shuttle at 5:30 a.m. for the trip to the train depot. From there, we boarded the Gold Star rail cars for the trip to Seward. I have done a lot of assignment work for the Alaska Railroad over the years including following the train from a helicopter, and photographing the Gold Star cars on their first day of service. Despite this, I forgot just how nice they are, and how amazing this trip is. I think a must do even if you aren't traveling with me.
Having breakfast in the dining car as we motored along Turnagain Arm was a nice treat. Along the way we saw lots of eagles, a few moose and 4 or 5 black bears. There was a surprising amount of snow in the pass, it was a snowy winter and cold spring in Alaska this year.
We arrived in Seward just after 11:00 a.m. Janine had driven back to town with everyone’s luggage and was able to beat the train rush and not only check everyone into their rooms, but put the luggage in the rooms as well - a nice touch. The guests and I made the short walk to get fitted for dry suits for our excursion into Bear Lagoon tomorrow with Liquid Adventures. It was nice to have Ryan, one of the co-owners, help us out. While we were fitted, Janine grabbed lunches from Zudy’s and had them waiting for us at the hotel lobby.
We ate a quick lunch, and then went straight away to the airport for our helicopter trip. I have been flying with “Helicopter Mike” for many years, and it is a pleasure to work with him. Mike and I were concerned about all the snow, but he made a couple scouting trips and said we are good to go! I think flying with the doors off is one of the most amazing experiences I have had as a photographer. I have had the privilege of doing this several times in Alaska, Los Angeles, San Diego and even Hawaii. I was glad everyone was brave enough to have their door removed, it is optional.
I jumped in with the first couple and we flew over the huge icebergs of Bear Glacier Lagoon. We then landed along the shore for some quick photos. From there, we headed off to our remote mountain landing spot. Snow kept us from going to the ridge I had hoped for, so we landed in the valley below. This scenery wasn’t as dramatic, but still fun to be so remote. We saw two more bears while in this valley, and 5 or more from the plane giving us 10 plus for the day. Mike left us to enjoy the solitude as he went to pick up Janine and the other couple who mirrored our flight and joined us about an hour later. Once there, we had a relaxing couple of hours of visiting, exploring and photo taking until Mike picked us up for the flight home.
Day 2 finished with dinner at Ray’s - I was so grateful to have the manager whisk us by the huge crowds waiting to get in, and seat us at our own table with no wait. One of the many advantages to living in this great town. This was a long, busy day, I’m pretty sure everyone went straight to bed after dinner, although the waterfront rooms at the Hotel 360 sure have a superb view for sunset for anyone who can make it that late!
Day 3. Today we boarded the yacht that would become our home for the next 3 nights and 4 days. We were joined by my friend Pyper who would be our paddle guide in Bear Lagoon. I’m glad he was able to jump on the schedule for my trip - I love having such an interesting homegrown guide! We headed South for an hour where we were met by Brendan, the other co-owner of the kayak company. Brendan met us in a specially designed jet boat. You see it is very tricky going from the ocean into the shallow river to access Bear Lagoon. We put on our dry suites and headed out for a multi hour paddle amongst these huge icebergs. Piper brought along cookies and hot chocolate, which was a nice touch. The clouds and occasional rain was inconvenient at times, but really brings out the blues in the ice.
Once done, we re-boarded our very comfortable 65 foot yacht, did a quick cruise through Thumb Cove before anchoring for the night in the protection of Humpy Cove. Natalie set the bar high right out of the gate with perfectly cooked red salmon for dinner!
Day 4. It rained pretty hard overnight, and the seas looked a bit rough this morning. We visited the seal lions and puffin on the East side of the bay, and then Captain Tommy and I talked it over and decided to make a go for it across the opening to the Gulf of Alaska into Aialik Bay. We had two hours of rough conditions, but then we were home free for the rest of the trip. After an amazing lunch of sable fish (my favorite fish), we headed to Aialik Glacier for some tide water glacier kayaking, then a walk along the beach where we saw a black bear. We spotted a second one on departure.
After this, we headed South passing some big rafts of otters and Dall's Porpoise before arriving in beautiful McMullen Cove which would be our home for the night. Another wonderful dinner with gin and tonics on glacier ice finished off a great day!
Day 5. As soon as we headed out of McMullen, Captain Tommy spotted humpbacks. We spent a bit of time watching them, one even breached, although only one of us captured the action and it wasn’t me. :) From there we headed South, again, briefly joined by more porpoise. We then made the turn into Harris Bay/Northwestern Fjord and stopped at one of my favorite places in the Park, Cataract Cove. This is a 2,500 foot granite wall covered in waterfalls. We enjoyed watching the mountain goats, and by now, the sun was out and the weather was beautiful. Since everyone was enjoying this place so much, Tommy shut off the engines and we hung out taking in the scenery before being served fresh halibut tacos with avocado - another of my favorites! We then motored on into Northwestern Fjord for another kayak paddle. It was so calm and warm, perfect conditions. Lots of harbor seals were hauled out on icebergs. As the day came to an end, we motored back to Aialik Bay and into another one of my favorite coves, Verdant, and dropped anchor for the night.
Day 6 Just like the day before, as we pulled out of our cove Tommy spotted whales. This time we were really in for a treat as there were 4 fin whales! In 30 years, I have only seen them in Kenai Fjords a couple of times. This is the second largest animal on earth, reaching a length of 70 feet and 70 tons - to think, they are bigger than the yacht! We also spotted a couple of humpbacks.
After a bit we headed south to the bird rockeries in the Chiswell Islands. The remaining swell made the puffin photography extra challenging, but we did see a pod of orcas! A pod that included a baby. Such fun.
After the Chiswells, we headed for Agnus Cove for a protected lunch. I used to spend a lot of time here when I had my own boat, it was fun to go back. After lunch we made our way to the North and encountered a humpback that breached about 5 times in a row! Had to make a stop at the photogenic Spier Cove. I forgot to mention, we were still blessed with sunny weather. In the past I have seen mountain goats with their kids along Callisto Head, so we made a pass by and found two families right by the waters edge! Another great treat.
Finally, we motored back into town where I walked the guests back to the train station and said a sad goodbye. I understand it was a beautiful ride to Anchorage with dinner and Gold Star Service. They finished up with one last night at the Lakefront Hotel.
I really enjoyed doing this trip and hope to do more. In the future, I am doing one extra night on the yacht for a total of 4 nights, 5 days in Kenai Fjords. Going forward, I’m hoping to offer other variations, and if you have a group of 4, we can always put together a private trip with your specific requirements including a longer trip that would head further West to fjords rarely visited by humans. I really enjoy doing a photo tour in my hometown, and working with so many friends along the way, this was a good start to the summer!