Nellie Juan-College Fjord Wilderness Cruise, Alaska

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14020A, Sail


  • Experience the world-class beauty of Prince William Sound
  • Spend your days watching whales and calving glaciers, kayaking, and hiking through rainforests and wildflower-filled meadows
  • Get an up close and personal view of glaciers and marine wildlife aboard 65-foot classic working yacht, Discovery


  • First and last nights at bed & breakfast in Anchorage and first-night dinner at a nearby restaurant
  • Accommodations and gourmet meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) on the Discovery for 5 nights/6 days
  • Use of kayaks located on the Discovery


DatesSep 7–14, 2014
StaffElaine Grace

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Trip Overview

The Trip

The purpose of this trip is to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the Wilderness Act (1964–2014) by exploring the 2.1-million-acre Nellie Juan-College Fjord Wilderness Study Area, which lies within Alaska’s famous Prince William Sound. More than 3,000 shore land miles of bays, coves, and deep fjords comprise the prized seacoast region of Prince William Sound. Exceeding the combined area of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, this sheltered waterway contains the greatest diversity of habitats found along the entire Pacific Coast, including the world’s northernmost temperate rainforest. The ice-capped peaks of the Chugach Mountains reach skyward from virgin shores of towering spruce trees and lush vegetation. Mammoth glaciers inch their way through mountain valleys and thunder icebergs into the surrounding fjords and inlets. Prince William Sound’s calm and gentle waters provide homes for a thriving spectrum of marine and bird life. Countless islands dot the seascape while ebbing tides unveil rocky shores and tide pools that are adorned with an array of inter tidal life. Summer into fall, sunlight paints the meadows and marshes with colorful plants and wildflowers.

Many came to know Prince William Sound through the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill of 1989. This environmental disaster rocked the world as media displayed images of polluted landscape and wildlife that horrified the viewers. Today, the Sound has recovered remarkably well, however long-term negative effects of the oil pollution remain and scientists work diligently to determine the ultimate impact.


Day 1: Arrive in Anchorage and transfer on your own to the downtown bed & breakfast (included) for a comfortable night stay. Accommodations offer convenient access to the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, a network of developed hiking and bicycling trails throughout the Anchorage area.  A walk or bike ride is recommended for the afternoon or evening, if time allows. The views of the Alaska Range are spectacular! We will meet for an orientation dinner (included) at a nearby restaurant. 

Day 2: After breakfast, we will be picked up by a Discovery staff member at 10:00 a.m. for the scenic ride along Turnagain Arm, known for its tremendous tidal flats and frequent sightings of beluga whales. We will continue south through the Chugach mountains to rendezvous with Captain Dean Rand and the crew in Whittier for a warm welcome aboard the M/V Discovery. While the crew prepares for departure, you can relax in the Discovery’s cozy salon and enjoy specially prepared appetizers of smoked salmon or halibut spread with crackers, fresh baked breads, fruits, and a selection of beverages.

We will leave Whittier in the early afternoon, enjoying lunch while traveling east and south to a hiking destination. Upon arrival, we will launch inflatable Zodiacs to take us onshore for a short hike through lush rainforest vegetation and past waterfalls. Return to the Discovery for an exquisite dinner of local Copper River Red salmon, breads, roasted rosemary potatoes, vegetables, desserts, wine, and other beverages. Meanwhile, the Discovery travels to an evening anchorage in one of the Sound’s many intimate and secluded coves.

Day 3: Mornings aboard the Discovery are usually relaxed with a casual open breakfast served from 8:00 a.m. until 10:00 a.m. Enjoy a variety of warm fresh breads, fruits, cereals, and various warm egg dishes in addition to juices, coffee, and tea. Underway in the morning, the Discovery sails through Knight Island Passage and Dangerous Passage toward Icy Bay. Some of the Sound’s most frequent orca and humpback whale sightings are found along this route, so keep your eyes peeled for dorsal fins and blow spouts.

At midday the Discovery navigates her way through Icy Bay’s Nassau Fjord. Several miles of icebergs and brash ice (smaller pieces of glacial ice) lay between the fjord entrance and the massive, calving face of Chenega Glacier, named after the local native community of Chenega. The massive 200-square-mile Sergeant Ice field funnels ice down a wide mountain valley, forming a one-mile-long, 200-foot-high wall that topples giant blue chunks into the sea. This active tidewater glacier, with its daunting size and mammoth sounds, offers a remarkable opportunity to experience firsthand the tremendous natural forces that move these spectacles of nature.

Hundreds of harbor seals make Icy Bay their summer home, using the floating ice as resting platforms and safe places for birthing. The rocky mountainsides around Chenega Glacier support a healthy, frequently visible population of mountain goats; binoculars serve as helpful aids in sighting these skillful mountain climbers. If conditions are favorable, a short hike above the glacier will be offered. After lunch, the Discovery exits this ice-laden fjord for Bainbridge Passage, where you can try your luck fishing for Pacific Halibut and Rockfish. Late afternoon and early evening provide opportunities for more orca and humpback whale watching. If successful, we’ll pass this helpful information on to the local whale researchers of the North Gulf Oceanic Society. As the Discovery travels along Knight Island, enjoy a relaxing dinner into the uncharted narrows of Long Channel for the evening’s anchorage.

Day 4: The “unhurried” morning theme of relaxed and casual breakfast awaits your flexible wakeup time. Cruising northwest through more “sea pastures” that are fertile with whale watching opportunities, the Discovery cruises toward a noisy and raucous Steller Sea Lion haulout. These entertaining creatures put on quite a display -- some show off their graceful water acrobatics while others roar and bellow or recline lazily upon the large rocky shore. After a short visit with the sea lions, travel turns westward toward an impressive waterfall, with lunch served along the way. Those wanting to stretch their legs can take the short Zodiac ride ashore for a guided hike through the world’s northernmost temperate rainforest, rich with ferns, mosses, and towering spruce, hemlock, and cedar trees.

Later in the day, we travel the remote shores of Eaglek Bay to visit the oyster farm of David Sczawinski. Oyster lovers will enjoy one of the Sound’s most delicious sea products. Upon leaving Eaglek Bay, the Discovery makes a brief stop near one of the many small islands, home to a colony of tufted puffins, thought by many visitors to be Alaska’s most adorable seabird. Continuing westward through Wells Passage, enjoy appetizers of expertly prepared fresh oysters and dinner of macadamia nut halibut, vegetables, fresh baked focaccia, dessert, wines, and other beverages. Set course northward to the fringes of College Fjord for the evening’s anchorage and midnight sunset views.

Day 5: Guests awake to a casual breakfast and an exciting day of some of the world’s most spectacular scenery–corridors of breathtaking beauty, sprawling glaciers, and a panoramic skyline of mountain grandeur. Harbor seals hauled out on the flotillas of icebergs watch closely as the Discovery navigates the icy, blue waters of Barry Arm. The enveloping mountains of this inlet stretch skyward to nearly 10,000 feet, with glacier after glacier descending the terraced mountain valleys. Alaska’s lush rainforest vegetation drapes the hillsides in green as streaming waterfalls descend from the rocky cliffs. Listen to the cracks, pops, and thunderous roars of the Cascade, Barry and Coxe glaciers while the Discovery, dwarfed by blue and white walls, drifts silently by these actively calving rivers of ice.

For guests seeking a different perspective, the Discovery crew will launch the inflatable Zodiacs for a guided exploration of this magnificent area. Touch the impressive face of Coxe Glacier, watch the showy Black Oystercatchers strut across the rocky shorelines, sense the presence of the curious hoary marmots, and drink in the bright pinks of fireweed and the intense blues of the alpine lupine.

Day 6: Sadly, this will be our last full day in Prince William Sound. You will have your choice of hiking to Coghill Lake, kayaking in bays carved out by glaciers in Harriman Fjord, or simply staring out to spectacular views of the Chugach mountain range. Enjoy lunch while the Discovery goes deeper into the ice-filled fjord for a chance to kayak and continue up to the face of Harriman Glacier. On this journey, you’re entertained by families of playful sea otters foraging the shellfish-rich shallow waters of their favorite feeding ground. As a protected species, these otters exhibit little concern for human presence, instead offering great opportunities for photos and up-close observations. Nature offers few chances to see animals in the wild as 'cute' and adorable as these mothers with young pups. Enjoy a memorable final dinner on the Discovery while continuing toward the evening’s anchorage.

Day 7: Awake today immersed in a wilderness sanctuary of unparalleled natural beauty. Take in the morning light on the deck of the Discovery while enjoying a hot cup of coffee or tea. These spellbinding sights and dramatic sounds leave you humbled and feeling insignificant amidst this powerful living landscape. Relax in the salty ocean breeze and splendor of this special place as we travel south. Appetizers will be served while taking in the final sights of Passage Canal prior to docking in the Whittier Harbor then transferring by van to Anchorage. We will overnight in Anchorage at the same bed & breakfast (included). We will gather for a farewell dinner in Anchorage (not included). 

Day 8: Enjoy breakfast this morning at your bed & breakfast. Transfer on your own to the airport for departures home, or you may choose to extend your stay in Alaska. If you have the time, the following are recommended: Dave Parkhurst’s Northern Lights show at the Performing Arts Center; the Museum of Natural History and Art; and the Alaska Zoo (the indigenous Alaskan wildlife at the zoo are all “rescued” animals, taken to captivity only when they could not survive in the wild). Often, there is an outdoor market in downtown Anchorage, featuring Alaskan art and other local goods.



Getting There

Trip participants are expected to fly to Anchorage, Alaska no later than September 7. We will stay in the same bed & breakfast (included in the trip cost) near downtown Anchorage.  We will gather at 5:00 p.m. for an orientation dinner (included in the trip cost) at a nearby restaurant. After the five-night trip on the M/V Discovery, we will return to the bed & breakfast for our last night (included in the trip cost) and gather for a farewell dinner (not included in the trip cost). Participants will be transferred (on their own) to the Anchorage airport.

Accommodations and Food

The first and last night’s stay at an Anchorage bed & breakfast is included.  The first orientation dinner at a nearby Anchorage restaurant is also included.  The gourmet meals, beverages, snacks, and appetizers -- all vegetarian friendly -- are included while on the M/V Discovery for six days and five nights.  Lodging is on the M/V Discovery (a 65-foot classic working yacht). Each cabin has an upper and lower single berth.  

Trip Difficulty

This trip is rated moderate.  Most trails are well maintained. The elevations of the trails are from sea level to 300 feet. Kayaking will be in two-person ocean kayaks that are on-board the Discovery.  While hiking, participants will carry personal day packs with approximately 10 pounds of personal gear and two quarts of water.  While snow is unlikely, it could rain almost any time of the day or night.  This is a relatively active trip.  Participants may choose to hike or kayak every day.  However, participants may remain on the boat if they choose to relax and not hike or kayak.  Participants should be in good condition.

Equipment and Clothing

Kayaking equipment and shuttles from the Discovery (via inflatable Zodiacs) are provided. Other equipment & clothing needs (provided by participant) include:

  • Water bottle
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen/lip protector
  • Camera (preferrably waterproof)
  • Binoculars
  • Warm clothing for hiking in September
  • Sunhat or cap
  • Socks
  • Hiking shoes
  • Rain coat
  • Casual clothes for relaxing on the Discovery
  • Pajamas
  • Evening shoes and clothing
  • Personal items (prescriptions, shampoo, vitamins, lotions)

A detailed list of equipment and clothing will be sent to participants upon acceptance on the trip.



Conservation issues in Alaska are huge (just like the state).  All of the rivers and creeks we will be running are free of dams, but that may not always be true in the future. Some conservation issues we will be discussing include updates on the Pebble Mine, the proposed Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric project (near where we will be rafting), and the effects of the Fire Island Wind Farm on birds and other wildlife.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Elaine Grace is currently retired after a 32-year career with the federal government (National Park Service, the USDA Forest Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service). From 1990 to 2000, Elaine worked at a Recreation Specialist at the Glacier Ranger District on the Chugach National Forest. While there, she administered all special use permits within the Nellie Juan-College Fjord Wilderness Study Area. She usually spent 60 days a summer in Western Prince William Sound doing everything from checking permits to building cabins and trails or kayaking in the Wilderness Study Area.

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