Wildlife and Photography Cruise, Prince William Sound, Alaska
- Experience the beauty of the Sound from a 65-foot yacht
- Enjoy photo opportunities while watching for wildlife
- Kayak or hike every day
Gourmet meals prepared on the Discovery
Use of kayaks, life jackets, rain gear, and rain boots
This professionally guided small ship cruise in Alaska's Prince William Sound features bird and wildlife photography with professional photographer Hugh Rose. Every day we will hike (a Zodiac boat will transport us to shore) and kayak. Good weather cannot be guaranteed (this is a rainforest environment), but we will be prepared in rain gear and rain boots that are provided by M/V Discovery (a 65-foot classic working yacht)
This professionally guided small ship cruise in Alaska's Prince William Sound features bird and wildlife photography with professional photographer Hugh Rose. Every day we will hike (a Zodiac boat will transport us to shore) and kayak. Good weather cannot be guaranteed (this is a rainforest environment), but we will be prepared in rain gear and rain boots that are provided by M/V Discovery (a 65-foot classic working yacht).
We will explore the 2.1-million-acre Nellie Juan-College Fjord Wilderness Study Area, which lies within Alaska’s famous Prince William Sound. More than three thousand shore land miles of bays, coves, and deep fjords comprise the prized seacoast region. 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, carving icebergs that thunder into the surrounding fjords and inlets. Prince William Sound’s calm and gentle waters provide a home for a thriving spectrum of marine and bird life. Countless islands dot the seascape while ebbing tides unveil rocky shores and tide pools adorned with an array of inter tidal life. Spring sunlight paints the meadows and marshes with colorful plants and early 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 oil-coated wildlife that horrified 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 on the ecosystem, wildlife, and human communities.
Day 0: Arrive in Anchorage and transfer to your own accommodations by 5:00 p.m. Leader will attempt to facilitate everyone staying at the same location, but this is not guaranteed. Downtown 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. In clear weather, the views of the Alaska Range are spectacular! Also recommended is the Public Lands Center and the Alaska Museum. See Day 8 for more recommendations. We will meet for an orientation dinner (included) at a nearby restaurant
Day 0: Arrive in Anchorage and transfer to your own accommodations by 5:00 p.m. Leader will attempt to facilitate everyone staying at the same location, but this is not guaranteed. Downtown 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. In clear weather, the views of the Alaska Range are spectacular! Also recommended is the Public Lands Center and the Alaska Museum. See Day 8 for more recommendations. We will meet for an orientation dinner (included) at a nearby restaurant.
Day 1: In the morning, we will be picked up by a Discovery staff member at the Copper Whale Inn for the scenic ride along Turnagain Arm, known for its tremendous tidal flats and frequent sightings of sheep and eagles. We will continue south through the Chugach mountains to rendezvous with Captain Dean Rand, professional photographer Hugh Rose, 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 plentiful selection of fine beverages.
We will depart Whittier in the early afternoon and enjoy lunch while traveling east and south to a hiking destination. Skiff to shore for a short hike through lush rainforest vegetation and countless streams and waterfalls, or paddle through an iceberg-laden lagoon in a sea kayak. Return to the Discovery for an exquisite dinner that often features fresh, local seafood.
Day 2: Mornings aboard the Discovery are usually relaxed with a casual open breakfast served from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Such flexible timing works well with guests from various time zones and individual morning routines. Enjoy a variety of warm fresh breads, muffins, rolls, fruits, cereals, various warm egg dishes, juices, coffee and tea. Underway in the morning, the Discovery sails through passages and nearby glaciers. Where we will sail depends on the best bird and wildlife photography opportunities. Our plan is to hike in the morning and kayak in the afternoon (although we may reverse this each day, depending on weather and kayaking/hiking opportunities).
If we go into the College Fjord area, expect to see hundreds of harbor seals using the floating ice as resting platforms and safe places for birthing. The rocky mountainsides around the glaciers support a healthy (and frequently visible) population of mountain goats; binoculars serve as helpful aids in sighting these skillful mountain climbers. Later in the day, the Discovery exits this ice-laden fjord where (with a fishing license that you can buy on-board) you can try your luck fishing (equipment provided) for Pacific halibut and rockfish. Late afternoon and early evening provide opportunities for whale watching for orcas and humpbacks.
Day 3: We have multiple options for exploring secluded bays in the western Sound. Characterized by undulating peaks and intricate shorelines, many of the islands offer some of the region's more “secretive” coves and spectacular mountains. This is a kayaking or small boat paradise. The currents near the islands we will be exploring bring fresh seafood into the area, which in turn brings whales, sea lions, and other marine life that follow the food web. The Sound’s most frequent orca and humpback whale sightings are often found along our route; keep your eyes peeled for dorsal fins and blow spouts. If successful, we’ll pass this helpful information on to the local whale researchers of the North Gulf Oceanic Society.
High, vertical cliffs and dramatic scenery encircle the bays in this region. Migratory waterfowl make their home in these protected waters and bald eagles soar above in search for food. After the kayak excursion, return to the Discovery for lunch while we sail to a new location for a shore hike that promises to reveal grand vistas of the Chugach Mountain range bordering Prince William Sound to the north and west. Following the hike, we will head across the Sound to a protected and quiet evening anchorage.
Day 4: The theme of a casual morning breakfast continues as the Discovery sails north up a long fjord that houses a tidewater glacier at its tip. Near the glacier, enjoy a kayak excursion that enables you to thread through the many icebergs that have recently fallen from the 200- to 300-foot face of the glacier. Sea otters and hundreds of harbor seals make the inlet their summer home. If you’re quiet and lucky, you can paddle up close to seals resting on the bergs. Arctic terns, bald eagles, and other birds frequent the area, and kayaks serve as a gentle and quiet mode of travel to access this magical fjord.
Enjoy a shore hike that takes you up the hill adjacent to the glacier and opens a tremendous view of this river of ice, bending down through the mountain valleys. This glacier’s terminus has been slowly advancing down Unakwik Inlet, while most glaciers globally are receding. The scene for visitors is one where the sides of this massive hundred-foot-plus blue-white face is pushing into the temperate rainforest consisting of not just mosses, ferns, and lichens, but also huge 400-year-old western hemlock and Sitka spruce. A short visit here to see this unusual glacial advance is a must. Afterward relax on board with appetizers. Enjoy the sounds of ice tumbling into the sea, while the chef prepares a fine evening meal and the Discovery turns to head southward again to a quiet evening anchorage.
Day 5: This will be our last full day in Prince William Sound. Today’s hike serves as a portage between two bays, traversing a hidden mountain meadow. The beauty of the delicate alpine vegetation encountered on this two-hour walk was described by the early explorer and naturalist Charles Keeler: “It is with a thrill of pleasure that the traveler encounters one of these secluded meadows hemmed in on all sides by trackless forests or untraveled waterways. Imagine an open glade half a mile in length, with gently undulating surface, and here and there a dwarf spruce or an alpine hemlock, twisted and gnarled, looking in its fantastic shape like the handwork of a Japanese gardener. A carpet of dense moss, in which the feet sink at every step, covers the ground, and here and there are pools of water, imagine the frail flowers, which sway upon their banks. Here grow the golden geum, the dainty little white stars, both the pink-belled and the white-belled heathers, the small bunchberry or ground dogwood, the beautiful purple nodding dodecatheon, the waving white fluffs of the cotton grass, and the minute little purple bells of butterwort.”
While we traverse across the meadow, the Discovery sails around to meet us at the head of the next bay. Back on board, we then continue on our journey along the shores of the bay, past impressive waterfalls. Then we will travel north through a thin, snake-like waterway, banked by the luscious greens of the Chugach National Forest. We will anchor in peaceful waters this last night of the trip.
Day 6: 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. On our final journey back to Whittier we will pass through Port Wells and be 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, offering great opportunities for photos and up-close observations. Nature offers few chances to see animals in the wild as adorable as these mothers with young pups. Appetizers are served while you take in the final sights of Passage Canal prior to docking in the Whittier Harbor and taking our van transfer to Anchorage. Overnight in Anchorage at your accommodations and gather for a farewell dinner in Anchorage (not included).
After the trip: Ask your hotel or B&B to facilitate a transfer to the airport, or you may choose to extend your stay in Alaska. If you have the time, the following are recommended: see Dave Parkhurst’s Northern Lights show at the Performing Arts Center; visit the Museum of Natural History and Art; visit 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).
Trip participants are expected to fly to Anchorage, Alaska and arrive no later than one day before the trip begins. Please plan to book accommodations in downtown Anchorage. Leader can help facilitate. 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 your accommodations for our last night and gather for a farewell dinner (not included in the trip cost)
Trip participants are expected to fly to Anchorage, Alaska and arrive no later than one day before the trip begins. Please plan to book accommodations in downtown Anchorage. Leader can help facilitate. 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 your accommodations for our last night and gather for a farewell dinner (not included in the trip cost).
Accommodations and Food
The first orientation dinner at a nearby Anchorage restaurant is included. All vegetarian-friendly, gourmet meals; beverages (including wine, sodas, beer, and alcoholic spirits); snacks; and appetizers 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.
This trip is rated moderate. Most hiking is cross-country through open meadows or on granite rock. The elevations gained from hiking are from sea level to 300 feet. Kayaking will be in one- and two-person ocean kayaks that are carried on-board the Discovery. While hiking, participants will carry personal day packs with approximately five to ten pounds of personal gear and one quart 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 is provided as well as shuttles from the Discovery via inflatable Zodiacs. Other equipment and clothing that trip participants must provide include:
- Water bottle
- Sunscreen/lip protector
- Camera (suggested waterproof)
- Binoculars (available on the Discovery)
- Warm clothing for hiking in May
- Sun hat or cap
- Rain boots (provided by the Discovery)
- Rain coat (provided by the Discovery)
- Rain pants (provided by the Discovery)
- Waterproof gloves (provided by the Discovery)
- Casual clothes for relaxing on the Discovery
- Evening shoes and clothing
- Personal items like prescription medications, vitamins, shampoo, and lotions (in small containers)
A detailed list of equipment and clothing will be sent to participants upon acceptance for the trip.
Conservation issues in Alaska are huge (just like the state). We will discuss the status of the Nellie Juan-College Fiord Wilderness Study Area (2.1 million acres) and promote it as wilderness in the future. Some other conservation issues we will be discussing include Arctic protection, a Sierra Club priority issue, plus concerns relating to Alaska's other national forest, the Tongass. Also, we will discuss updates on the Pebble Mine, the proposed Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric project, and the effects of the Fire Island Wind Farm on birds and other wildlife.
Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and when applicable will operate under permits obtained from U.S. federal land agencies.