5 must-see places in southeast Alaska

Peter and Susan Werner


During the two months we cruised southeast Alaska aboard For Pete’s Sake, we covered 2,200 nautical miles, visited virtually every community, and navigated most of the area’s remote and rarely visited passages.

On a near-daily basis, we experienced stunning encounters with nature, land and sea animals, and Alaskan individuals. We would like to share five of the most interesting and challenging destinations:

  1. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Refuge
  2. Misty Fjords National Monument
  3. Glacier Bay National Park
  4. Rocky Pass
  5. El Capitan Passage

Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Refuge

Our first anchorage, at the head of the Khutzeymateen Inlet, followed two days of final preparation in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, the starting and ending point of our cruise.

Despite being wet and cool, the early days of May in northwest British Columbia and southeast Alaska proved quite beautiful. On the relatively short leg from Prince Rupert to Duncan Bay and up Chatham Sound, our most challenging navigation involved transiting the narrow, winding channels north of Digby Island, past the native community of Metlakatla on the Tsimpsean Peninsula.

After traveling north up Chatham Sound and Main Passage, we turned northeast toward Portland Inlet. On the far southeast end of Portland Inlet, we entered Steamer Passage traveling northeast. Next, we entered Khutzeymateen Inlet to the east.

To access the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Refuge via Khutzeymateen Inlet, you usually have to request entrance from the ranger station on the inlet’s north side. Since it was early in the season, we contacted the rangers via VHF radio to advise them of our entrance. Later in the season, entry is generally limited to authorized guide services.

The deep, scenic inlet offers few anchoring options. We anchored at the head of the inlet in about 40 feet of water. A designated grizzly sanctuary, the inlet and refuge have the largest concentration of grizzlies along the British Columbia coast. Outside Alaska, the term “grizzly bear” identifies what is more correctly called the brown bear. Different varieties of brown bear include the Kodiak bear, a large brown bear found primarily on Kodiak Island.

Before tucking in for the evening, we kayaked in a cold drizzle, watched a couple of grizzly bears on shore, enjoyed a salmon and crab omelet, and played Yahtzee. The next morning, we exited the inlet slowly. We had two grizzly sightings on our way to Foggy Bay, the preferred layover on the way to Ketchikan.

Misty Fjords National Monument

From Ketchikan, we navigated southeast down Tongass Narrows into Revillagigedo Channel. From there, we transited the northeast side of Annette Island. Then, we turned northeast into the double-ended Behm Canal loop’s southeast entrance. Behm Canal is the only boat access to Misty Fjords National Monument.

At the end of our four-day adventure in Misty Fjords, we exited from the canal’s other end to return to Ketchikan.

During our earlier two-day stopover in Ketchikan, we’d acquired a slinged 12-gauge shotgun, slugs and buckshot rounds in case we encountered grizzlies while hiking. Although we never discharged the gun, we had our closest grizzly encounter while hiking the trail to Punchbowl Lake.

On the first day in Misty Fjords, we anchored in Punchbowl Cove, southeast off Rudyerd Bay, on the far east side of Behm Canal. On the way there, we saw whales and dolphins and passed New Eddystone Rock. The rock rises 237 feet above the water in the middle of the canal.

After anchoring, we kayaked to shore and hiked up to Punchbowl Lake on challenging seldom-hiked trails. We spooked a grizzly, but he wasn’t interested in us. Once back on the boat, we saw a big grizzly roaming around at our kayak-landing point.

Pulling anchor early the next morning, we headed back to Behm Canal to continue our trip north farther into Misty Fjords. Motoring slowly, we entered Walker Cove to enjoy one of our drift breakfasts. We saw a grizzly sow with three cubs on shore.

We encountered an orca at the entrance to Fitzgibbon Cove, at the far northeast area of Behm Canal, where we anchored on our second night.

On the third day, we voyaged southwest through Behm Narrows, along the south side of Bell Island, to our night’s anchorage in Yes Bay. After kayaking ashore, we hiked the remains of an old tramway to Lake McDonald.

Following a supper of poached salmon, we ended the evening sitting atop the boat. Together we relaxed, sipping scotch and smoking a pipe while gazing at the sky. We were very much alone.

During our fourth day, we made the southern transit of Behm Canal to complete our circumnavigation of Revillagigedo Island. Then we returned to Ketchikan for supplies.

One of the most rewarding portions of our trip, the cool, damp Misty Fjords was worth every bit of effort.

Glacier Bay National Park

Located on Glacier Bay’s west side, a little over halfway between Bartlett Cove (the park check-in station) and Margerie Glacier (the park’s northern-most navigational point at the head of Tarr Inlet), Blue Mouse Cove provides a well-protected anchorage nestled off the southeast end of Gilbert Peninsula. We anchored in about 45 feet in the cove’s southeast area, surrounded by mountains with heavy snowfields.

The next morning, we stroked northwest in our kayak before dragging across a mussel shoal and into the top northwest end of Hugh Miller Inlet.

Now floating again, we paddled west across the top of Hugh Miller Inlet. We passed a lone unnamed island into the narrows at Gilbert Peninsula’s southwest corner. Pitch-black wolves with piercing green eyes lined each shore of the calm, beautiful narrows.

After passing through the narrows, we entered Skidmore Bay, a designated wilderness area restricted to non-motorized
craft. We floated southeast along the shoreline, slowly absorbing the pristine wilderness.

A wolf swam across the bay toward the shore to our left and crossed directly in front of our kayak. Scrambling for our camera, we managed to capture only enough to share proof. With our attention focused on the crossing wolf, we didn’t immediately notice the other wolves gathered along the shore where the wolf exited the water.

Continuing with amazement, we rounded the southwest end of Gilbert Peninsula, heading northeast across the top of Hugh Miller Inlet. On our way back to the mussel shoal, we beached at a small island to take in the area from the land.

The tide had been ebbing during our adventure, and now we had to drag the kayak over what seemed like a near-football field of mussel shells before we could stroke toward For Pete’s Sake, which looked small in the distance. We spent another appreciative night at anchor in Blue Mouse Cove before heading up to Margerie Glacier the next morning.

The northernmost point of our whole trip, Margerie Glacier was awesome. In Tarr Inlet, we had an interesting but friendly encounter with a 936-foot cruise ship. To the captain of the massive ship, we must have been indistinguishable from the icebergs. He radioed to tell us he would swing 180 degrees to give everyone on board a view of the glacier. We asked if someone could take a picture of our boat and email it to us. Someone onboard took our picture as the ship cruised past on its way out of Tarr Inlet.

Rocky Pass

Since this was For Pete’s Sake’s second voyage to southeast Alaska, the crew felt comfortable tackling Rocky Pass. As explained in the guidebook “Exploring Southeast Alaska”: “…Rocky Pass is a wild place, so proceed accordingly and enjoy your exploration.”

The day before, we’d transited from Baranof Warm Springs, down Chatham Sound, around the southwest tip of Admiralty Island and east across Frederick Sound to the native community of Kake on northwest Kupreanof Island. Noted for heavy seas, the passage lived up to its reputation. The seas approached 10 feet and didn’t flatten until we approached Kake, where we refueled and docked for the evening.

Likely the most remote navigable area in southeast Alaska, Rocky Pass separates Kuiu Island to the west and Kupreanof Island to the east. Departing Kake early, we transited southeast down the northeast side of Keku Strait. We eventually entered a narrow channel, keeping Point Hamilton on Kupreanof to port and Hound Island to starboard. Once through, we continued south. We passed Salt Point Light to port off Kupreanof and headed southeast toward Entrance Island, keeping it to port. Then we threaded ourselves into Rocky Pass — as remote and as quiet as it gets.

Like many longer southeast Alaska passages, Rocky Pass floods from both ends and ebbs from near-middle. It’s best to enter it a couple hours before high-slack tide, allowing for moderate and near-transit-direction currents. Protected by Kupreanof and Kuiu islands, the flat waters and the near shores provide an unparalleled encounter with the Alaskan wilderness. Once you find your way inside Rocky Pass and proceed with due diligence, the comfortable transit proves well worth the effort.

We discovered two notable chokepoints. As we transited south, the first came between Summit and Kuiu islands. We encountered the more challenging one approaching and navigating around Devils Elbow and Eagle Island, near the south end of the pass. At first, we couldn’t tell to which side we should proceed; neither side looked any better than the other. After a good study of the charts, the route became clear. We would travel east across the top (north) of Devils Elbow and south between Eagle and Kupreanof islands.

Rocky Pass gradually widened into its parent flow, Keku Strait, and emptied us south into Sumner Strait. Then, we transited a short distance southeast to Point Baker, a tiny fishing port on the northwest point of Prince of Wales Island.

We refueled and headed to our day’s destination, the infamous southeast Alaska community of Port Protection, immediately south and around the corner from Point Baker. We had timed our arrival to hopefully experience the community’s historic Summer Solstice Party. When we arrived, the residents said they weren’t planning to celebrate as they had in the past. As it turns out, they threw a party anyway after realizing that folks actually timed their trips to be in Port Protection for the solstice. The next day was epic, with hardcore fishermen jamming and relaxing.

El Capitan Passage

After the epic Port Protection Solstice Party, we traveled a short distance down the west coast of Prince of Wales Island and anchored for the evening at Hole in the Wall. Enroute, we kayaked an unnamed backwater bay directly south of Port Protection. Eerie channels, derelict ships, primitive lodgings, and sea asparagus were our rewards. We enjoyed a quiet, comfortable evening anchorage, which was followed by the next morning’s near-immediate exit into the big waters of Sumner Strait.

Continuing south down Sumner Strait, we turned southeast at Shakan Bay towards Shakan Strait. We went around the southern shore of Hamilton Island, northeast past Fontaine Island to port, and into El Capitan Passage to the northeast. Initially, the passage tracks northeast to its northern-most point and turns southeast to enter the short and narrow Dry Pass, part of El Capitan Passage. Then, the passage knifes its way between Kosciusko Island and the mainland of Prince of Wales Island, first east over the top of Kosciusko then eventually turning south to provide passage to Sea Otter Sound.

Shorter than Rocky Pass and a bit less remote, El Capitan Passage was equally challenging and beautiful. In fact, as long as you avoid the hazards, you can nearly touch the southeast Alaskan wilderness from your deck in this remote, well-protected passage.

Just east of Dry Pass, on Prince of Wales Island, sits El Capitan Cave. A U.S. Forest Services dock and short trail provide access to the cave entrance. After we arrive at Craig, our destination, we will arrange for a guided USFS tour of the cave.

On the way to Craig, we stopped at the small village of Naukati Bay. While there, we hiked and visited the native communities on Prince of Wales Island.

After spending five nights in Craig and visiting El Capitan Cave, we headed back to our starting point of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, the end of our southeast Alaska cruise. From there, we trailered the boat home to Blaine, Washington.

Bellingham Power Squadron members Peter and Susan Werner live and harbor their boat For Pete’s Sake in Blaine, Washington. After retiring in 2006, Peter hauled For Pete’s Sake to Blaine from Wisconsin, principally to navigate the Inside Passage to Alaska. He completed that first trip in 2007. Susan and Peter married in 2016 and took For Pete’s Sake to Alaska again. Peter has been a boater since his early teens, and Susan and he spend much of the summer boating in the San Juan and Canadian Gulf islands and kayaking, hiking, and crabbing along the British Columbia coast.

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