By: Terry Gardner – See Terry’s Alaska passport
If you love sucking up fresh air and watching wild critters do their thing, get thee to Alaska’s Inside Passage. You’ll see Humpback whales dive like ballerinas, bald eagles soar (well, like bald eagles) and stellar sea lions lounge on icebergs (sometimes glancing at you with a “What’s up?”). You may also spot black bears or brown bears either combing the seashore for food or fishing in the river for salmon depending on the timing of your visit. And wildlife watching, like comedy, requires good timing. I saw more wildlife for free in August 2010 than I did in June 2011 because it’s easier to spot bears, eagles and other wildlife during the peak of the salmon run from mid-July through August. I spent less money on lodging in Juneau and Gustavus to have more dough for wildlife watching activities.
- After failing to snag a deal on a Juneau hotel via Priceline, I posted a question on Gogobot asking where I could find the cheapest lodging to have more money for activities. Another member steered me to the Juneau International Hostel where a shared dorm room costs $10 a night plus a daily chore (that takes less than 15 minutes). Although I can’t recommend the Hostel’s bunk beds for comfort, it’s clean and I had the privilege of bunking with Susan from Switzerland (pronounced: “Sooz-Zan”) and a woman from South Africa. I remember Susan’s name because we grabbed a bite and a beer together at a favorite local restaurant, the Hangar on the WharfIn Gustavus, I spent two nights at the Blue Heron Bed & Breakfast to experience the town of Gustavus and one night at the Glacier Bay Lodge because I had heard guests sometimes see bears near the lodge. Although camping would have been cheaper, I like indoor plumbing, and both cost less than $150 per night.
- The top inexpensive spots for seeing wildlife in Juneau are Mendenhall Glacier, Mount Roberts Trail and Mount Roberts Tramway from which you can frequently spot eagles in treetops (just look for the white dots).In the Gustavus, the grounds of most of the B&B’s as well as Glacier Bay National Park offer free wildlife viewing opportunities. All you need to do is take a stroll or a hike.
Whale Watching – Juneau
- Don’t miss going on a whale watch in Alaska. You’ve come all the way to Alaska, so don’t miss out on a whale watch. If you can afford two, carpe whale watch!In August 2010, I saw about 12 whales bubble net feeding with Captain Jack, and this year I saw baby humpbacks learning to breach. Jack takes out a maximum of seven passengers, so it’s a very personalized whale watch for approximately $189 per person.
Whale Watching – Glacier Bay
- In the last two years, anytime I’ve asked: “Where’s the best place to see whales in Alaska?” Almost universally, the response has been: “Point Adolphus.” That’s the main reason I paid a visit to Glacier Bay. Deb of the Blue Heron told me that the top whale watching is the Taz, Tod Sebens’ boat, so I booked my trip to Point Adolphus with Cross Sound Express LLC. I’ve never seen so many whales, and the maximum number of passengers is 23. There were about 17 of us onboard my afternoon cruise. The adult fare in 2011 was $120 for adults and $60 for children 4-12.
When I took the Glacier Bay Day Boat tour the next day, I really missed the intimacy I’d found on whale watches with Captain Jack and Tod Sebens. Although I finally got to see a brown bear on the Glacier Bay tour, the Marjorie Glacier wasn’t calving and couldn’t compare to the adventure I’d had with Adventure Bound Alaska out of Juneau to South Sawyer Glacier. Captain Jack had recommended Adventure Bound saying: “One trip to South Sawyer Glacier is worth ten to Marjorie Glacier.”
After seeing both I agree. The narrowness of Tracy Arm offers closer wildlife viewing opportunities and we saw chunks of ice falling off South Sawyer Glacier.
Seeing whales, glacier calving and eagles flying off icebergs is a day at the office for Captain Steve Weber. For me, it was Alaska heaven! If Heaven doesn’t have whale watching, I hope I end up reincarnated as a barnacle on either the Taz or the Adventure Bound.