Kayak Across Alaska's Prince William Sound

Sound Paddler

Big Wilderness. Big Wildlife (Orcas!). Big Old Growth Forests. Awesome Fishing (Salmon!). Tidewater Glaciers Calving into the Ocean.

The hundred mile paddle across PWS is a right of passage for Alaska kayakers. Like most big adventures in AK, it’s a daunting proposition to launch into what locals refer to as both beautiful and terrifying. Sometimes in the same sentence. At it’s best, you can paddle in a t-shirt and shorts, stopping for a lunch break swim on a sandy beach. Otherwise it can bring weather that would put the smack down on the toughest steel-clad fishing boats. We were prepared for the latter, but luckily enjoyed fine weather most of the week.

Put on the water in the funky harbor town of Whittier, an hour's drive from Anchorage. You can rent kayaks in Whittier (we recommend Sound Paddler pwskayakcenter.com). Be sure to check out their map of recommended camping spots in The Sound before heading out. In favorable conditions, you can easily paddle 20 miles a day, but give yourself 10-14 days for this trip. It's all about exploring the region and it's nice to not move camp every day.

Sea kayaking is more like car camping than backpacking. You can put quite a bit of weight in a kayak before noticing the effort on your paddle strokes. But you do pay the price on the beach, when you have to move that boat out of surf and above the rocks. We wrapped up each day shuttling loads of gear, groceries and IPA up into the tree line just off the beach.

Columbia Bay is the star attraction with it's enormous tidewater glacier and fleet of ice bergs. Definitely spend coupled days exploring there. Otherwise make sure to get away from the tour boat traffic by paddling up the many arms and bays that lead away Passage Canal. Touring these lesser know areas is what kayaking across PWS is all about.

About half way to Valdez, we found ourselves smack in the middle of the commercial fishing season. Dozens of seiners jockeyed for position in the sound, dropping nets and circling around to haul in their catch of salmon. Watching them work their strategies and cut each other off (or drop nets around each other) became a favorite past time.

Once you arrive in Valdez, haul out close to the ferry terminal (Alaska Marine Highway). You'll use the ferry to get back to Whittier and should make reservations in advance. It's also helpful to arrange for someone to meet you at the docks to help you with securing boats and gear. We recommend The Fat Mermaid for good food and great beer.

Suggested Reading: Check out Kayaking & Camping in Prince William Sound by Paul Twardock.

Pack List

  • Sea Kayak & Safety Equipment
  • Spare Paddle
  • Dry Suit and/or Serious Rain Gear
  • Rubber Boots and Hiking Shoes
  • Neoprene Paddle Gloves
  • Storm Proof Tent and Communal Tarp
  • Bear Bag System for Food
  • Synthetic Sleeping Bag (Recommended)
  • Sleeping Pad & Pillow
  • Canister Stove & Cookware
  • Small Thermos
  • Good Sunglasses
  • Roll of Duct Tape & Multitool
  • Fishing Gear (Hardware or Fly Casting)
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Activities Camping, Kayaking
Skill Level Advanced
Season Summer


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Blackstone and beyond!

Go to PWSKC as stated and get info about marine rec sites. Tent platforms, bear boxes and outhouses on some of the most amazing beaches and rocky shores ever. Prepare for lots of 50 degree rain but hope for 65 and sun. Nothing is more beautiful than a sunny PWS!

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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