After a few years of planning and rescheduling, this was it, our once-in-a-lifetime kayaking trip. We’d done day trips before, but this was different. Our party of four would spend four days paddling in Prince William Sound.
We arranged with Alaska Sea Kayaking to rent kayaks, gear, bear canisters for food, and a VHF radio. On a Monday afternoon in mid-June 2022, they got us ready to go and helped us launch from the gravel ramp in Whittier. It so happened that their crew members were escorting a student group leaving around the same time — more on that later.
We paddled our two double kayaks headed out into Passage Canal, my husband Mark and I in one kayak and our nephew Alan and Bob (who’s not technically a family member but likes to play the role of uncle) in another. We lucked out on the weather—no rain, and the wind was only a breeze that day. The water was our biggest challenge; while it wasn’t actually choppy, we had some small waves, and the swells from jetskis, boats and the state ferry felt immense when sitting only a few inches from the surface. We learned to point our bow into the wave and ride it out.
Views of the town of Whittier and its glaciers behind us, Billings Glacier across from us, and the mountains surrounding Passage Canal made for a scenic setting while we got our paddling rhythm going. There aren’t a lot of pullout spots in this area, so we took a short break in the calm water of Shotgun Cove and moved on. It took us roughly five hours to paddle ten miles to our first camping spot at Decision Point.
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Camping in Prince William Sound
Located where the end of Passage Canal opens into the larger Prince William Sound, at Decision Point small boat travelers must decide if the conditions are good enough to enter the deeper, choppier water. We spent the night at the Decision Point Marine Park state campground in Squirrel Cove, which has a forest boardwalk path, wooden tent platforms, an outhouse, and even a metal locker to keep your food out of reach of bears. Because we knew the student group was also going to camp there, we left the big tent platforms for them and pitched our tents in a high gravel area nearby.
When the other group arrived, their escorts from Alaska Sea Kayakers helped us find a good spot to place our kayaks and tie them off before high tide. (I had a tide book, but we didn’t understand just how high the water would come up the shore, so their experience was invaluable!) It was great to see young people from the Lower 48 have a positive experience in Alaska, and they were good neighbors. We all had a peaceful night’s rest and set off for Blackstone Bay in the morning.
The second day’s paddle, from Decision Point to 17 Mile Beach in Blackstone Bay, was almost as long as the first day’s paddle. The swells were bigger and more challenging in the open water until we got well into the bay, but again we lucked out with calm weather and water. The views of snow-capped mountains and the ocean beyond were well worth the work. We skirted the coast on the east side until we got to the two closest points across the bay, then made the crossing there. (We had to time things to avoid a group of jetskis, but they appear in small groups only a few times a day, so we could work around each other.) Then we paddled along the west side to our second campsite.
Camping in Blackstone Bay
17 Mile Beach, on Blackstone Bay across from Willard Island, has an outhouse and a few gravel tent sites, so it’s a bit more rustic than Decision Point. Again, we let the group have the official sites and found a couple bare spots for our tents. As if on cue, shortly afterwards a black bear strolled away from our area to the meadow nearby. We appreciated his moving on so we had a place to camp! And again, the Alaska Sea Kayaking folks helped us find a good location to put the kayaks before high tide. On this beach, the highest tide covers the gravel beach and creates a pond next to the trees, so it’s critical to get the kayaks high up, and tie them to a tree just in case.
From 17 Mile Beach, we enjoyed views of Blackstone Bay including the seven glaciers that crested the mountains around us. Thanks to the temperate rain forest, hemlock and cedar trees graced the area. In the bay, harbor seals popped up their heads to breathe and look at us humans. Kittiwakes and bald eagles glided overhead, and a family of crows woke us up each morning. At the head of the bay, Beloit and Blackstone Glacier commanded attention as they touched the water. We could easily hear the glaciers grumble as the ice shifted.
On our third day, it took us a couple hours to take our kayaks to the end of the bay near (but not too close to) the tidewater glaciers. We got a good look at Beloit Glacier and its moraine, and paddled among the bergy bits of ice that had recently been part of the glacier. We decided not to take the time to travel to the face of Blackstone Glacier, but had decent views of it at several points on our journey.
We stopped for lunch at one of the few places to pull our kayaks onto the beach, near the face of Lawrence Glacier. The next day, Alan and Bob hiked up to its ice cave and Alan took a hike/climb alongside of the glacier for some spectacular views of Blackstone Bay and Prince William Sound—the climb was a little more technical than the rest of us were up for, but appropriate for those with more mountaineering experience. The rest of us took our time relaxing, enjoying the scenery, and packing up for our trip home.
On our last day, we hung around the beach until Lazy Otter Charters arrived with their landing craft. We were in the first group picked up, and enjoyed getting to know our fellow kayakers on the way. The Lazy Otter staff put the kayaks on top of the boat and stowed the rest of our gear in the baggage area, while we relaxed in the seating area or watched from the deck. Off we headed to Whittier. Sizable engines helped them cover the trip in about an hour, and the crew was friendly and helpful.
Ending our Best Kayaking in Alaska
We checked in our gear, and our tired and grateful party had a seafood dinner in Whittier before driving back to Anchorage. Overall, there were some long days for us, and I’d recommend this trip only if you have kayak experience and you’re in excellent shape to paddle for that many hours in a row. But the experience was worth it. Four days in Prince William Sound gave us stories to share for the rest of our lives.
Lynn Lovegreen writes for young adults and lives in Southcentral Alaska. Learn more at www.lynnlovegreen.com