A northern version of their South Pacific counterparts, the Aleutians are built on the ring of fire. A collection of active volcanoes pushing through the earth's crust to create a chain of cascading islands. Their cliffs jutting straight out of the sea hundreds of feet high, topped with plateaus of grasses and wildflowers in the summer months. From an ecological standpoint, these islands are relatively new in terms of evolution, so it's exciting to see the start of the hottest tourist destination 100 years prior haha.
The Alaska Marine Highway runs the M/V Tustumena from Homer, Alaska, along the gulf to Unalaska, roughly a 1200 mile journey along the coast, weaving through islands, bays, and inlets. For this particular trip we flew into Kodiak as I had never been! The ferry ride totaled three nights with one to two stops a day. The ferry stops at each location with enough time to get off and stretch your legs and make your way into town. It's funny, as the ferry ties in, passengers line up to disembark, while the town lines up to get on and enjoy a hot meal from the Tustumena's onboard restaurant. I saw several people with trash bags filled with to-go orders!
Alaskans joke about it being the poor man's cruise, and for good reason! Anyone who has ever ridden the ferry in Alaska knows to expect some serious downtime and damn good halibut fish n' chips for a good price. You'll see old men playing cribbage, kids running movie marathons, people actually completing a book, and above all; sleeping in the solarium waking only to double check that we're still at sea. A welcomed and relaxing way to travel. Not to mention the unparalleled views in every direction the entire time!
Itinerary - A week long trip from Kodiak to Dutch Harbor/Unalaska.
- Fly into Kodiak on Monday, explore the area,
- Depart Wednesday afternoon on the M/V Tustumena,
- Sail for three nights stopping in various ports along the way,
- Arrive to Dutch Harbor/Unalaska Saturday morning, explore the area,
- Fly out and depart Monday afternoon.
Ferry Ticket Price - $345/adult, and kids under 5 travel for free.
State Room - On a trip this length a State Room is a must! You can choose between a 2 Berth cabin, a 4 Berth cabin with no facilities (just a sink in room), or a 4 Berth cabin with facilities (includes shower, sink, and toilet). Prices range from $106/night to $164/night. Of course you're always welcome to pitch a tent on the upper deck or find a comfortable chair at no nightly charge.
Getting There - Fly in and out of departure and arrival cities! The best deal is to fly on Alaska Airlines using mileage tickets! You can find tickets ranging from 7.5k to 12.5k. The flights are actually operated by Ravn Air and PenAir so if you buy a ticket you must go through them!
Car Rental - Expect high rental rates during the summer months, generally $100/day. Extremely worth it! So many beaches and mountain roads to see! In Kodiak there is Avis and Budget rental companies, and in Dutch Harbor, my favorite is North Port Rentals, tell them Cordova sent you. ;)
Stay - Kodiak has really nice B&B's which I have come to love as it feels like home. Especially when traveling with groups or family, you'll have breakfast made, local knowledge, and a comfortable setting usually equipped with washing machines! In Unalaska there is really only one place to stay, and that is the Grand Aleutian. It can be spendy but live it up! They have multiple restaurants and a world famous seafood buffet on Sundays and Wednesdays that is as legendary as it sounds!!
Overall this trip was approximately $3000 for myself, husband, three year old, and 2 month old! This includes everything, even spending money for souvenirs and a quick trip to the Anchorage Zoo during our layover! You could easily cut this number in half if you're traveling solo.
Photo courtesy of the Alaska Marine Highway
What to Wear & Pack
I like to pack as light as possible, I usually plan to reuse outfits, and I like to always have extra room in my bag for any fun souvenirs I pick up along the way. Here is what I packed.
- Two pairs of jeans
- Lounger pants for ferry ride cruising and to sleep in
- Two t-shirts
- Long sleeve shirt
- Cozy Cardigan
- Middle Layer that works great as an outer layer if there's no rain
- A good outer layer, I packed my long down jacket that packs down super small
- XtraTuf Boots
The original Russian Capital of Alaska until 1804 when it was moved to Sitka, you can see Russian culture embedded throughout the town, along with Alutiiq and modern day Alaskan cultures creating a unique and beautiful blend of people. Kodiak island itself is home to several communities, the city of Kodiak has roughly 6,500 people with the largest Coast Guard Base in the US.
Also interesting, there happens to be the world's first, privately owned spacecraft launching facility, AK Aeropspace! It comes as a surprise as you're driving through the facility out to Fossil Beach! Apparently they "provide access to planetary orbital space for commercial and government interests."
Java Flats - Past the Coast Guard Base and out of the main city, this restauraunt has homemade goodness written all over it! I would have eaten here for three days straight if I had started here first!
Monk's Rock - In town and down home! A Russian Orthodox cafe offering fishermen sized breakfast and lunch.
Aquamarine Cafe - The halibut was in and they had extremely delicious tacos topped with a sweet and savory sauce to die for, I went back twice! Another fisherman size-portion restaurant that will fill you for hours before heading out to explore!
Drive out to Fossil Beach! Both Surfer's Beach and Fossil Beach are black sanded so when the sun hits, it warms the rocks and sand. Even at 60 degrees, it was plenty warm enough to go barefoot and play on the shore line.
A little fishing hub filled with fishing boats and a dirt road stretching along the beach to both ends of town.
Sand Point & King Cove
Unfortunately the ferry stopped during dark hours, so we continued to sleep! But I've heard great things about both, a fun place to disembark and explore no doubt! AND, if you choose to ride the ferry back, as a round trip, then you'd most definitely hit these towns during daylight hours!
What a welcomed surprise! Cold Bay is indeed, cold haha, but also incredibly interesting as an overwhelming majority of the town's population consists of Government Employees ranging from NOAA, FAA, US Geological Survey, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the State's Department of Fish and Game and more, as well as commercial hunting guides.
The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge gives a free tour to Alaska Marine Highway Passengers that takes you through the wildlife refuge with knowledgable guides. There are over half a million migratory birds that come from all over the world to feast and breed in Cold Bay! It was great to be able to nerd out on the biodiversity and geology of the area. Our guide explained how the recent eruption of Pavlof Volcano sent ash to the northern side in as much as five feet! They were extremely happy that the wind had been blowing the ash away from the main town!
This is also the last town connected to Alaska's mainland, so bears, caribou, and more all roam freely.
The day we visited it was shit-stormin'-sideways, if you're Alaskan, you know exactly what I was up against haha. I packed my 2 month old baby snuggly inside a little carrier, he slept the entire time!
Holy bake sale!! The kids from the local school throw a bake sale just for the passengers aboard the Tustumena as a little fundraiser. So it was my duty to buy all the freshly baked cookies, mini cheesecakes, and a few cupcakes haha.
Yay!! We made it! Again, my ultimate dream would be to spend an entire week hiking and camping the island. I would love to make it out to Makushin Volcano in search of the wild horses that roam the island!
The food here is delicious! Obviously some of the best seafood in the world, Unalaska knows how to feed it's hardworking community.
- Cape Cheerful in the Grand Aleutian Hotel - Try the Salmon Avocado Club Sandwich and a glass of red wine.
- Amelia's - Sourdough pancakes and coffee!
- Airport Restaurant - Damn good asian cuisine with deliciously fresh ingredients.
- Drive - The roads are open Summer through parts of Fall as snow has yet to stick to the ground. These roads were built during WWII and have been maintained to take you in a loop out to Morris Cove, through the Pass, and back into town.
- Search for the Wild Horses - They can sometimes be spotted out towards Summer's Bay, so make sure you swing into Safeway for carrots just in case! Each year the herd grows smaller and smaller so you'll definitely want to travel here before they are a distant memory.
- Explore Fort Schwatka WWII Ruins - Creepily intact, you truly get a sense for life during this time. Most of it is accessible by road, however the gate closes during winter. You can park the car near the gate and hike in, easily spending the day.
- The Museum of the Aleutians - An incredible history of the Unangan, WWII, and modern day life.
- Hike - Make sure to obtain a land use permit from the Ounalashka Corporation office first, then head into the mountains! The Aleutian Hiker Blog is a great resource with information on nearby peaks on Unalaska, Mashukin Volcano and the five day journey, to surrounding hikes on other islands.
- Alaska Ship Supply - You must get the traditional hoodie as your souvenir.
- Carolyn Reed - A local artist with prints in the Alaska State Museum and gift shop.
Get more details from my previous trip to Unalaska where I explored with my girl, Sydney Akagi for days on end while we awaited clear skies to catch our overnight trip turned extended weekend!Part 1 - See details of what you can do with just one day!
Part 2 - Fort Schwatka, a history unparalleled!
The largest seafood export in the US for the last 20 years! Many of these containers are empty refers, ready to be filled with seafood and sent around the world!
By far the most scenic part of the trip! Pushing past islands as tall as sky scrappers, natures capital city in many ways! We were blessed with calm seas for the majority of the ride, sunsets out of this world, and a bright red sunrise which warned us for rough seas later that night. Definitely had to take a dramamine to help combat the rolling swells, my guess is that we were cutting through 15 footers! But the Trusty Tusty was a good match and it rocked us all to sleep. Even my two babies slept great under the conditions!
What a spectacular trip! Highly recommended for when you need to go off the grid on the road way less traveled. And by way less traveled, I mean to the outskirts of the skirts!
Part of the reason I've dreamed up this itinerary was to test it out as a future Resolute Lifestyle Trip! Would you be interested in coming along?! If so, what major activities would interest you? Or would you just want to lay back and cruise?!