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Most of us won’t ever have the opportunity to spend a year exploring North America’s west coast like Hig Higman and Erin McKittrick have done, yet we still yearn for adventure. With limited time, we want to get right to the good parts. Erin and Hig help us by describing the four regions they enjoyed most in their 3000+ miles of trekking. Each region has its own character; one is sure to capture your imagination and excite you into vacation planning mode.
Hig and Erin recommend these four regions beginning in the south and moving north. Each “How” section describes how to position yourself for an immersion wilderness experience, but if you prefer shorter excursions, hop a cruise ship to any of the three southernmost regions.
Princess Royal Island
Princess Royal Island.
Princess Royal Island is a magical place with white Spirit bears, tumbling water falls, verdant rain forest and crystal clear alpine lakes.
Princess Royal Island: for those who are attracted to mystery and magic. This locale is ideal for the adventurous honeymoon couple.
Where: Along the remote north coast of British Columbia, 300 miles north of Vancouver, 100 miles south of Prince Rupert and just north of Klemtu, in the Great Bear Rainforest.
How: From Vancouver, fly to Prince Rupert and catch a ferry (BC Ferries) to the village of Klemtu. Once there, hire a boat or paddle the twelve miles to Princess Royal Island.
When: Hig and Erin found Princess Royal Island to be a paradise in August, but recommend visiting in September since you are more likely to see the Spirit bears when the salmon are running.
Note: The bear guides in Klemtu are very knowledgeable.
The terrain in Misty Fjords National Monument/Canada’s Golden Triangle looks impassible - with big rivers, steep glaciated mountains, and chilling fjords - unless you are a sneaky packrafter.
Misty Fjords: for packraft fanatics. The intricate landscape can seem insurmountable to a hiker, but a sneaky packrafter can work their way around obstacles.
Where: Misty Fjords National Monument is in the panhandle of southeast Alaska and is part of the Tongass National Forest. The adjacent area in Canada is referred to by locals as the Golden Triangle.
How: By float plane or boat from Ketchikan.
When: Go in summer or early fall to avoid massive snow buildup on the steep slopes of this mountainous area.
Note: Erin and Hig traveled one of their longest legs - nineteen days - through this region to connect Ketchikan to Wrangell.
The Lost Coast (the Gulf of Alaska coast from Glacier Bay to Prince William Sound) can be a challenging place for adventure, with unprotected open beaches and huge mountains housing the largest glaciers in Alaska.
The Lost Coast: for a grand adventure with unpredictable challenges and the opportunity to collect unique knick-knacks.
Where: Along the Gulf of Alaska coast from Glacier Bay on the south to Cordova and Prince William Sound on the north.
How: Fly into Yakitat (in the middle of the Lost Coast) on Alaska airlines from Anchorage or Juneau.
When: If you want a real challenge, go in the fall (like Hig and Erin did) to pit yourself against raging storms. In early summer, the water is low, but the weather is more predictable.
Note: Don’t trust topographic maps. Use something like Google Earth with recent satellite photos to navigate by. The glaciers in the area are retreating rapidly, and the rivers flowing out of the glaciers change - a river mouth can be four or five miles off from its location on USGS maps. Erin and Hig relied on USGS maps and often had no idea where they were.
Although you will mostly be hiking, a packraft is necessary for crossing bays and large rivers.
To see more of this area from the comfort of your arm chair, watch the reality TV show, The Alaska Experiment, now running on the Discovery Channel. Hig and Erin ran into one of the groups of contestants in Icy Bay.
Base of the Alaska Peninsula
Base of Alaska Peninsula.
In late spring the country at the base of the Alaska Peninsula is delightful to ski, with a deep base covering rounded mountains and sharp volcanoes. Be prepared for very changeable weather.
The Base of the Alaska Peninsula: for a ski vacation in a winter wonderland.
Where: This general area is about 290 air miles southwest of Anchorage. It includes Lake Clark National Park and Preserve and Katmai National Park and Preserve
How: Take an air taxi from Anchorage to your choice of destinations in Katmai or Lake Clark National Parks.
When: Aim for later in the winter so there is more light to travel by; March is ideal, and you could get lucky with nice snow in April.
Note: The weather is extremely changeable. If you run out of snow, just get yourself 500 to 1000 feet higher in elevation.