So much of Alaska exists beyond the coastline. If you like the sound of docking your kayak on the shore of a tiny island that feels all your own, or flying into an expansive island with miles to explore, Alaska has something for you. Here are five of our favorite islands in Alaska, each with something special to offer.
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1. Prince of Wales Island and the Caves of Wonders
At 140 miles long and 45 miles wide, the Prince of Wales Island has plenty to see. It’s the perfect destination for hiking, backpacking, and hunting, but if you’re interested in spelunking, you’ll find that here, too. There are over 600 caves on the Prince of Wales Island, which is just south of Juneau. This includes El Capitan Cave, in which brown bear bones dating over 12,000 years old have been discovered. It’s a little dangerous and you’ll need a guide, but you can visit the site of this historic discovery for yourself.
2. Adak Island’s Eerie Beauty
Two words: black sand. Many beaches in Alaska are covered in black sands that are the product of volcanic activity. It’s a little eerie, but also very beautiful. Adak Island is at the very end of the Andreanof Islands, the long spit of small islands that reaches into the Pacific Ocean from Alaska’s southwest border. It’s between the Bering Sea and the Pacific Ocean, equidistant between the United States and Russia.
Want to know another thing that makes it a little spooky? Adak is home to an abandoned naval base from the Cold War, much of which is still standing, but in ruins. Adak is a haunting mixture of breathtaking natural landscape and deserted, crumbling human structures.
3. Hot Springs at Baranof Island
There are three islands known as the “ABC Islands of Alaska.” These are the Admiralty, Baranof, and Chichagof, all of the Alexander Archipelago in the Tongass National Forest near the coast of Sitka. There are about 1,100 islands in the Alexander Archipelago, so it’s hard to choose a favorite, but if you twist our arm we’d say the Baranof. The smallest of the ABC Islands, it’s still 105 miles long and 30 miles wide, and home to 9,000 people (and also plenty of bears). The island is laced by channels, islets, glacial lakes and secluded bays for exploring, but the main event is the series of 9 natural hot springs. Take a dip in a warm, natural hot spring while watching an icy mountain stream rushing just feet away.
4. Popof Island and Free-Roaming Bison
Popof Island of the Shumagin Islands in the southwest is small (only ten miles by five miles) but it has a very special kind of wildlife: wild bison. A herd of buffalo was introduced to the uninhabited side of the island in 1955 and numbers well over 100 today. The island’s grassy slopes are the perfect habitat for these majestic, yet endangered animals, and watching them thrive in this new land is a moving experience.
5. Unimak Island
Unimak Island is the largest of the Aleutian Islands, but almost completely uninhabited. It was designated as wilderness in 1980 and remains an important habitat for many large and small animals. It’s well known for its dense brown bear population, and many hunters visit the island for permitted brown bear hunting. It’s also home to Steller Sea Lions. They’re wonderfully entertaining to watch sunbathing, playing, and barking on the shore or spits of rock, and the surrounding water might be some of the bluest you’ll ever see.
It would be hard to visit Alaska without exploring an island at some point. If you make your way north, you’ll have your own list of favorite islands in no time.