aleutian islands

Aleutian Islands Featured Destination:

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge

While you can't walk the volcanic land bridge that once connected North America to Asia, now known as Alaska's Aleutian Islands, you can certainly visit the rocky coasts that remain by way of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

The North America film crew spent two seasons at the refuge filming gray whales, orcas and brown bears in very harsh conditions. But a trip to the largest maritime refuge in America, covering 3.4 million acres along 47,000 miles of coastline, is sure to be more pleasant in the summer months when marine birds and mammals come to breed and raise their young.

Birds are the easiest to spot and the most accessible wildlife here, especially with over 40 million species touching down, from auklets to puffins. You might spot gray whales and orcas off the coast of the Barren Islands near Homer, while brown bears may be tougher to see, making their home on Unimak Island near False Pass. Other popular species to watch for are seals, sea lions and otters.

While the wildlife viewing is spectacular once you get to the refuge, getting there can be a challenge because much of the refuge is sparsely populated. The Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center in Homer, Alaska is probably your best starting point to orient yourself to the refuge and its wildlife with interactive exhibits and guided nature walks.

Best Time to Visit:

Refuge experts suggest visiting June through August when it is breeding season for most marine birds and mammals. Early spring is the best time to see whale migrations through the Shelikof Straight between Kodiak Island and the coast of the Alaskan panhandle.

What to Do:

From Homer, you can take the Alaska Marine Highway ferry to Kodiak for a tour of the refuge by sea, passing through the Barren Islands, the largest seabird colony in the Gulf of Alaska. If you hop aboard the M/V Tustumena on the Southwest Alaska route, you can join a refuge naturalist who will point out wildlife and share the back story of scenic coasts and remote villages on the way to the Aleutian Islands' most remote areas. It's a beautiful way to experience Alaska, but check ferry times and routes as some ferries operate on a limited schedule. Get Directions

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