Hinchinbrook Island, Alaska.
Size: 171.98 sq mi.
Getting there: Would it still be pristine if it were easy to get to? For those who don’t live in Alaska, the journey to Hinchinbrook requires a flight to Anchorage and a puddle jumper to Cordova. But at least the four-seater beach plane to the island drops you right in front of your lodging. (Cordova Air and Alaska Wilderness Air both offer air taxis to the island.)
If Alaska is the last frontier, Hinchinbrook is the edge of that frontier. The island stands guard at the entrance to Prince William Sound, the first barrier to the northward flowing Aleutian current. The current brings warmer water from the south that fights with glacial melt to bring late summer sea temperatures to the lower 60s. Many a storm has caused vessels to run aground here. But while these currents can bring destruction, they also carry glass fishing floats all the way from Japan – making Hinchinbrook’s shores a treasure hunters’ paradise.
Where to stay: Until recently, there’s been only one place to stay: Hook Point Cabin. It has no electricity; no running water. It’s heated by a woodstove. But at $35 a night, this is one vacation you can afford to extend. A family is currently renovating an old homestead on the island, so it may be worth investigating The Lodge at Hinchinbrook, which has potable water, hot showers, and on-demand electricity.
What to do: A day spent beachcombing will have you clambering over shipwrecks, sifting through heaps of old fishing net looking for floats and watching eagles soar against the backdrop of glacier-capped mountains.
Bring your tackle. Novices can take a lesson in Cordova before heading off. If you don’t manage to hook a keeper, you won’t go hungry – there are plenty of cans of baked beans in the larder. But there’s no substitute for a freshly caught salmon wrapped in tin foil shoved into the coals of the woodstove. Locals boast about the razor clams, which can be dug up at low tide. In season, wild blueberries and salmon berries, unique to arctic regions, make a memorable dessert.
The reason to come this far is two-fold: to be alone – and to be alone in the wild. The island is full of bird rookeries and home to deer, marmots, otter, duck and geese. Sea lions and sometimes killer whales can be seen from the beach. There’s nothing like stepping out of your cozy cabin and finding a bear print the size of a dinner plate to make you aware that you are nature’s guest: you are here on her terms.
With an estimated brown bear population of 100, Hinchinbrook’s brown bear population out-numbers humans 20 to 1. The island became the birthplace of an urban legend ten years ago when a hunter killed a 1,000+ lb. grizzly. Though spotting prints on the beach is not unusual, many visitors will never see a bear. There is plenty of food and the stalking of humans is rare, but play it safe: read up on bear safety.
Planning to hunt or fish? Make sure to get the proper license.
Oddly, this beach is a local surf spot, but you will need to make special arrangements with the pilot if you plan to bring your board.
Caveat: Good foul weather gear is required. It rains in Cordova an average of 125 days a year.
For more island adventures, check out:
- 6 Off-Season Island Travel Ideas: Beat the Crowds & Save
- Slideshow: Secret Island Hopping
- Antarctic Island Travel
- Turks & Caicos: Complete Island Adventure
Text and photos by Cole Ruth for PeterGreenberg.com Ruth is a writer, sailor and chef. She has traveled all over the world, often on boats with good food. She currently makes her home in Los Angeles and blogs about her adventures on her website, coleruth.com.