Sweeping westward from the tip of the Alaska Peninsula through the top of the Aleutian Islands, the Eastern Aleutians are located in one of the world's most beautiful, dramatic regions. Here, nestled among active volcanoes, sea-sculpted coastline and mile after mile of untamed landscape, the adventurous traveler can explore ancient Aleut village sites, visit agate beaches, view an array of birds, mammals and marine life or enjoy unparalleled fishing opportunities.
The region is home to the communities of Akutan, Cold Bay, False Pass, King Cove and Sand Point.
Akutan is a scenic Aleut village on Akutan Island with a population of about 1,000 people who live beneath the active 4,275-foot Akutan Volcano. There are no roads in the village, but boardwalks provide easy paths through the small community.
The community provides most visitor services and attracts adventurous hikers who wish to climb to the crater of the volcano, seven miles west of the village, or to a thermal hot springs for a soak. Akutan and the surrounding islands team with birds and sea life. The whiskered auklet is found on the nearby Baby Islands, one of only two places it exists in the world. Some of the largest halibut in the world have been caught in Akutan Pass on the west side of the island.
Clustered around its namesake bay at the tip of the Alaska Peninsula, the community of Cold Bay serves as an important regional transportation hub and as the gateway to the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
The 417,533-acres Izembek National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1960 to protect some 142 species of birds, primarily the Pacific black brant, a species of geese. Almost the entire North American population of brant, numbering 150,000, arrives in spring and fall during the annual migration to feed on the large eelgrass beds in Izembek Lagoon. When the salmon are running, brown bear densities in the refuge can be among the highest in Alaska with as many as six bears per mile along some streams. The waters around the refuge are populated with harbor seals, sea otters, walrus and Steller sea lions.
An 11-mile road connects Cold Bay to the Izembek Lagoon where most of the wildlife viewing takes place. Cold Bay has limited services for tourists that include lodging and tour operators that will take visitors into the refuge. The refuge's visitor center features displays, a small book counter and other information on the area.
A picturesque fishing village, False Pass is located on the tip of Unimak Island. The mostly barren area is home to 27 of the 46 most active volcanoes in the U.S. The town attracts a small number of visitors who arrive aboard Alaska Marine Highway ferries, which run twice per month during the summer. Many visitors come to view wildlife, for fishing or to become immersed in the Aleut culture. One of the favorite activities is beachcombing the shoreline for Japanese glass balls that have detached from fishing nets and floated across the North Pacific. Day trips include a boat ride to the abandoned village of Morzhovi.
False Pass earned its name because the Bering Sea side of the strait is so shallow, it's impassable by large vessels. The community of 39 residents is the only surviving Aleut village on Unimak Island, the largest island in the Aleutian Island chain. Today False Pass survives on commercial salmon fishing and fishing services as it is an important refueling stop for Bristol Bay and Bering Sea fleets.
A short hop across the bay from the community of Cold Bay is King Cove, a bustling fishing port of 750 residents at the west end of the Alaska Peninsula. King Cove is a full-service community welcoming visitors drawn by wildlife viewing opportunities. Bears are abundant, and in the spring and early fall whales can be seen migrating through Belkofski Bay.
King Cove was founded in 1911 when Pacific American Fisheries built a salmon cannery, which operated continuously until 1976 when it was partially destroyed by fire. Peter Pan Seafoods later rebuilt the facility and today its salmon cannery is the largest operation under one roof in Alaska.
Although a proposed 27-mile road from King Cove to the Cold Bay Airport is under consideration, for now a hovercraft transports passengers between the two communities.
Sand Point is the largest community in the area, with 958 residents living on the northwest coast of Popof Island. One of the Shumagin Islands, Sand Point is a favorite with hikers and outdoor adventurers, in large part because of its beautiful views and lack of bears.
Sand Point is a full-service community and charter boats are sometimes available for halibut fishing or marine wildlife cruises. A popular day trip destination is nearby Unga Island. Here, you will find a rare petrified forest, one of the largest abandoned villages in the Aleutians and relics of gold mines.
Popof Island, like the rest of the Aleutians, is treeless with native vegetation that includes alder and willow shrub and a rich carpet of alpine tundra that produces salmonberries, moss berries, blueberries and cranberries in the summer. The island is home to a large population of bird life, particularly bald eagles but also puffins, cormorants and kittiwakes. Otters, sea lions and seals are regular visitors to the harbor and beaches. Migrating whales are also seen during the summer months in Popof Strait. There are also buffalo on the island. In 1955, a bison herd was transported to the island. Today the local tribal corporation manages a herd of about 120 animals that roam the uninhabited side of the island. Fish processing supports the local economy and the port is home to the largest fishing fleet in the Aleutian Chain.
Scenic St. Nicholas Chapel, a Russian Orthodox church, was built in 1933 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.