Adventurers can kayak or cruise through glacial waters and see marine life in these protected state waters
Enclosed by mountains and glaciers, and protected from the high seas by barrier islands, Prince William Sound and Resurrection Bay represent two of Alaska's premier recreation areas for water-based activities. Fjords, bays, coves, lakes, glaciers, mountains and hundreds of islands provide scenic settings for visitors that arrive in kayaks, cruise ships and sailboats.
In 1983, the first marine park opened near Juneau as part of an international system extending from Washington through British Columbia to Alaska. This system provides boat owners and water enthusiasts access to coastal environments with protected anchorages. The marine park system expanded in 1990 to include seven parks in the Prince William Sound and Resurrection Bay area.
There are eight state marine parks in the vicinity of the small town of Whittier, the closest being Decision Point, Entry Cove, Surprise Cove and Ziegler Cove. Farther away, within Prince William Sound, are Granite Bay, South Esther Island, Bettles Bay and Horseshoe Bay.
Three state marine parks - Shoup Bay, Sawmill Bay and Jack Bay - surround the city of Valdez, and around the city of Cordova are Canoe Passage, Boswell Bay and Kayak Island. Located 50 miles southeast of Cordova, the lightly visited Kayak Island preserves the site where the first European, Georg Steller, set foot in Alaska in 1741 as part of the Bering Expedition.
The waters off the coast of Seward are also flush with life and natural wonders with five state marine parks: Thumb Cove, Sandspit Point, Sunny Cove, Driftwood Bay and Safety Cove. Thumb Cove, only nine miles south of Seward on the east side of Resurrection Bay, showcases Porcupine Glacier which towers above the 720-acre park to provide a dramatic backdrop to Seward's most popular marine destination.
This region is home to 20 state parks, and the recreational opportunities are vast. Activities in the parks include sports fishing, clamming, island camping, wildlife viewing, kayaking and paddle boarding. Tour operators are easy to find for guided tours to see calving glaciers and aquatic life. Located near Whittier is one of the world's largest fish hatcheries, Wally H. Noerenberg Fish Hatchery, which offers free tours of its facility and surroundings. During the height of the fish run, it’s not uncommon to see black bears scouting for a meal along the beach near the hatchery.
Alaska state marine parks range in size from 360-acre Entry Cove near Whittier to the 4,560-acre Shoup Bay in the area of Valdez. Most of the parks offer boaters and kayakers protected anchorages and shorelines for safe landing. There are campsites located at seven of the parks; Ziegler Cove, Surprise Cove, South Esther Island, Decision Point, Shoup Bay, Jack Bay and Thumb Cove. The latter is a favorite stop for recreational boaters and camping is popular along the beaches. In addition, Sawmill Bay features two tent platforms, a fire ring and a bear proof food locker. Three public-use cabins are available for rent at Shoup Bay and two at Thumb Cove. Cabins can only be reached by private boat, floatplane or commercial water taxi service.
Zeigler Cove and Sunrise Cove have picnic facilities and shelters. Located at South Esther Island around Whittier is the Wally H. Noerenberg Fish Hatchery, one of the world’s largest fish hatcheries. There are also hiking trails available at some of the parks - Sunrise Cove, South Esther Island, Thumb Cove and Shoup Bay. The trail at Shoup Bay winds seven miles back to the city of Valdez, making the park the only one accessible on foot.
There are no fees or permits required to land or camp at state marine parks. There is a nightly fee for public-use cabins which can be reserved online through the parks’ reservation system.
Access to any of the parks in the state marine park system is by floatplane or boat with the exception of Shoup Bay which can be reached on foot from Valdez. The gateway communities of Whittier and Valdez can be accessed via road and the Alaska Marine Highway. Cordova can be reached by the Alaska Marine Highway but does not have road access and Seward no longer is a port of call for Alaska Marine Highway ferries. Cordova, Valdez and Seward all have regular scheduled air service.
For more information on the individual parks contact the Alaska State Parks office (907-262-5581) in Soldotna.