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 in Southcentral Alaska are 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 on kayaks, small and large cruise ships, and sailboats.
The Prince William Sound and Resurrection Bay areas are 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 in Whittier, Valdez, Cordova, and Seward for day cruises and kayaking trips to see calving glaciers, rugged coastline, and marine wildlife.
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 in Resurrection Bay are also flush with wildlife and natural wonders in 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.
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 areas.
Facilities and Camping
Alaska state marine parks range in size from 360-acre Entry Cove near Whittier to the 4,560-acre Shoup Bay near Valdez. Most of the parks offer boaters and kayakers protected anchorages and shorelines for safe landing.
There are campsites at Ziegler Cove, Surprise Cove, and South Esther Island, and camping and a public use cabin at Decision Point. 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. South Esther Island and Surprise Cove have hiking trails.
Shoup Bay has camping and three public use cabins, and an 11 mile trail that connects to the city of Valdez, making the park the only state marine park accessible on foot. Sawmill Bay and Jack Bay both feature campsites with tent platforms.
Thumb Cove has two public use cabins and camping along the beaches and is a favorite stop for recreational boaters departing from Seward.
Access to all of the parks in the state marine park system is by floatplane or boat from Whittier, Seward, Valdez, or Cordova, with the exception of Shoup Bay, which can be reached on foot from Valdez. All four communities offer water taxi service that can provide drop-offs to the state marine parts for camping, public use cabins, and hiking.
For more information, visit the Alaska State Parks website.
Learn more about kayaking and day cruises in Alaska.