Each summer, large numbers of walruses haul out on the rocky beaches of these islands in Bristol Bay in Southwest Alaska.

Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary is located southwest of Dillingham in northern Bristol Bay. The sanctuary is a remote seven-island preserve that includes the largest walrus haul-out grounds in Alaska. Most visitor attention is focused on Round Island, where each summer up to 14,000 male walruses haul out on the rocky beaches between feedings.

Things to Do

Visitors access the islands by boat from Togiak, or by chartered air service from Dillingham to Kulukak Bay, and then boat from Kukukak Bay to Round Island. A visit to Round Island and its surrounding waters requires a permit, whereas the other islands do not. Activities on Round Island include wildlife viewing, photography, hiking, and primitive camping.

Five-day permits for Round Island are available from May 1 to August 15 on a first-come, first serve basis. Visitors can apply for a permit online from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The goal of the access permit program is to provide the public with an opportunity to view and photograph Pacific walruses and other wildlife while minimizing impacts to these species and their habitats.

Round Island has a small developed camping area with tent platforms, a public cook shelter, and outhouses. Located on a bluff, the camping area overlooks Bristol Bay toward Kulukak Bay, where walruses are often seen swimming. On calm nights you can hear males grunting and bellowing.

A trail system on Round Island allows visitors to walk along the north and east sides of the island. Although maintained, these trails are best described as primitive. A trail that extends south of the campground offers relatively flat walking conditions and provides some excellent views of smaller haul-out areas. At times you may be less than 30 feet above resting walruses and right next to puffins, murres, and other sea birds. This trail ends at the eastern tip of the island overlooking a Steller sea lion haul out.

Visitation to the other islands of the Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary does not require a permit. Allowed activities generally include fishing, wildlife viewing, hiking, and camping. Due to their remote nature, lack of facilities, and transportation difficulties, visitation to these other islands is low and visitors need to be prepared to be totally self-sufficient. There are no camps or other facilities on the other islands.

Wildlife

The waters of Bristol Bay around the Walrus Island State Game Sanctuary support a diverse group of marine mammals. The Pacific walrus is the best-known and abundant inhabitant within the sanctuary. The walrus haul-out at Round Island is one of four major terrestrial haul-outs in Alaska. Walruses return to these haul-outs every spring as the ice pack recedes northward, hauling out at these beach sites for several days between feeding forays. The number of walruses using the island fluctuates significantly from year to year. Up to 14,000 walruses have been counted on Round Island in a single day.

Other wildlife is also plentiful on this remote island. Several hundred Steller sea lions regularly haul out at East Cape, the eastern tip of the island, and are frequently spotted swimming offshore. Gray whales feed in small pods offshore in April and May during their annual spring migration. Orcas, humpbacks, and minke whales appear from time to time. Harbor seals are common on all of the islands except Round Island. Red foxes inhabit the island and are regularly spotted by visitors. Fox kits (babies) may be observed in summer.

For birders, close to 250,000 seabirds return to the islands to nest and raise their young each summer. Passerines and raptors are among the summer residents.

Landscape

These craggy coastal islands are located on the Bering Sea, close to the northern shores of Bristol Bay at the entrance to Togiak Bay. The waters are cold all summer, and windy weather is common, causing blowing rain and rough seas.

Facilities and Camping

Round Island has the only facilities in the sanctuary, including a designated camping area with tent platforms, public cook shelter, and an outhouse. Round Island also has primitive trails to access the walrus haul-outs. The other islands do not have any facilities or visitor services.

Getting Here

Dillingham and Togiak serve as the gateways to Walrus Island State Game Sanctuary, which is accessible only by boat. Visitors access the islands by boat directly from Togiak, or by chartered air service from Dillingham to Kulukak Bay and then boat from Kukukak Bay to Round Island. Dillingham has daily scheduled air service from Anchorage.

For more information, visit the Walrus Island State Game Sanctuary website.

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