Pay a Visit to Kodiak, Alaska’s Emerald Isle
Fishing, bears, military history and beautiful landscapes
With rolling, tundra-clad mountains ringed by spruce trees and dramatic cliffs, it’s little wonder that Kodiak has earned the nickname of Alaska’s “Emerald Isle.” This Southwest Alaska island and its biggest city both share the same name; Kodiak city offers easy road access to unusual cultural museums and fascinating World War II relics, while the island and seas around it are home to some of the best fishing and bear-viewing in the state.
The peak of tourism activities in Kodiak is from July to September, but you can also have great fun whenever you come to visit the fascinating wildlife and people that inhabit the island. Keep reading for more on how to get here and what to do once you arrive.
Getting to Kodiak
At 3,595 square miles, Kodiak Island is the United States’ second-largest island by area, second only to Hawaii’s Big Island. If you calculate size by the length of their coastline, Kodiak is the nation's biggest island by far!
There are two ways to get here: an approximately one-hour flight from Anchorage or Homer, or an eleven-hour cruise from Homer aboard an Alaska Marine Highway ferry. The ferry can also take your car or RV along—if you book it far enough in advance. Both planes and ferry will deposit you in 6,000-person Kodiak city.
You might want to pack some rain gear and a few layers in your luggage: Kodiak’s summer temperatures typically peak in the 60s, and it tends toward a wet, windy climate with about 70 inches of rain annually.
The fishing is amazing
Fishing is Kodiak's lifeblood, and as you stroll past the gazebo and open air "museum" of interpretive signs overlooking the town harbor, you might get lucky and recognize a ship or two from the hit TV show Deadliest Catch. Booking a charter fishing trip gives you a shot at salmon, halibut, rockfish and lingcod, and some charters stay out overnight so you can catch your limit twice: Once today, and again tomorrow.
If you prefer freshwater fishing, the island is dotted with streams that offer Dolly Varden, steelhead, rainbow trout and, of course, salmon when they’re running. Some of these streams are road accessible, but for a one-of-a-kind adventure, try fly-in fishing or stay at a remote fishing lodge that can be accessed only by small plane or boat.
Once you’re in Kodiak, you’ll be just a hop, skip and a jump—by small plane, anyway—from the fantastic bear-watching in Katmai National Park and Preserve. But don’t leave the island just yet: After all, it's home to the Kodiak brown bear, a distinct subspecies that can stand up to ten feet tall on its hind legs and weigh up to 1,500 pounds or more.
You’ll find most of these bears in the massive Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, which is just shy of 2 million acres in size and best accessed by small plane. But if you don’t want to pay to fly in to a remote lodge for bear-viewing, consider booking a van tour around the island’s road network, where bear sightings are common, if not guaranteed.
For another perspective on Kodiak’s one-of-a-kind topography and spectacular landscape, take to the air in a small plane or helicopter. You can see everything from up here, including the clear alpine lakes and waterfalls tucked into Kodiak’s rolling topography, waves crashing against the dramatic cliffs and sometimes bears lurking hopefully at the edges of the salmon streams.
Visit the museums and landmarks
Kodiak (the city) sports several small but mighty museums. The carefully curated Alutiiq Museum hosts more than 250,000 artifacts, recordings and documents that showcase the area’s indigenous Alaska Native culture, while the Baranov Museum focuses on the first wave of outsiders to settle in Alaska: The Russians.
For another peek at Russian culture in Alaska, stop by the Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Cathedral. It is somewhat unpredictably open to visitors who want a glimpse of the ornate, icon-clad interior, a sharp contrast with the building’s relatively austere white exterior.
Natural history education
Although the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center is a working scientific institution, it also sports touch tanks where visitors can gently handle aquatic species native to the area, a massive, cylinder-shaped 3,500-gallon aquarium showcasing cold water species and educational displays about sea life that is important to the local fisheries.
Another great place for learning about Kodiak’s natural history is the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, where you can marvel at the complete 36-foot skeleton of a gray whale and a beautiful exhibit hall that showcases local wildlife and habitats.
Kodiak was one of many coastal defense outposts and military ports in Alaska during World War II. In Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park—the most accessible Kodiak-area state park, just a short drive from Kodiak city—you can follow narrow paths snaking through the rainforest to World War II buildings and relics, many of which are identified with small interpretive signs. You can also stand on the high overlooks where gun batteries were stationed for coastal defense.
While you’re at Fort Abercrombie, make sure to visit the Kodiak Military History Museum, a volunteer-run effort located in a ready munitions bunker near the end of the short road into the park. Almost all the artifacts in this one-of-a-kind museum are meant to be handled, and most—including the teletype machines and a World War II Jeep in which you can pose for photos—are still in operating condition.
Kodiak is rich in opportunities for do-it-yourself outdoor recreation. There are nine public use cabins in the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, accessible by float plane or boat. Kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding are also popular sports here, with guided tours available to help you navigate the fast-moving tides.
Finally, don’t miss Kodiak’s beautiful nine-hole golf course, which includes putting greens, a driving range and a pro shop with rental gear. And for one of the most unique dining experiences you’ll ever have, consider reserving a gourmet dinner served aboard an ocean-going yacht, equal parts sightseeing cruise and gastronomic delight.