I love visiting Alaska’s Shuyak Island. Almost the entire island and surrounding islets are part of Shuyak Island State Park. The only permanent resident is the caretaker, Cowboy, at the defunct cannery in Port William. Other than him, I was the only person on the island for the week. Shuyak itself is a relatively flat island and is densely wooded with Sitka Spruce. The outer capes have a distinct alpine tundra feel to them. Shuyak is situated in a very dynamic ocean environment, surrounded by large bodies of water with ferocious ocean currents dictated by the tidal flow in and out of Cook Inlet to the north. The coastline is delightfully convoluted with a myriad of bays, inlets, lagoons and sloughs that experience strong tidal flows that someone armed with a local tide table and some foreknowledge can take advantage of in small watercraft. The forest hiking is generally easy with a sparse understory of devils club, salmonberry and thick sphagnum moss, and is crisscrossed with countless game trails established by Sitka blacktail deer and Kodiak brown bears. I go to Shuyak when I want an ‘easy’ trip with a lot of paddling (basically free miles) and not much in the way of mountains to cross. The views of the Katmai Coast with its 10k’ volcanoes to the west, the Barren Islands and the Kenai Peninsula to the north, and the mountains of Afognak to the south creates a nearly 360-degree panorama of dramatic wilderness landscapes.

The state park has 4 public use cabins that hardly ever get used. I read the cabin log at one site and the previous entry was from a year ago. I have been visiting Shuyak for almost 30 years and have seen the number of visitors fall dramatically over time. Air taxi charter prices have climbed a lot over time and that might be enough to keep people away. The cabins have 4 bunk beds and a wood stove and run $45 per night. Because I’m kind of cheap, I opt for the twice-weekly (Monday and Friday) mail plane into Port William ($182 each way from Kodiak) and then hike or paddle into the park. Port William is a nice jumping off point to access the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge on north Afognak Island if you have a packraft and Shuyak Strait isn’t looking too nasty. While I always take a packraft to make travel in the maze of waterways easier, you could explore the island entirely on foot. There is a limited trail system linking the cabins, cross country travel through the forest is generally pleasant, and the tundra-clad north capes offer amazing hiking. Another benefit of Shuyak Island is that there are almost zero bugs to deal with, especially on the outer coast.

On the map below, the green sections are hiking and the turquoise is paddling.