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Hoonah to Tenakee Springs - Kayak Trip / Canoe Trip


Book Cover This is a fascinating trip to the head of Port Frederick, where you make a short portage before continuing down Tenakee Inlet. It ends with the compelling option of soaking in a hot spring at the town of Tenakee Springs, a fascinating town with a population of 101. The ferry Le Conte stops here four times a week and will take you back to Hoonah or on to Juneau. Although this is a car ferry, there is no off-loading of cars in town. In fact there are no cars or roads in Tenakee. Amenities do include a post office, a library, a small grocery store, and a liquor store. There's also Rosie's Blue Moon Cafe, synonymous with Tenakee Springs, a gathering place for the town's eclectic and eccentric population.

This adventure in protected solitude is an opportunity to see lots of wildlife, including brown bears, deer, river otters, mink, humpback and killer whales, porpoises, seals, and sea lions. The time spent on this route can be short or long depending on the weather and your energy. It can be pleasantly extended with a variety of side- and add-on trips. In July and August the forest around Tenakee Springs is loaded with salmonberries, blueberries, and red huckleberries.

Trip Highlights: Land and marine animal viewing, birding, wilderness camping, portaging, visits to a couple of unique Alaska villages, and a hot spring.

Trip Rating: Beginner/Intermediate: One or more members of this excursion should have experience in Alaska kayaking and remote camping. Other members of the party can be of limited experience. It is a good trip for building paddling skills.

Trip Duration: Under ideal weather and tide conditions ambitious experienced paddlers can make this trip in two long days. To enjoy it more fully expand it to four or more days. The distance from Hoonah to Tenakee is about 42 miles.

Navigation Aids: NOAA chart 17302 combined with USGS Sitka at 1:250,000. NOAA chart 17300 offers less detail but is sufficient.

Tidal Information: Proper timing is everything on this trip. Don't attempt the portage on a tide of less than 17 feet. Below that the approach to the portage point turns into a mud bog. Above 17 feet it is possible to paddle or line right up to the portage, an easy path only a few hundred feet long.

Cautions: Tenakee Inlet has a long fetch and waves and white caps can build up in short order. Generally the north side of the inlet offers more protected paddling water.

Trip Planning: Use tide table for best paddling and portage times. Trip scheduling includes fitting together the times for the ferry from Juneau to Hoonah, paddling to the portage to arrive at high tide, and then arriving at Tenakee Springs in time to connect with a ferry back to Juneau.

Launch Site: Same as launch site listed for Port Frederick (see Rte. 25). At Tenakee Springs plan to disembark on the beach next to the marina at the east end of town.


Get underway as described for Port Frederick (Rte. 25). The most direct distance from Hoonah to the portage is about 17 miles. Under some circumstance, this could be done in one day. A couple of days is better. Take even longer if you want to do some exploring in the Neka Bay area. Getting to the portage requires paying attention to your map. The last 1.0 mile before the portage is a tidal creek that finally opens into a large slough. The portage trail is at the west end. There is no trail sign or marker, but the trail into Tenakee Inlet will be an obvious path.

From the portage to Tenakee Springs is about 25 miles. With the best tide and no wind or favorable light winds, a strong paddler can make this in one day, but it will be more enjoyable to make it a two- or three-day trip. A significant seal colony lives on the small islands on the north shore of Tenakee Inlet. Sidetrips: Explore Long Bay, Seal Bay, Saltery Bay, and Crab Bay, all along the south side of Tenakee Inlet. Each is worth your time.

Where to Stay & Where to Hike There are plenty of places to camp along the shore or on small islands in both Port Frederick and Tenakee Inlet. In Tenakee Springs there is a sort of campground "somewhere north of the marina," but pretty much anywhere north of the harbor is acceptable for pitching a tent. Keep a clean campsite and hang your food bags, there are a lot of bears around. During berry time bears are known to swagger down the town's main street with impunity. In Tenakee Springs there are limited cabins for rent from the Snyder Mercantile Company (907-736-2205), but don't expect anything to be available without a reservation in advance. hiking Trails suitable for hiking run northwest and east from Tenakee Springs more or less paralleling the shoreline.

Tenakee's Hot Spring The real pièce de résistance of Tenakee Springs is the bathhouse at the head of the dock. It is open twenty-four hours a day with specific hours for men and for women posted on the door. Bathing is free, but a contribution toward cleaning and maintenance of the bathhouse is reasonable and proper. It can be handed over to one of the clerks at the Snyder Mercantile Company across the road.

Book Cover Excerpted from Guide to Sea Kayaking in Southeast Alaska: The Best Trips and Tours from Misty Fjords to Glacier Bay by Jim Howard with permission from Falcon Publishing.

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