Capture Alaska's Wilderness and Wildlife!
Join us on an eight-day photography expedition, and experience the scenic wonders of Alaska's Inside Passage aboard Glacier Bear. The Glacier Bear offers an outstanding platform from which to photograph the tidewater glaciers, coastal brown bears and migrating humpback whales of Alaska. Photographers of all experience levels, especially those wishing to experience Alaska in comfort, will love exploring aboard this handsome boat.
Be sure to book this eight-day expedition soon. Our previous Photography Expeditions have sold out several months in advance.
Nothing matches the freedom and comfort of a photography expedition aboard a private Alaskan yacht. Our "mobile base" transports us to pristine waterways, with unparalleled access to whales and wildlife, and the best locations for viewing fjords, icebergs and glaciers. Wildlife photographers can expect to add Alaska Brown Bears, Stellar Sea Lions, Harbor Seals, Orcas, Humpback Whales, and Bald Eagles to their dream portfolios. Landscape photographers will thrill at the photographic perspectives available from wilderness hikes, our highly stable double kayaks, and our motorized skiff. There simply is no better way to share the joy of the mesmerizing Alaskan wilderness, than capturing images with your fellow photographers.
Our Photography Guide
John Schnell has lived in Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon, and Vermont, as well as Canada, Thailand and Zimbabwe. John is our kayaking and photography guide.
John has extensive experience leading Alaska photo workshops and photography expeditions. He guided our 2017 Photography Expedition with John Fielder in 2017, and also our 2018 Alaska Photography Expedition. John led photography tours for Alaska Sailing Charters in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. He guided the John Fielder/Sea Wolf Adventures Photography Workshop in 2008. In addition, John was Expedition Photographer for Alaska Discovery from 1993-2001.
John has been making award-winning images in Alaska since 1991. Over the years, his photographs have regularly appeared in Audubon, Sierra Club and Nature Conservancy calendars. In 1991 he won the Alaska Magazine photography contest for a photo from the Tatshenshini River. One of his photos from Icy Bay was published by Alascom/AT&T as large-format calendar/poster, and was distributed to over 27,000 businesses in Alaska. John's images have also appeared in numerous magazines, including Alaska Magazine, Canoe/Kayak and Defenders of Wilderness, and on the websites of several adventure travel companies — including ours.
As a highly experienced Alaska photographer, John will provide direction on how to create captivating images of your adventure, as you observe the extraordinary wildlife and scenic wonders of Alaska. Our guided Alaska Photography expedition offers amazing photo opportunities for novice photographers and those who are highly skilled at their craft.
In 2019, John Schnell will guide the following trips for Alaska Wilderness Charters:
Juneau to Sitka Itinerary
Our 2019 Photography Expedition offers amazing photo opportunities for novice photographers, and for those who are highly skilled at their craft. Although we have a carefully planned schedule, this trip may differ slightly from our intended itinerary, due to wind, weather and tides, wildlife viewing opportunities, and the goals of participants.
Arrival. Plan to arrive in Juneau, Alaska by July 6, 2019. We suggest spending the night before we depart at the luxurious Westmark Baranof Hotel in downtown Juneau, or at Pearson's Pond Luxury Inn in Mendenhall Valley. We heartily recommend the fantastic menu at the Twisted Fish Company on Franklin Street. On your way, be sure to browse through the many art galleries. A great selection of work by local artists is available. If you're looking for an "off-the-beaten-path" experience, two of our favorite hikes are the Perseverance Trail (easy to moderate) and the Mt. Roberts Trail (moderate to strenuous). Ask your concierge for directions.
Day 1: Our journey begins with a morning orientation and preview of our eight-day photography adventure, The crew will familiarize you with your quarters aboard Glacier Bear, and show you where to stow your gear. We'll quickly settle into our cabins, take a tour of our beautiful vessel, and begin our journey.
This morning we cruise into the heart of the Inside Passage. Along the way, we'll have the opportunity to hike along seclude beaches, paddle in scenic coves, and photograph whales, bears, eagles, and other wildlife. We'll head south through Stephens Passage, and watch for Dall's porpoises, orcas, and sea birds, with a short stop at Taku Harbor. Our destination this evening is a small cove nestled safely inside of Holkham Bay. Wildlife abounds throughout the area. Our anchorage in No Name Cove provides a great opportunity for a beautiful sunset.
Day 2: Glacier Bear is underway in the early morning hours. We have planned our day to make the slack tide across Wood Spit and into Endicott Arm. Along the way we'll be alert for drifting icebergs, as well as humpback whales and orcas. We are bound for Sanford Cove, near the Sumdum Islands. Sanford Cove is the abandoned site of the mining community of Sumdum. Not much is left of the town, other than a few pilings. This is prime salmon-spawning habitat, which lures brown bears to the creeks and rivers in the area. We hike along the banks of tiny Sanford Creek, through an old growth Sitka spruce and Douglas fir forest, to a stunning waterfall, illuminated by the morning light in a remarkable grotto of ferns and mosses.
It's only a short run to Fords Terror, one of the most spectacular anchorages in Alaska. There are many places to explore by kayak or skiff. Surrounded by 3,500-foot granite faces, we marvel at the mist clinging to the precipices. We'll make our way through the tidal rapids (at slack water, of course) into the majestic and stunning inner fjord. Rushing tidal currents and whirlpools prevent us from entering (and exiting) when the current is at full strength. We cautiously cruise through Ford's Terror into a T-shaped terminus, as we slowly wind our way into the fjord. We are in a vertical world of granite cliffs and glacier-carved cirques. Dozens of waterfalls cascade down their slopes, emptying into the turquoise waters of the fjord. Our evening anchorage is near a delightful waterfall. Black bears often visit the area, grazing on the abundance of berries in the meadows, and fishing for salmon in the stream.
Day 3: After an early breakfast, we depart for our day-long cruise into the Endicott Arm, a narrow fjord that twists and turns through towering mountains. Massive glaciers carved their way through these coastal mountains, over the course of thousands of years. Waterfalls drop thousands of feet off the granite mountains, and sapphire blue icebergs serenely float by in the emerald green water. We'll continue to Dawes Glacier, at the ice-choked end of the fjord. Extraordinarily blue and beautiful, this glacier is quite famous for its active calving, and we’ll likely witness gigantic chunks of ice breaking away from the face of the glacier.
We'll linger at the face of the glacier, and witness the calving and booming of the icebergs. We'll also paddle through iceberg-laden waters, and we'll observe the antics of the many harbor seals hauled out for a rest on the ice. We'll hear the glacier rumbling and thundering, and we'll safely watch as waves surge down the shoreline of the fjord. Like the explorers here before us, the majesty and awe of this ice-carved land has etched itself into our memories.
If conditions permit, we may hike up a newly-formed valley on the north side of the fjord, just recently uncovered by the receding North Dawes Glacier. The icy glacial outwash river divides a meadow and scree slope, and features a big waterfall. Black bears commonly come down to the meadow to graze. We'll take in the magnificent vistas, and listen for the mournful howls of wolves. In mid-afternoon, we'll reverse directions. Our destination this evening is a small cove nestled safely inside of Holkham Bay. The evening light is beautiful, as we dodge icebergs and wind our way back down Endicott Arm and into the bay.
Day 4: After a relaxed breakfast, Glacier Bear is underway once again. We have timed our departure to make the slack tide across Wood Spit. Today our destination is The Brothers, a group of small islands near the southern coast of Admiralty Island. The scenery changes dramatically, as we leave behind the granite cliffs of Ford's Terror Wilderness.
Throughout the day, we'll watch for whales, sea lions, Dall porpoises, orcas, and sea birds. We'll be cruising to Admiralty Island, known for its dense bear population. We'll pass by Five Finger Islands Light, and pause to view a colony of Stellar sea lions, crowded on the rocks of tiny Sail Island. The males vie noisily for dominance over their harems. As we continue cruising, we'll watch for breaching whales, fast-moving pods of orcas, and Dall's porpoises.
Arriving at The Brothers, we anchor in an idyllic cove between two small islands, where the sounds of breathing whales, grunting Stellar sea lions, and screeching eagles drift in. During an extra-low tide at The Brothers, various anemones gleam brilliantly. Eventually we have to depart, but first we'll pause for a close-up look at another colony of Stellar sea lions, crowded on the rocks of one of the outer islands that comprise The Brothers. We'll anchor in an idyllic setting inside Pybus Bay, at Scenery Cove. The sounds of nature drift in across the evening calm. Beautiful, remote and protected from outer waters, Scenery Cove is pristine wilderness. We often catch a glimpse of brown bears fishing in nearby salmon-filled streams and rivers. With the largest concentration of nesting bald eagles in the world, Admiralty Island offers many chances to also see Canadian geese, trumpeter swans, cormorants and blue herons found in the fringe habitats between the forest, muskegs, meadows, and along the shore.
Day 5: After breakfast this morning, we'll continue our journey. We'll cruise west through Frederick Sound, across the top of Kupreanof Island. Humpback whales surround us along the way, showing us their tail flukes, and loudly slapping the water with their pectoral flippers. We can smell their fishy breath as they surface, and spout through their blowholes.
As we near Chatham Strait, we'll begin looking for larger pods of humpback whales, this time exhibiting a number of varied feeding behaviors. Some practice bubble-net feeding, swimming in circles while blowing bubbles to form a curtain to corral in a mass of tiny fish. Others practice lunge feeding, breaking the surface at a 45-degree angle, mouth fully open, and throat cavities expanded like an accordion to collect all the fish scooped up by the lunging maneuver.
We cruise west past Saginaw Bay, with striking limestone cliffs and rich marine life, on the northern tip of Kuiu Island. The Northland Trading and Packing Company built a cannery, wharf and a warehouse here in 1916, and produced pickled herring, mild-cured king salmon, canned salmon, fish meal and herring oil.
Our destination is Baranof Island, where we'll view dozens of waterfalls cascading into Red Bluff Bay. Our evening anchorage will be at Red Bluff Bay, located on the west side of Baranof Island. We enter the bay through a narrow passage with frequent turns, and suddenly find ourselves in a secluded jewel of a fjord, with an open meadow at the end. We count dozens of small waterfalls, with a single spectacular waterfall that roars into the waters. of the fjord. Steep mountains surround us on all sides.
Day 6: We set sail this morning for Baranof Warm Springs. We'll cruise along the east shore to Warm Springs Bay, where a natural hot spring is situated next to a rushing waterfall. Baranof Warm Springs is the outlet of Baranof Lake and the Baranof River. There are natural outdoor hot pools, and a public bath house which features three separate tubs and communal hot springs pools. A boardwalk takes us through the flora and fauna to picturesque Baranof Lake.
After our short stop, we'll continue north up Chatham Strait. We enter a narrows between Baranof Island and Chichagof Island, and sail west into Peril Strait. Not named for its navigational challenges, it gets its name from an unfortunate occurrence in 1799, when nomadic Aleut hunters stopped to camp there. Finding the shore lined with large mussels, they helped themselves to a fabulous feast. Unfortunately, the mussels were infected with paralytic shellfish poisoning, and more than a hundred Aleuts were poisoned and died.
Our afternoon is spent exploring Lake Eva, on the northern shore of Baranof Island. After anchoring in scenic Hannus Bay, we'll explore the region by kayak and skiff, in an area known for Alaska's famous brown bears. We'll walk along a forest trail, stepping over tracks left by passing bears in the soft mud, and pausing to admire the abundance of mosses, ferns, and small flowering plants. Huge hemlock, Sitka spruce and cedar trees are all flourishing because of the amply supply of rain. Coastal brown bears are sometimes spotted grazing on newly sprouted grasses, and they quickly retreat into the forest, perhaps spooked by our approach. We'll enjoy small lagoon that ends in a stream, where salmon return to spawn below a lovely waterfall.
Later we pass by Deadman's Beach, a location that lives up to it name. In the 1800's, Russian fur traders frequently visited Southeast Alaska to hunt for sea otters. They captured many Aleuts, enslaving them to help with the hunt. Their attempt to enslave the Tlingits, however, ended in disaster. A group of Russian trappers captured several Tlingits, and insisted that they prepare dinner. The Tlingits went out on the tidal flats, and collected clams and mussels – and the Russians ate their fill. Unfortunately the shellfish were toxic with paralytic shell poisoning. The Russians perished along this stretch of beach, and ever since it has been known as Deadman's Beach.
Our evening is spent at a quiet anchorage in Appleton Cove, dining on fresh king salmon.
Day 7: On our journey today, we'll encounter the Sergius Narrows. Here the shore seems close enough to touch, and a very strong current flows through the channel markers. The forest is hushed, except for the occasional call of an Arctic tern. Periodically the surface of the water is broken by the silver streak of a leaping salmon. We'll scan the shoreline to see Sitka black-tailed deer, elk and moose, as well as black and brown bears. As we enter the Narrows, we'll power through the strong current. A mere hundred feet away, the forest passes by ever so slowly.
Southeast Alaska has semi-diurnal tides, meaning that there are two low tides and two high tides each and every day. When the moon and sun are in alignment, the tidal range is at its greatest vertical difference. The vertical tide range as we pass Pond Island is almost 20 feet! Such a low tide, of course, exposes all sorts of wonderful invertebrates, all of whom must make their living in these incredibly difficult tidal cycles. Perhaps the most beautiful and colorful animals is the sunflower star, the largest and fastest moving sea star in Southeast Alaska. When it really gets going, it can move up to six feet in a single minute! Growing to almost three feet across, its rays break easily and then regenerate. It is so aggressive that even the lethargic red sea cucumber will gallop away when the sunflower star approaches.
We'll cruise through Hayward Strait and Salisbury Sound, and arrive at our evening anchorage in Kalinin Bay. As we navigate the narrow entrance to the bay, several playful sea otters paddle slowly past us. We'll explore the pristine Alaskan wilderness on Kruzof Island. Our first stop will be at Iris Meadows estuary. The meadow is full of Alaska's beautiful vegetation and wild flowers, and is a great place to look for brown bears and Sitka black-tail deer. The trail to Sealion Cove is a 3.5 mile hike through forest and muskeg, to a lovely one-mile-long white sand beach. The cove is on the Pacific Ocean, and big waves are always breaking. Locals come to here to ride the extreme surf of the outer coast. But it's also a wonderful location for beach coming, hiking, photography, relaxing in the sand, or just simply taking in the views.
In the evening, we'll enjoy a quiet anchorage in Kalinin Bay, dining on Halibut Olympia.
Day 8: After breakfast, a light breeze fills in out of the north, as we cruise sail quietly into the protected waters of Olga and Neva Straits. This morning we begin our entry into Sitka Channel, on our way to docking at the downtown marina. We'll see the delightful puffins at St. Lazaria Island, and watch humpback whales and mischievous sea otters – right in Sitka Harbor.
In the late morning we'll arrive in Sitka, the former capital of Alaska in the 1800's. With views of island-studded waters and stately spruce forests reaching to the water's edge, Sitka is considered Alaska's most beautiful seaside town. The scenic community is nestled between forested mountains and the great Pacific Ocean, on the outer waters of Alaska's Inside Passage. Sitka offers an unparalleled combination of Native culture, Russian history, and Alaskan wilderness.
There's plenty to see and do around Sitka. You'll want to visit the Alaskan Raptor Center, for a close encounter with the local wildlife. The Center does great work rehabilitating injured birds of prey, especially bald eagles, and then retrains them to return to the wild. The flight training center includes a huge indoor coastal rainforest, large enough for rehabilitating eagles to relearn their flying skills without leaving the facility. If you like fishing, Sitka boasts the highest saltwater sport-fishing catch rate for king salmon in the nation. Novice or expert, you can be guaranteed a first-class fish story! Fishing is best from June through August, and commonly hooked fish include king salmon, silver salmon, pink salmon, halibut and ling cod. Licenses are required, and can be obtained at one of the sporting goods stores in Sitka.
The National Park Service provides guided tours of the restored Russian Bishop's House, one of the few surviving examples of the Russian colonial architecture in North America. The National Historical Park includes details of Battle of Alaska in 1804 between the Tlingits and Russian colonists. The Totem Pole Park was established as a place to display Tlingit totems. In the center of the park a 35-foot totem pole marks the original Tlingit Kiksadi Fort. The Totem Pole Park has a lovely one-mile trail with carved poles situated among Sitka spruce and Western hemlock. The Visitor Center has a substantial collection of Tlingit art and artifacts, and Native artists design red alder bowls, helmets, silver and gold jewelry, and weave the threads of raven blankets.
You'll be able to catch an Alaska Airlines flight from Sitka, with connections to Juneau or Seattle. If you're in Sitka this evening, and would like to have dinner with the remnants of our group, join us in the lobby of the Westmark Sitka.
It's hard to overstate how amazing the Glacier Bear, location, staff, and overall experience of being a part of the Alaska Wilderness Charters. I enjoyed everything about my time on the boat, and feel lucky to have experienced it. Cruising through the fjords, witnessing the wildlife, glaciers and mountains you definitely get a sense for the beauty of untouched wilderness. The daily excursions means hiking to magnificent hidden waterfalls, hot springs, kayaking through lovely still waters, and catching fresh fish and crab for dinner. The food was amazing! The photography was awesome! Humpback whales, eagles, sea lions, puffins, dolphins, glaciers and fields of beautiful wild flowers all made my trip over the top. My favorite was Orcas! We witnessed a pod of orcas breaching and playing on both sides of the ship. I took over 2,100 photos during our time with them. The professionalism of the entire staff, the comfortable accommodations, the delicious food and the sense of adventure created made for such a memorable experience that I can't imagine anything better. I definitely will return!
What I love most about life is "opposites." If you’ve had no money, you cannot appreciate finally getting some. If you’ve not slept on the ground, you can’t truly enjoy a hotel bed. If you don’t know hot, you won’t understand cold. Catch my drift? I’ve made several trips to the wilds of Alaska and this was the best one yet. Alaska Wilderness Charters is the perfect combo of luxury and wilderness! Daytime gets you eagles, whales, otters, sea lions, seals, black and brown bears, and wildflowers. The fishing boat towed behind the yacht makes possible Dungeness crab benedict with fresh baked biscuits, and baked halibut and king salmon with fresh veggies at the end of the day. Hiking wildflower-infused trails is the perfect complement to kayaking shorelines in search of grizzlies. What a life. It does not get any better than this for a hungry nature lover.
After dreaming of a trip to Alaska for 65+ years, I finally made it in 2017, and it was a dream come true. I had a wonderful experience on the Caledonia. What was not to like, with breathtaking scenery, close up experiences with whales, bears and other wildlife, wonderful food, and great companionship. In addition to the outstanding photo opportunities, we were able to fish for our food, and experience the uniqueness of the Inland Passage. While fishing, I was thrilled to catch my first two halibut, how exciting! A highlight was learning to kayak and being able to get up close and personal for photographs of wild life and waterfalls. I would go again in a heartbeat. In fact, I’ve been on the trip twice, and would like to make it three times.
John was very easy to work with. Judy and I described what we were interested in seeing and doing, and John took care of us. Our hike to the waterfall at Sanford Cove was incredible! We reveled in our days cruising on Glacier Bear, and enjoyed some tasty meals — thanks so much Katie! But the highlight of the trip had to be the breaching Orcas. What a magnificent afternoon! That was the most amazing presentation of orcas we have ever seen, and we're highly experienced whale-watchers.
On this amazing eight-day photography expedition, we'll experience Alaska's Inside Passage and the spectacular Outer Coast. On our journey we'll see charming fishing villages, an incredible array of wildlife, and breathtaking scenery.