Glaciers, wildlife and a lack of crowds. This charter company out of Wrangell offers a mellow experience in Southeast Alaska with an up-close view that feel exclusive.
38 year Wrangell Alaskan, Eric Yancey started Breakaway back in the late 1980s. Back then, a friend had convinced Eric to tag along while he took a coast guard class to get a charter license. Afterward, Eric bought a boat himself and started doing fishing charters, and then branched out into sightseeing—and loved doing it so much that he's been focusing on scenery-based trips ever since.
Comfortable and Never Crowded
Today, Breakaway has a fleet of 15 passenger-certified jet boats, piloted mostly by local Wrangell Alaskans, and entirely by folks who have in-depth knowledge of the area. Each boat is 28 feet long, with an open outdoor area over the top of the engine, and heated seating inside the cabin. Since the groups average just 12, the ride is cozy but never cramped.
The same could be said of Wrangell itself. There’s not a lot of cruise ship traffic around here, compared to other southeast towns like Juneau, Sitka, or Ketchikan. The small town, which is accessible by state ferry, has a friendly ambience, a petroglyph beach, and plenty of hiking or canoe trails. If you stay around here for a few days, Breakaway Adventures can rent you kayaks, bicycles, and camping gear and drop you off at any U.S.F.S. rental cabins.
The Anan Wildlife Observatory
This tour in July and August offers a slam-dunk in terms of getting to see black bears (and possibly brown bears), and this observatory has wildly fewer human crowds than you’d experience at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park. (One big reason: only a certain number of visitors are allowed into the observatory per day.) After an hour’s boat ride to the observatory, in Tongass National Park, the tours offers enough time to stroll the ½-mile, boardwalk-style trail to get photo-ops within a safe distance of the bears.
It’s not only the southernmost tidewater glacier in the northern hemisphere, but LeConte is also very active: you have a very high chance of getting to see it calve, and you’ll always see icebergs floating in the water.
If the tides are right, this 5-to-6-hour trip departs from Wrangell and goes through Dry Straits; an ½ hour later, you can touch the icebergs that have calved off the glacier. Watch for harbor seals lying on icebergs, with nary a care in the world (they don’t meet any natural predators around here). You’ll also ride through a seven-mile fjord, with dramatic steep rock walls on either side, which leads to the face of the glacier. A slightly longer version of this trip (8 to 9 hours total) includes a stop in the Norwegian-settled town of Petersburg, where you can explore around the small downtown and grab a snack.
This roughly 400 mile-long river, which flows from British Columbia, has its mouth near Wrangell. With no dams on it, it’s the fastest free-flowing navigable river in North America; sternwheelers and paddle wheelers went up this route in the 1800’s. Along the shore, you can still get endless opportunities for good birding, wildlife viewing (possibility of moose and bear), and an opportunity to soak in the local hot springs.
You can choose between a few Breakaway tours in this area, which last from about 4 to 6 or 7 hours. Different times of year bring different attractions here. If you come in mid-March, you’ll see the run of small, oily fish known as Hooligan, which attracts a few thousand eagles and a couple hundred stellar sea lions, who come for the all-you-can-eat buffet. April and May, meanwhile, bring the Stikine River Bird Festival, with thousands of snow geese, shorebirds, and sand hill cranes. During summer, the water level starts to rise, which means you can see waterfalls, catch side channels, and access Chief Shakes Hot Springs, which features an open-air redwood tub, dressing rooms, and benches, all run by the U.S. Forest Service. And in September and October, you can see lovely fall foliage.
Easy Access, Mellow Ride
No matter which tour you choose, you can count on a pretty relaxed adventure with Breakaway. The Anan tour features just a short walk, and the LeConte and Stikine tours are boat-based, so there’s no hiking at all—just occasional stops on the Stikine tour to stretch your legs. On all of the trips, you can bring whatever food that you want (bottled water is provided), and you're advised to bring your camera and dress in layers, in case of chilly temperatures or rain (even though you can stay inside, whenever you like, on the boat). Rain or shine, guests find this small company a nice reflection of the friendly town on Wrangell—and this blissfully unhurried part of Southeast Alaska.