In 1907, a group of Norwegians started a whaling station on Akutan Island near Unalaska. Today, you can fly to Akutan and ride the Alaska Marine Highway ferry to Unalaska to watch for whales and sea lion haulouts. (This requires planning in advance, as the ferry only runs twice a month during summer).
A drive or walk up Mt. Ballyhoo is interesting for both birders and those interested in World War II history. It’s such as good view that you might even catch sight of whales in the distance. The view from the 1,634-foot mountain gives you an idea of how birds might see the area (that is, if you can imagine the view with a lot more color and super-sharp clarity)
Unalaska’s Front Beach, on the shores of Iliuliuk Bay, is both inviting and picturesque. Looking toward the bay, watch for boats coming into harbor, eagles fighting over salmon, or mist engulfing the surrounding hills and mountain tops. Back toward Unalaska, you’ll find more emerald green mountain views and historic sites.
Locals love the drive along Summer Bay Road, a 7-mile stretch north of town on the western shore of Unalaska Island. This area, with coves and rolling green hills, is not only picturesque, but serves as an easily accessible place to watch for a good mix of birds - from seabirds and waterfowl to nesting eagles and breeding songbirds. (Except for winter, when the road might be closed due to snow or avalanche risk).
The 2,300-foot Pyramid Peak is surrounded by Pyramid Valley, Captains Bay and miles of popular hiking trails, including a circuit around the peak. This location is for the birder who wants to get out of the city and industrial areas of town to listen for birdsong while sitting among the wildflowers or berries of the Aleutian tundra.
Tens of thousands of pots are stacked and stored in yards in between crabbing seasons. The towering stacks are a source of shelter, especially for birds that don’t normally live in Unalaska. Crab pot yards are on private property, but you may be able to view from the road or get permission to walk around.
If your travel group includes a WWII enthusiast, a wildlife devotee, a birder, and a kid who enjoys rolling around on the tundra, Bunker Hill is the perfect spot. Plus, it has the best photo ops, with a 360-degree view of the entire area: Captains Bay, Amaknak Island, Unalaska Bay and Iliuliuk Harbor.
Some of the most valuable seabird habitat in the eastern Aleutians is located about 16 miles from Unalaska, east between Akutan and Unalga islands. The group of five volcanic islands are small, but are important nesting grounds for some species that are rarely seen elsewhere.
The mild stroll around Strawberry Hill offers great views, wildlife and some historic flavor. Old military roads cover the area, providing easy walking. Adventurers can bushwhack or scramble short distances for better views of the surrounding area or get up close to WWII-era trenches and the remains of old bunkers.
Also known as Second Priest Rock, Little Priest Rock is a large, pointed rock easily spotted near the entrance to Summer Bay. Birds perch on the top and on shorter rocks nearby (many just above the surface of the water). Little Priest Rock attracts many seabirds and shorebirds, including bald eagles, puffins, Emperor Geese, grebes and loons.
Jutting half a mile into the center of Unalaska Bay, the Dutch Harbor Spit offers a short, sea-level hike for all ages, with beach access, wildlife viewing and birding. The trail follows an old roadbed, which makes for an ideal hiking surface. You’ll want to stop frequently with a ready camera for close-up views of marine mammals on either side of the spit.