Planning the logistics of this trip was overwhelming at first. The thing that helped us the most was when we purchased two maps, the Alaska’s Inside Passage by National Geographic Inside Passage map and Waterproof Charts Pacific Northwest map and drew out our route. Putting it on paper and having a visual of what we were setting out to do made everything seem more possible.
Next, we planned out our trip legs and estimated the amount of days it would take for each one. We started researching places to mail resupply boxes. And then we planned our menu- this was so much harder than we expected. Coming up with 90 days worth of meals that had adequate calories, well rounded nutrition and enough variety that we wouldn’t get tired of it was difficult. But we both agree that our meals were an incredible success!
The first Inside Passage route planning decision was whether to paddle North to South or South to North. We researched this and from what we gathered there isn’t much of a difference. The prevailing winds are said to blow North in the summer. We read and talked to as many people as we could and everyone seemed to agree that “prevailing” seemed an overstatement. You get the weather you get and people generally felt that the tides had more of an effect on speed than wind.
We initially chose South to North because we love wilderness and isolation more than cities and traffic and wanted to end our trip in the most remote portion possible. However, comparing the amount of time I had off work to the time it would likely take, we realized we had exactly enough time to paddle the entire Inside Passage -if nothing went wrong and we had no major delays. A pretty big “if.” We definitely wanted to paddle the Alaskan section, and thought of going North to South but we had a start date of end of May which is still fairly cold in Alaska. So we decided on another plan altogether.
We chose to start in Bella Coola, about 75 miles inward from the traditional route and about a third of the way North. We would then kayak out to Shearwater and head North. This would ensure we made it to Alaska. We then planned to take the ferry back to Shearwater and paddle home to Olympia. If we were delayed and didn’t make the entire route, we would only be missing the Southernmost portion which is more populated than we like anyway.
Trip legs – mileage and time estimates
There aren’t many towns along the Inside Passage, so planning involves more of figuring out how you can make it to the next town rather than which town you might stop at. We calculated rough mileage between towns and used an estimation of 15 miles a day to work out the number of days it would take between towns. We knew that we would likely travel farther than 15 miles each day, but this would give us buffer for weather days and we hoped would ensure we always had enough food and stayed ahead of schedule. Here are the estimates we used for Inside Passage trip legs.
Bella Coola to Shearwater
Shearwater to Prince Rupert
Prince Rupert to Ketchikan
Ketchikan to Petersburg
Petersburg to Juneau
Juneau to Glacier Bay
Juneau to Skagway
(ferry from Glacier Bay back to Juneau)
Shearwater to Port Hardy
(ferry from Skagway to Shearwater)
Port Hardy to Powell River
Powell River to Anacortes
Anacortes to Olympia
Going through customs on our Inside Passage trip was a breeze. We called ahead when we left Prince Rupert and were asked for a few details- our names, passport numbers and boat descriptions. When we arrived in Ketchikan we called again from the dock and then walked over to the customs building. The customs officials were incredibly friendly and had us fill out a few remaining documents and we were off!
While there is a network of nicely distanced campsites along the Inside Passage which have been documented in various guide books and blogs, we mostly found our own campsites. Our experience was that there was nearly always plenty of camp-able beach, rock or forest clearings. We probably worked a little harder than if we had just followed a guide book’s suggestions, but we really enjoy the unknown. We found some incredible spots that we would have completely missed if we had relied on known campsites. We did not always have water at our camp, but our ability to carry 10 liters of water made that a non-issue. Alaska had an incredibly dry summer and water finding became its own chore anyway.
We opted to use paper maps for navigation. We are both skilled at map and compass navigation, we didn’t want to rely on any batteries and honestly, we just like paper. It feels really good to have a map strapped to our spray skirts and watch the contours of the map turn into reality in front of us. We were gifted an almost complete set of US and Canadian marine charts and filled in the missing portions with Canadian topo maps. Something that is a little unusual, but that we enjoyed, was carrying two smaller scale maps, one of the Alaskan Inside Passage and one of Olympia to Alaska. This allowed us to always have a map with the big picture in front of us and when we were talking with people, it let them understand the scope and also have a map to give us suggestions.
We carried both Wild Coast 2 by John Kimantas and Kayaking the Inside Passage by Robert Miller. Wild Coast 2 was incredibly valuable. The information in this book is well researched and accurate. The maps are detailed and easy to understand. Wild Coast 2 is a truly great guide book. Kayaking the Inside Passage by Robert Miller was useful, but we felt it was more a description of the author’s experience than a well researched report of the water and weather of the area. On top of that, kayakers should know that this book has wrong information and sometimes inaccurate maps. As with any guidebook, it should be used as a supplemental resource, not the main source of navigation, knowledge or decision making.
Food and resupply boxes
This was probably the biggest hurdle. We planned 90 days worth of meals, snacks and coffee in advance, purchased the shelf stable goods and wrote out shopping lists for the rest. We then packed a box for each leg of the trip that contained shelf stable food, toiletries, maps and other small items that we would use up along the way.
We shipped our first resupply box from the US to Canada which was a mistake. It cost $278 including customs fees and we almost didn’t get it in time. We drove to our starting point in Bella Coola, BC so we took our next few boxes with us and mailed them from Canada so that we wouldn’t have to deal with customs. The rest we left with Jeremy’s parents who continued mailing them as the summer progressed. We are very glad we didn’t mail all the boxes up front- our plans changed drastically due to the 2019 ferry strike, and we had to adjust our time frame and route.
Below are the locations we mailed our resupply boxes. We did not mail them to post offices as many Inside Passage kayakers have because we were worried we would end up in town on a day the post office wasn’t opened. All of the following require calling ahead and working out the details with the people who work there. The only location that charged us was Frontier Shipping. It cost $3.00. Most of them also had dock space for storing our kayaks overnight. We really enjoyed picking up our resupply boxes from these locations. It was very nice to get off the water to a smiling face asking “Are you the kayakers who have a big box of food? We’ve been expecting you!”
Our deepest gratitude to everyone that helped us!
Leg 2- Shearwater Resort & Marina
Leg 3 – Prince Rupert Yacht Club
Leg 4 – Frontier Shipping & Copyworks
Leg 5 – Petersburg Harbor Master
Leg 6 – Four Points Hotel
Leg 7 – Glacier Bay Ranger Station
Leg 8 – Glacier Bay Ranger Station
Coming into town on out Inside Passage trip was equal parts exciting and something we dreaded. It was wonderful to get real showers, resupply our food and eat meals we didn’t cook. But we struggled as well- Jeremy always feared our boats wouldn’t be safe, I disliked how much money we spent and it was hard to be in crowds again. Camping is difficult or non-existent in most towns, plan on either leaving as soon as you resupply or staying in a hotel. We found that most hotels were booked full. We found lodging each time, but it was always a little stressful. We chose to stay two nights in each town. This gave us time to get all the logistics taken care of (showers, shopping, phone calls, laundry, emails, blog posts, Anna drinking real coffee, gear repair, etc) and explore the area a little. Below are highlights.
Free to store our kayaks
Adequate grocery store
Wifi, showers and coin laundry
$10 per night to store our kayaks at Yacht Club, showers available
Fairly expensive hotels and almost all were full when we arrived
Great grocery store and a Walmart
Ketchikan Yacht Club offered to store our kayaks at no charge and do our laundry for a small fee
Almost all hotels were full when we arrived. The hotels on the main tourist street were the same price as the Super 8
Great grocery store but not close to where we stayed
Totem Heritage Center is incredible
$10 per night to store our kayaks
We’d advise looking at the rooms before you pay for a hotel, and be aware the hotels are expensive for what you get
Adequate grocery store
Incredibly friendly people! We were offered to borrow a car twice from locals.
Free to store our kayaks at Aurora Basin
Laundry mat in town
Great grocery store
Glacier Bay National Park
Free to store out kayaks
Coin laundry and showers
Wifi at ranger station and Park Lodge, but no cell service
Very limited grocery. ToshCo is the only grocery store, its a $15 cab ride away and is primarily bulk items
Humpback whale skeleton, museum and native programs