When I first heard of Orca Island in Alaska, the one thing I knew about it, was how little I actually knew about it. I have been honestly hearing about for it decades, from others who had been there, or would see it mentioned from time to time in articles.
I understood that it was supposed to be very unique, remote, and the type of place you go to once in your lifetime; but I didn’t actually know what it would be like aside from the few (but very beautiful) photos I saw online.
So when I finally got my chance to go and explore this Alaskan paradise for myself, it was my mission to really help share what this experience was truly like in detail.
In this article I will discuss the ins/outs of getting to Orca Island, what you will need to bring, the types of activities you can do while you are there, I will cover what the accommodations are like, and finally I will provide my overall first hand experience being there for 3 nights. Let the adventure begin!
Getting To Orca Island Starts In Seward, Alaska
Usually, giving directions to the next amazing place to stay involves some basic driving instructions, noticeable landmarks, and check in instructions.
Fortunately, getting to Orca Island is a lot more fun! First you will need to drive to Seward, Alaska which is about 125 miles South of Anchorage (a 2.5 hour drive). Or you can elect to take the train from Anchorage to Seward which I highly recommend if you want to really enjoy the incredible coastal scenery.
My wife and I stayed a few nights in Seward before we even departed for Orca Island. We went on an incredible wildlife/glacier cruise in the Kenai Fjords with Major Marine Tours, ate delicious local seafood, and visited the Sealife Center. If you have the time, it is absolutely worth staying a couple days in town before you depart.
Regardless, the day before you depart you will need to call Orca Island’s Operations Manager to confirm your reservations on the boat (they email you all the information you will need well in advance).
Before you depart however, you will need some supplies, this is a remote destination after all so being prepared is important.
Coming Prepared & What To Bring
I remember contacting Orca Island a few times (a little over anxious) in the days before we departed because I wanted to make sure I had everything we would need.
We wanted to be relaxed and enjoy ourselves without a care, so we did not want to regret forgetting to bring along this or that. They at one point told me with a laugh, “It’s pretty cush out there, its like a hotel.” and they were not wrong.
That being said, you will need to bring two essential things and one optional item outside of the normal stuff you’d bring on a trip (and for heavens sake don’t forget your camera).
You will need to bring ice/gel packs (as your refrigerator is a cooler), the food you want to enjoy, and if you want, bait for fishing. That’s it! I recommend picking up great fresh caught frozen seafood from J-Dock Company and bait from Bay Barge Company.
They have solar power (for conservative use), fishing poles, small boats/kayaks, grills (including the propane), cooking utensils, bedding, drinking water, toiletries (including the toilet), and pretty much any other little important little item you can think of.
Orca Island may be remote, but it was also purposefully and painstakingly created to be a well though out island paradise.
Now that you know the basics of what to expect and you have all of your essential supplies its time to depart Seward for Orca Island itself.
Leaving Seward & The Adventure To Orca Island
The day you leave for Orca Island you will need to follow your instructions to the appropriate section of the docks in downtown Seward (at the time of writing we were to meet them at the J Dock ramp).
Orca island staff will be holding/next to an “Orca Island” sign and will help you offload your luggage before you go park your car (if you drove). We had a check-in time of 12:30pm and were leaving the dock by 1pm sharp so be on time!
The owners of Orca Island didn’t just pour love and energy into the island itself, even the boat ride over was a special experience.
Firstly, it is not some generic water taxi taking you over to the island, its their own pristine -Orca Islander- vessel captained by their extremely lovable family captain Simon (they have several captains but we got him)!
The captain certainly wants to make sure you get over to the island quickly, however, they will be on the lookout and stop for otters, humpback/orca whales, and dahl porpoises.
Orientation & Arrival To The Island
As this is not a fully catered resort destination (and is still very much in wild Alaska) on the boat ride over the boat captain will stop to discuss what to expect, what wildlife is in the area, where you can/can’t go, and pretty much all the basics so by the time you arrive, really all that’s left is a tour.
I mention this preliminary orientation specifically because like so many aspects of our journey to Orca Island, I had a lot of questions, but they always had things covered.
In fact, I was actually under the impression we were all going to be dropped of on the island and left to our own devices (as this was exactly what happened to us last year at a different remote stay).
However, during the orientation we were excited to learn that there is a staff member on the island 24/7 who is on call should anyone need anything.
As we approached our final destination we all got out on the bow of the boat for an orientation around the private bay area. We got to see where good fishing spots were, waterfalls we could kayak to, beaches we could travel to for a hike, and got to see the beautiful coastal rainforest come into view.
Everything was starting to feel very comforting and understandable, this was going to be our home for the next few days.
I also wanted to note that at the time it was raining quite a bit (Orca Island is located in a coastal rainforest after all), but I can tell you from experience that weather here changed frequently throughout the day.
Even if rain is in the forecast everyday, don’t worry, it will likely give way to better weather on and off throughout the day (and honestly, even if it does not, the rain never hampered our fun).
Checking Out The Island
I am going to be very honest here, arriving at Orca Island feels like what I would imagine arriving at Jurassic Park would be like, it is just unreal how beautiful/wild it is.
I had seen a number of really beautiful photos of this place over the years (as I said before), but to actually see it in person… wow!
We docked the boat and were given a tour of the unlimited use kayaks/boats, the art gallery, all of the fishing equipment, the seaside wood fire pit (all wood provided), the ocean viewing deck, and all the other community spaces.
After that we were individually taken to our yurt accommodations, which we were all eager to see. There were yurts located on the actual island itself and across the incredibly iconic bridge leading directly into the coastal Alaskan rainforest.
While exploring the area, it seemed as though every single yurt there had a view that was nothing less than incredible.
We arrived at our yurt and before we went inside we had to just sit and appreciate the view from our private deck for what it was.
Seemingly Tropical. Mountain Views. Giant Trees. Seals & Otters Playing In The Bay. Unforgettable.
We came in May, and where as the rest of the state was still coming to life, Orca Island was at its maximum beauty. Due to the islands rich waters, evergreen trees, and unique climate it maintains its incredible views without fail May-September.
After enjoying the view it was time to go inside and see what one of the most mysterious aspects of the island was really like.
Inside Your Yurt
I usually think of a yurt as a “very basic” inexpensive accommodation whenever I see one as an online rental.
I am however, happy to report, that this is the best yurt I have ever experienced in my life! The bedroom area was spacious and ultra comfy, without question better than most hotels or Airbnb’s I have stayed at. The bed itself was clearly an intentionally high quality addition and my wife and I were amazed how much we enjoyed it throughout our stay.
Something we did not even think about before we walked into our yurt was the fact that it would be a shame to be cut off from all the natural beauty surrounding us.
Luckily they had huge windows surrounding the entire space, windowed French doors, and a big beautiful skylight above us that made it feel like you were one with nature.
Spending time outdoors was obviously a huge part of the draw for coming to Orca Island, yet I could easily see how someone could come and just unwind in their yurt for their entire stay.
The living area alone was just so quiet, relaxing, and inviting. Here we could both chat while one of us grilled on the back deck, we could curl up and read a book, but our mornings just listening to the sounds of the sea right outside were our favorite.
The yurts were extremely modern in their overall feel, so being that close to the natural world at the same time was an amazing sensation. The yurts all had toilets, showers, hot water, kitchens (sink, stove, oven, and etc. as pictured earlier), futons, private decks, power, gas fireplaces, grills, and never left you wanting for more.
Having a nice warm shower, under the bright Alaskan summer sun, in a secluded island paradise, is an experience I could not have imagined possible before we came to Orca Island. We started our mornings everyday waking up to the gentle light seeping in from the windows/skylight, and would plan our days from there.
If you ever have, or get the opportunity to stay here one day, you will have to resist staying home all day, it’s that good! Now lets go outside and explore a little more of the island.
Exploring The Incredible Beauty Of The Island
While walking around the island/rainforest areas one thing that occurred to me very early on was the fact that the owners built everything around nature, not through it.
No tree was cut down if it could be avoided, no rock was moved (they built around them), and they have not installed any infrastructure that would adversely impact the environment. So for things to feel so luxurious and yet so primal was quite the thoughtful feat to pull off.
Walking along the seaside trails was never a hassle, was always meditative, and provided some of the most unique natural scenes we had ever seen.
Yet, as much fun as we had exploring these paths, it was getting off of them that really made this an adventure and not just an incredible place to stay.
So next we looked to venture into the water that surrounded us.
Kayaking, Boating, Fishing, & Oceanside Hikes
We have so many photos and videos showing many of the cool water activities that we couldn’t include in this article, but suffice it to say that not getting out on the water during your stay would be a mistake.
I will also say that me and my wife had somehow never been out on a kayak before in our lives. I was particularly terrified, and with how amazing everything else already was, I was not ready to get in a kayak, but I am thrilled my wife convinced me to try.
We asked the current island caretaker if he would get us ready to kayak for the first time ever and he was 100% on board. They helped load us into a brand new two person kayak, and after a little practice in the calm waters of the bay, we were brave enough to set out looking for coastal wildlife.
We saw others going on a skiff to a nearby beach to do a hike, some going off to see a famous local waterfall, another group going fishing for halibut/rock fish, but we wanted to see some animals!
A Family Legacy Of Animal Friends
I started as a wildlife and nature photographer by trade, I love animals, and so learning that there was not only loads of local wildlife out and about, but that some were considered long term family friends by the owners made me so happy! There are orca, humpbacks, seals, otters, bears, sealions, and sea birds that have frequented the area for generations.
When we came to Orca Island it was during a time of year that whales were somewhat less active in the bay itself, but the one day we were on the water we saw a lot of other cool creatures.
For example, we were told that the above seal was the child of a seal they named Sasha, who has tragically passed, but her children still know the secluded bay area as a literal safe harbor.
The child of Sasha the seal has had several names given to her by both the family and guests (we know because we read the guest books) and was so curious and loving when we kayaked around her.
We also watched a family of River Otters that had adapted to a life at sea for generations who delighted us with their fishing, kelp cuddles/kisses, and little barks to greet us everyday.
The whales, birds, and other marine wildlife are often coming and going, but there are some year-round residents like the seals and otters that really felt special to see at home.
The owners talked about seeing and enjoying these guys year after year since they were kids and I can understand why. Every little corner of Orca Island and the bay they all love is a shared safe space for humans and animals alike.
Relaxing After A Long Day
Often everyone on the island would go out and have individual adventures, then return exhausted, somehow we would all still end up around the fire telling stories and laughing (and with zero communication).
This area was enclosed from the elements, warm, with beautiful views, and strangers from across the planet all got to connect.
People talk about the power of certain places on Earth that can heal, unite, or bring forth understanding amongst us and this has got to be one of those places!
Someone told me at one point that, “I was so great at capturing the moment!” and I had to respond, “That’s easy when every moment is perfect!”-Phillip Flippo
We met many awesome people around the fire from the other guests, to the onsite staff, and every night we always walked away feeling physically/emotionally fulfilled.
Our Ultimate Review Of Orca Island, Alaska
I started this article by saying, “The one thing I knew about (Orca Island), was how little I actually knew about it.” and so it is my sincerest hope that I have helped you to understand what to expect in greater detail than I did.
Not only that, but I hope this article inspires you to try to experience Orca Island for yourself.
I always viewed this place as something unobtainable and too expensive for the average person, but I was wrong. It is not exactly cheap at around $1,000 a night, but when you start to add up the boat ride there/back, the access to the kayaks/boats, the power generated from solar, the fuel needed for heat/electricity, the staff required to ensure you have a perfect stay, and the scars Simon the boat captain has from trying to deliver a difficult oven to one yurt from the ocean when it was early days…
Orca Island is special, it’s never going to expand to accommodate more than a handful of guests (that are individually loved and cared for), and I can guarantee you it’s like nowhere else on Earth.
It was started by a family who clearly loves the natural world, does not want to ruin it, and wants to share the best of it with others.
With one of the children of the original creators alongside his amazing wife now having taken over the property (as of 2023) there is a whole new generation who are dedicated to honoring and enhancing this already incredible place (Yen Ly and Jonah Swiderski).
If I were to leave a review score for how worth it Orca Island is to visit, I would give it an 11 out of 10.
Check out our amazing overview video of Orca Island below and keep in touch with The Alaska Frontier for more amazing places to stay around Alaska!
Be sure to check out Orca Island Cabins here.
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