Four miles north of downtown on Rezanof Drive, the Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park encompasses World War II ruins set on coastal cliffs amid huge trees adjacent to beaches, a swimming lake, and the remains of World War II-era gun emplacements and bunkers. A group of local World War II buffs displays war artifacts in the Kodiak Military History Museum (tel. 907/486-7015; www.kadiak.org), a former ammunition bunker at Miller Point. Open May to mid-Sept Friday to Monday 1 to 4pm. A wonderful 13-site campground sits atop the cliffs among the towering Sitka spruce trees and ruins. Camping is $15. The Alaska Division of State Parks, Kodiak District Office, 1400 Abercrombie Dr., Kodiak, AK 99615 (tel. 907/486-6339; fax 907/486-3320; www.alaskastateparks.org, click on "Individual Parks," then "Kodiak Islands"), maintains an office here where you can ask a question and possibly pick up a walking-tour brochure. Most summer days, a naturalist guides nature and beach walks. Or investigate the tide pools on your own, picking up an identification guide at the park's natural history bookstore.
The Buskin River State Recreation Site, 4 miles south of town off Rezanof Drive, near the Fish and Wildlife Service headquarters, has 15 campsites, a hiking trail, and access to fishing. Camping is $15.
Brown Bear Viewing
To count on seeing Kodiak's famous bears, you need to get out on a plane or boat and visit at the right time of year. The easiest way is a Kodiak-based floatplane; expect to pay around $475 per person, with a two- or three-person minimum for a guided half-day trip. Landing on the water, you don rubber boots (provided) and walk up to 30 minutes to get to where bears congregate. In early July to early August, depending on salmon runs, flights land on Frazer Lake for viewing at Frazer fish pass. A .75-mile walk on a dirt lane leads to the viewing area. The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge (tel. 888/408-3514 or 907/487-2600; kodiak.fws.gov) controls the viewing area. Flights also sometimes visit Ayakulik and Karluk rivers when fish are present. At any of these sites, binoculars and telephoto camera lenses are essential. Bears congregate only when salmon are running, so the timing of your visit is critical. From early July to mid-August, you're almost certain of seeing bears fishing in streams on Kodiak, sometimes in large numbers; at times, you can even drive to rivers where bears are feeding. Contact the refuge for more information on timing and bear activity.
When fish aren't running on Kodiak, such as in June or after mid-August, air services concentrate on flights to the east coast of the Alaska Peninsula, often in Katmai National Park, to watch bears digging clams from the tidal flats and eating grass and greens on the coastal meadows or catching fish in August. It's interesting and the flight is spectacular, but the viewing may be from a greater distance than on the streams. Generally, the flight services charge their standard bear-viewing seat rate regardless of how far they have to fly to find bears; if you charter, it may cost much more, but you will have freedom to determine where the plane goes, for added sightseeing. Several small flight services offer bear viewing, including Sea Hawk Air (tel. 800/770-4295 or 907/486-8282; www.seahawkair.com), Island Air (tel. 800/478-6196; www.kodiakislandair.com), or Andrew Airways (tel. 907/487-2566; www.andrewairways.com).
If a bear-viewing day trip is the whole reason you're going to Kodiak, compare your options. You can go directly from Anchorage or go to Katmai National Park to see bears up close.
For additional money, you can see more of Kodiak's bears on a longer outing: A flight service can leave you at a lodge for an extended stay in bear habitat. Check the visitor center for a referral. Harry and Brigid Dodge host small groups at their rustic, solar-powered Aleut Island Lodge in Uyak Bay, taking an environmentally sensitive approach while spending the time to know the bears and their habitat. The business is called Kodiak Treks (tel. 907/487-2122; www.kodiaktreks.com). Rates are $350 per person per night, double, with a 3-night minimum. Besides meals and bear viewing, the rate includes activities such as kayaking and fishing, but not the cost of getting there (about $350 per person round-trip from Kodiak).
Here are a couple of other Kodiak Island lodges with good reputations. Munsey's Bear Camp, in Uyak Bay (tel. 907/847-2203; www.munseysbearcamp.com), has been in operation since 1956 and takes only six guests at a time. A 5-day stay is around $2,200 per person, plus a $350-per-person flight to get there. Zachar Bay Lodge (tel. 800/693-2333; www.zacharbay.com) offers excellent bear viewing, but has an emphasis on fishing. A 2-night stay, including the flight across the island to get to the lodge, is $1,890 per person and up for longer stays.
The roads leading from Kodiak reach six good-size rivers with productive fishing for salmon and Dolly Varden char. At times, you can drive to places with fishing pressure as light as at some fly-in locations on the mainland. Going beyond the road network puts you on some of the best and least-used fishing opportunities in Alaska. The visitor center provides a list of where to fish and the names and addresses of guides for remote fishing. You can also seek advice and regulations from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, 211 Mission Rd., Kodiak, AK 99615 (tel. 907/486-1880; www.alaska.gov/adfg; click on "Sport Fish," then on the Southcentral region, then on "Kodiak/Aleutians"). To fish the remote areas, you'll need to charter a plane, going for a day or staying at a remote public-use cabin or wilderness lodge.
About 65 boats are available in the boat harbors for ocean fishing. An advantage of coming to Kodiak is that it puts you near rich halibut and rockfish grounds -- you don't have to take a long boat ride for excellent fishing. Angling for silvers is good in August, and increasingly anglers troll for king salmon through the summer and fall, although success rates are hard to predict. Check with the visitor center for a referral.
Hiking & Bird-Watching
There are good dayhikes in Kodiak, some starting from downtown. The local Audubon Society publishes the Kodiak Hiking & Birding Guide that you can pick up at the visitor center. Audubon's guided hikes go to a different place every Saturday and Sunday of the summer, meeting at the visitor center parking lot at 9:30am for carpooling. The hikes range from easy walks on groomed trails to steep climbs up local mountains. In any case, you'll meet friendly locals enthusiastic about Kodiak's outdoors. Check http://kodiakaudubon for the latest hiking schedule.
The Kodiak Archipelago, with its many folded, rocky shorelines and abundant marine life, is a perfect place for sea kayaking. Kayaks were invented by Natives here and on the Aleutian Islands to the west. For beginners, it is best to start with a day trip, and the waters around the town of Kodiak are lovely for such a paddle. Several operators can arrange an outing, although most concentrate on more ambitious trips. Alaskan Wilderness Adventures offers a variety of outings (tel. 907/487-2397; www.kodiakswildside.com). Expect to pay $140 per person for a half-day, $220 for a full day.
Shuyak Island State Park, 54 miles north of Kodiak, is famous for sea-kayaking expeditions. The park is a honeycomb of islands and narrow passages in virgin Sitka spruce coastal forest. The Division of State Parks distributes a free kayaking guide with route descriptions and maintains four public-use cabins, which rent for $75 a night in the summer season. These cabins can be quite hard to get in August.