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Sea Kayaking in Alaska: Paddling with Icebergs

I drove 1800km (1100 miles) to go sea kayaking in Alaska for one day. Let me tell you now, that is heck of a long way, especially if you’re driving alone.

So to justify almost two thousand kilometres of driving (and whole lot of gas in our not-so-fuel-efficient-van), the kayaking had to be pretty great.

Thanks to some well-timed sunshine, presence of some of the best scenery I have ever seen and the wonderful Pangaea Adventures, it turned out to be so incredible that I may use every superlative in existence within this blog post. I apologise in advance. It was just that good. 

Updated 2019

Kayaking in Alaska with icebergs following tour guide
Kayaking in Alaska, kayakers approaching iceberg

An Alaskan Summer

My experience in Alaska so far had been very wet and misty.

In Skagway, it rained around half the time and consequently, I saw around half of the surrounding mountains during my visit.

Haines was even worse, with 72 hours of constant rain (and a forecast for seven days of more) before I called it quits and headed north back to Canada.

I took a risk driving to Valdez, another Alaskan coastal town, and I was greeted by more downpours. Though it was hard, I tried to remain hopeful.

I woke up on Tuesday at 7am to an almost cloudless blue sky, something hardly seen in Alaska during August. It was going to be a good day, but I no idea exactly how awe-inspiring it would be.

Leaving the mountains of Valdez behind
Leaving Valdez, Alaska for the kayaking trip
High waterfall falling into the ocean
Waterfall in Prince William Sound
Sea lions lying on a floating green buoy in Prince William Sound, Alaska

Sea kayaking in Alaska – Prince William Sound

The Columbia Glacier one day kayak tour is ten hours long, starting with a boat trip from Valdez harbour to Columbia Bay around 60km away.

With a slight detour to see a waterfall and some seal lions perched on a buoy, we were welcomed to our launching site by a huge range of white tipped mountains.

Kayaking in Alaska with a view like that is incredible enough, but there was more. Soon, the glacier came within sight, and separating us was hundreds and thousands of startling blue icebergs.

Despite the photos, I’d seen of this trip, for some reason I hadn’t really absorbed that I would really, truly, be paddling around icebergs. I mean, I wasn’t sure I was ever to see them in my life, and now I was only metres away. Surreal. I had to pinch myself a few times.

Columbia Glacier and surrounding mountains of Columbia Bay, Alaska
Columbia Bay, Alaska
Gemma kayak paddling in Prince William Sound, Alaska with icebergs in background
Kayaking in Alaska with icebergs

Paddling around icebergs in Alaska

Not only are icebergs ridiculously beautiful, they’re each also unique in size, shape and colour. And they change. I saw some turn over without warning, and others calve and separate following a sound similar to a gunshot. Both could be pretty disconcerting since it was hard to work out which iceberg was doing what.

While stopping for lunch, a ‘berg that we had just paddled past to land suddenly calved and caused a small tidal wave.

Looking down at icebergs in Columbia Bay, Alaska
Looking down at a peninsula of rock in front of Columbia Bay mountains
Columbia Bay mountains
Gemma standing in front of mountain view wearing kayaking gear
Lunch with a view

The Columbia glacier, Alaska

This is an ever changing landscape; the Columbia Glacier itself recedes around 35m a day. Yep, 35m every day. Glaciers do naturally recede and grow over time, but there is no way that 35m can be a natural occurrence. For Pangaea’s guides, the glacier is further away every time they come out.

But there are new icebergs to spot and be amazed by every day. My kayak group’s guide, Chloe, pointed out a particularly large one (maybe the size of two small houses!) that had appeared only a week ago and was getting smaller by the day.

After lunch, we spent another sublime couple of hours floating alongside the icebergs, completely in awe of mother nature. Every couple of minutes someone in the group would exclaim how incredibly lucky we were to be here on such a beautiful day.

Chloe told us that this was the best weather day in August so far. Even when it was rainy there was still lots to experience, however. Icebergs approaching from heavy mist must be pretty eerie indeed.

Sea otters swimming in Columbia Bay
Sea otters in Columbia Bay
Gemma in yellow kayak in front of large iceberg
kayaking with icebergs arch pangaea adventures

Prepared for anything when kayaking in Alaska

Even if it had rained, we would still have been comfortable; Pangaea Adventures had outfitted everyone with waterproof gear including rainboots (to me, wellies) and a dry bag for cameras.

To go on this tour, it is not necessary to have any kind of previous kayaking experience or equipment of your own (though layered clothing is preferable). It really is ideal for anyone. And what an extraordinary first time experience kayaking in Alaska must be!

The organisation and instruction were impeccable and the payoff, as you can see, was astounding.

Looking to book a stay in Valdez?

Keystone Hotel – Great value

Best Western Valdez Harbor Inn – Amazing location

One of the best day tours ever

As we approached our boat pick up point, a group of three sea otters swam past. The icing on the cake of this incredible sea kayaking in Alaska.

There is potential to see bears and whales on this trip too, but this time I honestly wasn’t too bothered about being unlucky! I came to see a glacier and saw so much more.

I will never forget those breathtaking views of the snow-capped mountains, cascading glacier and maze of icebergs below. Kayaking in Valdez, Alaska, was one of the best day tours I have done, ever. 

Pangaea Adventures’ Columbia Glacier kayak day tour is $299. I was lucky enough to be a guest of Pangaea Adventures, but all views and opinions are my own. I really did drive 1800km to go kayaking in Alaska for one day!

Not able to make the trip to Valdez? Check out these other amazing kayaking experiences in Alaska

I drove 1800km (1100 miles) to go sea kayaking in Alaska for one day. It was a heck of a long way but it was absolutely worth it to float past icebergs. Discover how to go on what may be Alaska's best one day adventure yourself!
Kayaking in Columbia Bay, Alaska, is an unforgettable experience. It offers the chance of floating past huge icebergs, with a backdrop of a glacier and incredible snow capped mountains. Click here to discover this amazing one day tour in Valdez, Alaska!

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Our Western Canada road trip: Week 17 and 18 | Off Track Travel

Friday 31st of October 2014

[…] I really liked Valdez. The town is another product of the Gold Rush and has experienced a fair amount of hardships in its short history, being destroyed in the 1964 earthquake and then suffering from the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in 1989. All that aside, Valdez sits in the most beautiful location imaginable (you’ve guessed it…another blog post coming soon). It still rained for half the time I was there, but I stuck it out and I was royally rewarded. I went kayaking with icebergs on the best day ever.  […]


Monday 22nd of September 2014

Gemma - It was great to meet you during this glacial adventure! When will we see you in Breckenridge/Denver?

Hope your stay in Alaska remained sunny. We headed to Brooks Lodge in Katmai National Park once we left Valdez (via ferry to Whittier)... and we had more rain.


Wednesday 24th of September 2014

Hi Robin! Awesome to hear from you. I'm living in Vancouver for now, so at least we're on the same side of the world! I now have your email address stored in case the opportunity ever comes up. After the trip, I did a crazy 1800km (in 36 hours!) drive to Haines Junction in the Yukon, and then did a flight over the St-Elias-Wrangell Mountains. Amazing! And luckily the weather did hold out. Katmai park looks beautiful, I hope you had a great time despite the rain.


Tuesday 26th of August 2014

Amazing!! Love to you both xx Lin


Sunday 24th of August 2014

Wow! Just wow Gemma xx


Tuesday 2nd of September 2014

Thanks Lucy! It was such a great day!