Unalaska, also known as Dutch Harbor, Alaska is simply magical. Located about a third of the way west on the 1,100 mile long Aleutian chain that contains nearly 70 different islands! On one side of Unalaska Island is Fort Schwatka, the old WWII Military Fort with bunkers still intact. The highest elevation US Military camp that is still very much in place as it was built to withstand 100 mph winds on the regular. The other side of the island has wild horses. Known to be friendly, all island horses have been gelded as they are non-native species. Supposedly these horses were once farm animals turned loose from various locals several decades ago. The entire island is beautiful grassy tundra, free of bears. The coastline is filled with pinnacles, sheer cliffs, and sandy beaches. The town population is 4,700 year round, additional seasonal workers come to work the fishing industry as Dutch Harbor has had the biggest seafood catch in the US for nearly 20 years. A mix of ethnicities of Unangan (commonly known as Aleuts), Filipino, Samoan, Somalian, Caucasian, and others make this place incredibly diverse, in short, the food is delicious!
A Quick History
The Unangan, or Aleut people have been living on the Aleutians for nearly 10,000 years living off the land and sea. In the 1770's the Russian Fur Traders came and erected the Holy Ascension Russian Orthodox Cathedral, the oldest cruciform-style Russian church in the country. To this day this church houses some of the oldest and richest Russian Orthodox artifacts. During WWII the Japanese invaded Attu, which is the furthest island on the chain. The US moved the Alaska Natives to a camp in Funter Bay, in Southeast Alaska. Displacing them from their homes and families. After the war they were allowed back to their destroyed village and made to rebuild. Today Unalaska is the northern most deep water port in the north that does not freeze in the winter. It produces 8% of the worlds seafood loads.
The easiest way is book with Alaska Airlines, they have daily flights out of Anchorage operated by Pen Air. If you have mileage, you can get there for a great deal! If you plan to come in the summer months then I'd recommend taking the Alaska Marine Highway, otherwise known as the poor-man's cruise and a taste of true Alaska. But that route is a several days voyage stoping in various ports and towns along the way.
The best time to visit is June through November. In the summer months it is rumored to look like Molokai, Hawaii with its green mountainsides and wildflowers for days. This trip was in November, a beautiful display of fall colors and mildly cool weather.
**Disclaimer - Do not be surprised if your flight to or from is delayed. Weather is always a factor year round which can sometimes delay you by several days. **
What to Wear
Always weather dependent! Fall in Unalaska can be a hit or miss. You can either have calm seas and beautiful weather, extremely foggy, or wind so powerful people consider tying down their vehicles. And just like most of coastal Alaska, no weather forecast is safe! The average year round temperature is between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. For this adventure here is what I packed:
- Cozy cardigan sweater
- Outerwear, a light and package down jacket is best
- Gloves or mittens
- Weather proof boots, I wore Sorel's for this adventure since I was limiting space to a carry-on, and needed something classic and practical.
How to Play
This trip was initially planned as an overnight trip, leaving less than 24hrs of play time. Fortunately our flight was weather cancelled and we were forced to explore the island for an additional two days! Like with any town in Alaska, it's ideal if you can spend four to five days getting know its character, local hangouts, hiking trails, and everything in between so we weren't at all disappointed of our delay. The standard rule says, if you can't see Mount Ballyhoo, no one is going anywhere!
- Rent a car - North Port Rentals was the best, located just outside the airport in the same parking lot.
- Drive - The roads are open Summer through parts of Fall as snow has yet to stick to the ground. These roads were built during WWII and have been maintained to take you in a loop out to Morris Cove, through the Pass, and back into town.
- Search for the Wild Horses - They can sometimes be spotted out towards Summer's Bay, so make sure you swing into Safeway for carrots just in case! Each year the herd grows smaller and smaller so you'll definitely want to travel here before they are a distant memory.
- Surf Summer's Bay - Summer's Bay is a gorgeous black sanded beach and when conditions are right, can be surfed.
- Scuba Dive - An awesome diving community, each Sunday the community gathers for a recreational dive. Supposedly every October they even carve pumpkins underwater!
- Explore Fort Schwatka WWII Ruins - Creepily intact, you truly get a sense for life during this time. Most of it is accessible by road, however the gate closes during winter. You can park the car near the gate and hike in, easily spending the day.
- The Norwegian Rat - For when you need a stiff drink and to experience a sea of fishermen in all their glory.
- The Museum of the Aleutians - An incredible history of the Unangan, WWII, and modern day life.
- Hike - Make sure to obtain a land use permit from the Ounalashka Corporation office first, then head into the mountains! The Aleutian Hiker Blog is a great resource with information on nearby peaks on Unalaska, Mashukin Volcano and the five day journey, to surrounding hikes on other islands.
- Beatriz's Air Bed and Breakfast - The cutest house with beautiful views of Iliuliuk Bay.
- The Grand Aleutian - Beautiful hotel with a lot of amenities and gorgeous views.
The food here is delicious! Obviously some of the best seafood in the world, Unalaska knows how to feed it's hardworking community.
- Cape Cheerful in the Grand Aleutian Hotel - Try the Salmon Avocado Club Sandwich and a glass of red.
- Amelia's - Sourdough pancakes and coffee!
- Airport Restaurant - Damn good asian cuisine with deliciously fresh ingredients.
- Alaska Ship Supply - You must get the traditional hoodie as your souvenir.
- Carolyn Reed - A local artist with prints in the Alaska State Museum and gift shop.
For Next Time
Next time I'd like to try late summer when the mountainsides are green and the air is fresh with wildflowers. Rumored to look like Molokai, Hawaii, my goal would be to pack a tent and head towards Makushin Volcano and Bay in search of the wild horses! Ideally be gone several days just hiking and exploring, enjoying the views and wilderness. I'd also like to join in on the weekly community dives! I've never been a cold water diver, but the water in this region has awesome visibility!
Consulting, Inc. BCT. “Unalaska.” Unalaska - Port of Dutch Harbor Convention & Visitors Bureau, Convention & Visitors Bureau, www.unalaska.info/
Jan. “Aleutian Adventure.” The "Wild Animals" of Unalaska Island, 1 Jan. 1970, aleutianadventure.blogspot.com/2010/07/wild-animals-of-unalaska-island.html.
United States, Congress, “Unalaska International Port of Dutch Harbor Visitor & Relocation Guide.” Unalaska International Port of Dutch Harbor Visitor & Relocation Guide.
These beautiful photographs were taken by Sydney Akagi Photography, who is located in Juneau, Alaska.
Travel day! We didn't arrive until 5:30pm so we only had a few hours of daylight to get some exploring in!
Rolling waves of clouds blanket the horizon while snowy peaks push through. When the clouds break, white-caps can be seen below. Into the Aleutian Archipelago we fly. I've never been to this edge of the world, seems like only the daring do. There are over 1,100 miles of big and small islands that extend off the coast of Alaska in what looks like a mammoth's tusk. No trees, volcanic formations, WWII remanence, and seas so prolific and powerful make this region dangerously inviting.
As we descend, hundreds of sea birds fly below. Waiting for the fog to break I can see the most beautiful and bare mountains. Cliffs jut out from the sea, and a few 100ft fishing vessels come into view. A quick two hour flight southwest of Anchorage takes us to the land of changeability, and oohhh am I excited!
Let's take a drive, out to Morris Cove to look for the wild horses, and then through the Pass! Afterwards we explored around town making sure to stop at the old Orthodox Church, Captain's Bay, the docks, and we even got to board the Brenna A, a crabbing boat featured on the TV Series, Deadliest Catch!
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