Kayak Camping

Pre-Garrett, Dave and I would disappear on 4th of July weekends, preferring to paddle to and camp on an island somewhere away from the hustle and bustle of town. At least a dozen years have passed since we’ve celebrated the 4th on a remote beach, but this year we pulled it off, as a family.


Loading up the boats in Smuggler’s Cove.

For those of you who know what a planner I am, you’ll be surprised to know that the reason I love kayak camping so much is the element of unknown. In the past, we would pick a direction (west) or maybe even a destination (back side of Douglas Island), but we never really knew where we were going until we got there.

Paddling to Coghlin Island.

Paddling to Coghlan Island.

This trip needed to be a bit more prescribed. Garrett is a novice paddler, and for awhile, Dave and I will be very careful about his experiences. We want him to feel safe, to build up strength and confidence. So we chose Coghlan Island – almost within spitting distance from our house. It took us about an hour to paddle the short distance from shore to beach destination.

Landed at low tide.

Landed at low tide.

Coghlan has several beaches on both the east and west side. Garrett wanted to land on the first beach he saw on the east side, but this wasn’t our first rodeo. While I’m sure sunrise was beautiful the next morning, we’ve learned to always choose the sunset side of the island.

Exposed as the tide went out, Garrett named this outcropping "Magic Island."

Exposed as the tide went out, Garrett named this outcropping “Magic Island.”

Rocky beaches, sandy beaches, grasslands, forests, access to freshwater, tidal changes – these are all things to consider when choosing a spot to land and set up camp. Then there’s the wild animal factor. We were relatively sure that we weren’t going to have to deal with bears, however, we knew we were dealing with big tidal changes. Not only did we need to find a dry place to set up our tent, we needed to find a place to tuck the boats away for the 4 am extreme high tide. A beach mid-island on the west side offered everything we needed.



Like all other kinds of camping, there’s lots to do when you pick your spot. It was fun to show Garrett how the multitude of dry bags, tucked in the holds of our kayaks, transformed into camp. Once the chores were done, we pulled out our books and binoculars. Garrett devoured Gregor the Overlander, Book 4. We waved to the tourists passing by on whale watching boats and took turns with the binoculars, watching two happy humpbacks breach near Shelter Island farther to the west.

Exploring the island after dinner.

Exploring the island after dinner.

Napping, reading, watching the tide go out and waiting for sunset.

Napping, reading, watching the tide go out and waiting for sunset.

Our beach faced Auke Recreation area, and there were still plenty of people celebrating Independence day with fireworks. However, the real treat took place at about 10 pm, when the sun set.

We had front row seats for Mother Nature's fireworks.

We had front row seats for Mother Nature’s fireworks.

It was such a lovely evening. We crawled into our sleeping bags and watched the sky turn from gold to pink to peach for almost an hour after sunset as the cool evening air blew through our tent. I woke before the guys and made sure our kayaks hadn’t floated away at 4 am. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one checking out the boats!

Eagle tracks near the kayaks!

Eagle tracks near the kayaks!

Sunday morning was as gorgeous as Saturday, with lots of sun and calm seas. We said goodbye to Coghlan Island and made our way back to Smuggler’s Cove. On the way, we discovered a dozen seals sunning on an exposed, warm rock near Fritz Cove. These curious creatures joined us in the water, popping up nearby to check us out, some swimming most of the way back to shore with us.

Thanks Coghlan Island!

Although he was a bit nervous, Garrett declared the overnight trip a success. We look forward to picking up our kayak camping adventures on 4th of July weekends in the years to come.



Posted in Alaska, Kayaking, Recreation

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