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Yakutat Tern Fest
Day Trips
General Information

A festival-goer relaxes on the beach at Harlequin Lake.

General Information

The Yakutat Tern Festival has traditionally provided opportunity for festival participants to see different areas of Yakutat. Day trips are typically centered around activities such as birdwatching, tidepooling, nature hikes, beach-combing, and more! The Tern Fest schedule will include trips for kids and adults, so be sure to keep an eye out for upcoming events. 

Featured Day Trip: Hubbard Glacier Boat Tour!

The YNS is pleased to announce the inclusion of the Hubbard Glacier Boat Tour in the 2023 12th Annual Yakutat Tern Festival! Two tours, one morning and one afternoon, will run on Thursday, June 1st. For more information, including pricing, please follow the link below. Read on to find out more about the Hubbard Glacier.

As part of each year's Tern Fest celebration, the YNS coordinates a boat tour to visit the historic Hubbard Glacier off the coast of Yakutat. At 6-7 miles wide, over 70 miles long, and rising 30 stories above the ocean waves, the Hubbard is the largest tidewater glacier in North America.

Hubbard Glacier has twice closed off Russell Fjord, both times creating the largest glacier-formed lake in the world. The U.S. Forest Service covered the events in their Region 10 Tongass Highlights:

More than 70 miles long, the Hubbard Glacier near Yakutat has been advancing since 1900. In 1986, Hubbard Glacier closed the entrance to Russell Fiord, blocking the flow of the fiord into Disenchantment Bay. The water level in Russell Lake rose to an elevation of 83 feet over sea level to create the world largest glacier-formed lake. A few weeks later, the ice dam abruptly broke, and the lake.

Photo of Hubbard Glacier by Brady Skidmore.

Photo of Hubbard Glacier by Brady Skidmore.

In June 2002, Hubbard Glacier again closed the entrance to Russell Fiord, but this time, only moraine blocked the fiord. The water level in Russell Lake rose to 61 feet above sea level. The dam broke in August.

Glaciologists believe that Hubbard Glacier will block Russell Fiord again, but they cannot predict when this event may happen. Should a stable ice dam form, and if the lake level rises to an elevation of 131 feet, water would overflow the southern end of the lake into the headwaters of the Situk River, a world-renowned steelhead and salmon stream. The Situk River is the main sport, commercial, and subsistence fishery in Yakutat. Impact on the Situk River would most certainly affect the livelihood of the people of Yakutat. The fish, wildlife, archeological and other cultural resources would be affected, along with the area transportation facilities, ground water and vegetation.

Because of the potential consequences, the glacier behavior is being watched by citizens as well as government agencies.

Hubbard Glacier receives Tern Fest visitors.

On Friday, June 3rd, 2022, the Yakutat Tern Fest ran two Hubbard Glacier boat tours, one in the morning and one in the evening. Both tours took around 4 hours round trip, and treated passengers to untouched, mountainous landscapes and wildlife such as sea lions, sea otters, porpoises, a variety of sea birds, and more. On site, viewers had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view the Hubbard Glacier calving into Disenchantment Bay.

Continue reading about other Yakutat Tern Fest field trips below!

2023 Festival Day Trips

Participants take a nature hike during a phone camera photography workshop with Lynn Schooler: Alaskan Author, Photographer, and Wilderness Guide.

The YNS is still working on the 2023 schedule. Thank you for your patience, and please check back soon for more information.

In the meantime, read more on how to safely conduct yourself in the Yakutat outdoors below. Scroll further to read up on previous Tern Fest Day Trips.

Safety & Etiquette: Getting the most out of your Yakutat Tern Fest experience

Yakutat's stunning scenery, hiking trails, and abundance of water make it an outdoorsman's recreational paradise. While the YNS is excited to provide opportunities for Tern Festival participants to get outside, it is important to also remember that Yakutat, and Alaska in general, can also be a dangerous place to recreate if you aren't equipped with the right knowledge.

A brown bear lumbers through Yakutat vegetation.

Those features which make Yakutat so incredible (dense forest, vast ocean, and especially wildlife) are also what can make it fatal to the unprepared.


Read on to learn ways to stay safe while enjoying your outdoors experience in Yakutat. 


Bear tracks reveal that humans aren't the only ones who use this trail.

Familiarize yourself with advice for recreating safely outdoors in Yakutat, AK

  • Share your lunch ONLY with other humans.

  • Respect private property; do not enter without express permission.

  • Practice Leave No Trace: Pack out any trash and do not disturb the natural habitat. 

  • Please be respectful of all wildlife around you.

  • Yakutat is bear country. Keep an eye out for bears and bear signs, and follow bear safety recommendations from your trip leader. DO NOT WANDER off alone!

  • While hiking, remember that it is good to make noise and establish your presence. The last thing you want to do is surprise a bear by accidentally sneaking up on it.

These canoeists are practicing safety by traveling together and packing for all potential circumstances.

Kids follow good trail etiquette by remaining on the designated trail, staying together, and walking in single file line.

  • Walk in single-file where you are able to do so.

  • Stay on designated paths.

  • Be courteous to other group members: Stay with the group and pay attention to the trip leader(s).                          

  • Our field trip leaders are volunteers and donate their time and knowledge to the festival. Please be respectful and thank them.

For more information on Yakutat birding and birding-specific etiquette, click here.


Check out the National Parks Service bear safety protocol here. Wrangell St. Elias National Park & Preserve has provided invaluable knowledge

via presentations and activities at past

Yakutat Tern Festivals.

Read on for information on previous field trips!

Previous Field Trips
Harlequin Lake Scenery and Wildlife Viewing
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Time: 4 hours 

Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate

Transportation: Van, foot

Description: This trip will travel out Forest Highway 10 to the Dangerous River Bridge and Harlequin Lake Trail. A short (3/4 mile) hike from here ends at the southern shore of Harlequin Lake. The scenery alone makes this trip a must-see! Harlequin Lake is the headwaters of the Dangerous River. Massive icebergs, calved from Yakutat Glacier, can be seen floating from shore. Yakutat Glacier is visible across the lake. Those not wishing to hike have the option to stop at the Dangerous River Bridge, which also offers views of the outlet of the lake and icebergs (occasionally floating down the river!). Time permitting, this field trip will also stop at various habitats along the way back to town. 

Kids Event: Ankau Tidepooling
Tidepooling - Sea Urchin.JPG

Time: 4 hours

Difficulty Level: Easy to moderate

Transportation: Passenger van and on foot

Description: This chaperoned trip was featured as a kids' activity during the 11th Annual Tern Fest. Kids gathered at the high school at 10AM, then loaded into passenger vans to be driven to the Ankau Bridge. After a safety talk, the children were given sea life identification sheets and permitted to wander up and down the lower stretch of the Ankau river. The kids identified sea urchins, gobi fish, starfish, hermit crabs, sea slugs, and more. Lunch was provided, and afterwards, the children were given ample free time to run about and enjoy the sunshine before heading back to the school at 1:30PM.

Morning Songbird Walk

Time:  2 hours
Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate
Transportation:  Passenger vehicle and foot (short walks roads and/or trails)
Description: These early morning birding trips will include short walks on roads and/or trails to focus on songbirds by sight and sound. Birding areas will be close to town, and may vary throughout the festival to allow for a variety of birding opportunities. Common song-birds include Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Varied and Hermit Thrushes, Wilson's and Orange-crowned Warbler, and Fox and Lincoln Sparrows.

Charter Boat-Based Monti Bay and Yakutat Bay Tour

Time: 4 hours 
Difficulty Level: Moderate
Transportation: Saltwater Charter Boat
Description:  This trip will depart via Yakutat based Charter Boat from the Yakutat Boat Harbor, and explore the inshore waters of Monti Bay and Yakutat Bay. Each charter boat will accommodate 5 passengers plus captain and trip leader/guide. Advance registration and down payment is required (by May 1st, please see registration form on this website).  This trip is contingent on interest and advance registration, and is also weather dependent.  



Birding via Kayak in the Mouth of the Situk River

Time: 4-5 hours 
Difficulty Level: Moderate
Transportation: Van, kayak
Description:  Weather permitting, this trip will depart via kayaks from the mouth of the Situk River. There will be copious birding opportunity in this area. Space is limited due to limited availability of kayaks: advance registration recommended (please see r
egistration form on this website).  This trip is contingent on interest and advance registration, and is also weather dependent. This trip is recommended for participants with basic kayaking skills/experience.  



Town / Monti Bay Birding Tour

Time: 2-3 hours

Difficulty Level: Easy

Transportation: Foot and/or passenger vehicle

Description: This trip will encompass good bird viewing sites in town such as Sandy Beach, Yakutat Harbor, the Lagoon trail, and the lower road system adjacent to Monti Bay. Sandy beach offers (you guessed it!) sandy beach habitat near the cannery which attracts large numbers of feeding seabirds, primarily gulls. Monti Bay is a great place to view seabirds, such as a variety of gulls, scoters, and cormorants. Common loons are abundant year round, and Pacific loons are common migrants. The Totem Park/Lagoon trail weaves through conifer forest where one may encounter thrushes, kinglets, and even brown creepers. Waterfowl and shorebirds are common in the lagoon and along the shoreline in spring and fall. A stop at the harbor may yield murrelets, sea ducks, cormorants, gulls, and eagles.

Ankau River and Ocean Cape Birding Tour

Time: 3 hours

Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate

Transportation: Passenger vehicle and foot.

Description: This trip will start at the Ankau River, including a hike along the river up to the open waters of Monti Bay. For those not wishing to walk far, a short walk to the beach from the parking area will yield spectacular views and bird viewing opportunities in Monti Bay. A variety of waterfowl species are viewable in the Ankau River, with Arctic terns nesting and foraging nearby. Monti bay is a great place for viewing seabirds, such as a variety of gulls, scoters, and cormorants. Common loons are abundant year round, and Pacific loons are common migrants. Watch for rarities such as Kittlits, murrelets, and Yellow-billed loons. On a clear day, the scenery alone makes this trip worthwhile, offering a spectacular view of Monti Bay and the Mt. St. Elias Range.

Birding by Passenger Van, on Foot, and by Watercraft
Christine and tern.JPG

Time:  3-4 hours

Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate

Transportation: Passenger vehicle and foot, possibly watercraft 

Description: This trip will encompass one or more sites offering views of Arctic and Aleutian Terns. The largest accessible breeding colony is generally at Black Sand Spit, but other areas such as the mouth of the Lost River and meadows along the Lower Landing Road and Forest Highway 10 offer viewing opportunities as well.  Actual sites visited will depend on weather, nesting phenology, current occupancy status of sites, access considerations, and interest level. 

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