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Afognak Wilderness Lodge
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Reviewed 13 October 2009

This was the second time that my wife and I utilized Afognak Lodge and mainly for wildlife (bear) viewing and photography. Our first visit was in the Fall of 2007 and we had a great time. The wildlife viewing at that time was fantastic as we trekked through the rain forest and saw over ten bears, The fishing, both salt and fresh water, was also very good and the quality of food outstanding. Our guide did an excellent job.

We had such an enjoyable time in 2007 that we decided to take my son and his fiancé along with us on the current stay, again in the Fall (September, 2009). Sadly, my wife and I both found that the quality of the Lodge on this, our latest trip, was certainly not up to par and not what one would expect from a Lodge that had such a good reputation in the past and that we has experienced during our last visit.

Both my son and his fiancé, along with my wife and I, were extremely disappointed with the quality of food served during our four day stay. For my wife and me the quality of the food provided during our first visit in 2007 was excellent but this time the quality was either just barely average or mostly below average and certainly could not compare with the quality of food that we had experienced at other lodges during our month long visit throughout Alaska.

Compared to our previous visit, the attempts made during our stay to see bears was very lackadaisical. We only touched soil on one day for a short trip through the forest. The other times that we went looking for bears we merely trolled the beaches in a boat and never went ashore again. During our previous visit, which was at the same time of year as this year, we ventured ashore numerous times and saw lots of bears. On this current trip we actually saw no bears except when we flew out with Andrew’s Air and spotted five bears feeding at a fish hatchery.

On the last day of our visit we supposedly went on a “bear photo hunt” but the trip turned out to more like a combination of a working boat and a “love boat” trip as the guide took his recently married wife along with him and was much more interested in pleasing his wife than looking for bears and concentrating on our wishes. Although this was the last day of our visit and the Lodge was not immediately expecting any more guest for a while, that day’s adventure started with considerable time being spent on dragging logs from the shoreline with our boat and where a tree had just been felled and cut into various sizes. As mentioned, the rest of the time the four in our party were astonished by the actions and display of romantic interlude by our guide and his wife for the rest of day. Again, we never stepped ashore to look for bears,

I must point out that this visit was the last of the season for the Lodge and some of the staff appeared to be burned out, except for the lodge’s proprietor Shannon who remained upbeat throughout our stay. For example, our guide got extremely upset when one of our party lost a lure during saltwater fishing when he “caught” the lure on the bottom. He also lost it totally when we went fresh water fishing for silvers and a line got tangled and he also lost a pair of pliers while attempting to take the hook out of a silver’s mouth. He was certainly not a happy “camper” and demonstrated it fully!

In spite of the aforementioned comments, I must say that the salt water fishing was excellent as our party caught our limit of fish in one short afternoon. So, if it is fishing that one wants to do then I would admit that the Lodge provided the proper guide and services to carry this out. It became evident to the four of us that the Lodge was quickly becoming more of a fishing camp than one that combines both fishing and wildlife (bear) viewing.

In summary, because of the lack of good quality food and the lack of providing better service and bear viewing opportunities the four of us found the Lodge was not up to their normal standards and thus we shall not return and are unable to recommend it for others with the exception of those who want to concentrate on fishing only.

Stayed: September 2009, travelled with family
16  Thank DIKTHAI
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 3 August 2009

Afognak Wilderness lodge is not a Hyatt or a Hilton or a Four Seasons for that matter, yet it is similarly civilized.

If you want those standard travel experiences you have many choices. However, if you want to experience real wilderness with a bunch of interesting people then Afogank Wilderness Lodge is highly recommended. We went there for fun and adventure - for us, the populated places have too many people, too much structure, and too many rules - not enough to be learned hands on. Your hosts, the (extended) Randall family, basically built this exquisite lodge in the middle of nowhere from nothing. There are no roads within hundreds of miles so you arrive by floatplane. Our objective was to stay in a place where our suburban kids could experience true wilderness, yet us wimps would have a shower and a decent meal/bed at night.

I could go on and on but here is what you really need to know and what we wondered before we got there:

1) the place is very safe and family friendly;
2) the beds are soft the cabins impeccably clean (take your shoes off!) and the showers are hot;
3) the food is family style and all home made;
4) if you bring your children, they will learn more from the guides about conservation, the outdoors and wildlife in a week than in a decade of school or a lifetime of the Discovery channel;
5) Be prepared for some colorful characters (yes Dan, Ward and pretty much everyone... sorry, we are talking about you but it occurs to me that you may think WE are colorful) but if you want normal go to your local shopping mall. Really the whole group is well.... interesting..... to talk to, interesting life experiences, smart, just different perspectives living so far out in the wilderness.
5) They have internet. Phones, not so much, but for those who can't unplug from the world completely.....;

Very important: While everyone was very gracious to us and we had a splendid time, much of what you do out there can be a little more than dangerous. There is no hospital or doctor for well actually I don't know how far, so my personal assessment is that if this is a group that necessarily does not suffer fools too well. Mind the guides, and remember and respect the fact that you are in these peoples home and all will be well. We had no problem.

So what did we do while we were there?

Fished (see photos) - we are not fisherman but the number of fish up there is insane, makes fishing fun.

Learned how to filet, and freeze fish

Hiked - who knew animals had their own road systems?

Kyaked next to sea lions, eagles, etc

Fished for squid

Target shooting

Kids just ran around chasing the dogs

Took the boat out to look at whale carcasses that were eaten by bears at low tide

I got to drink Dans home brew

Ate like pigs

Had some good evening adventures like spying on suspicious looking purse seiners (remember out there real activity is the substitute for TV).

When we booked Shannon had told me that the kids would cry when we left (they did) but what I didn't expect was that as we left the dock in the floatplane and left our new friends behind, my wife would as well.

We will be back for sure.

Email if you have further questions I would be happy to tell you more about our experience.

  • Stayed: June 2009, travelled with family
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1  Thank Redmondtravelers
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 12 August 2007

Afognak Wilderness Lodge is an extraordinarily unique experience. So why did I give it only three stars? I wanted to give it five stars and I wanted to give it one star so I gave it the average. Let me tell you why. The lodge is unlike anywhere the writer of this review has ever been before. The experience is truly one of a kind. It is owned and operated by a single family. The sons and daughter who have lived there all of their lives and are now in their early-mid thirties (but are also all well traveled) are incomparable guides; they don’t provide canned explanations like on your usual tourist boat, but instead help guide your activities based on the weather each day. The matriarch, unfortunately, appears to have a bit of a character flaw that can seriously damage your experience.

The Lodge is located in Afognak Island State Park. (Take a look at a map of the Kodiak Archipelago; Afognak is the small island north east of Kodiak.) The patriarch of the family homesteaded the property some 40 years ago and they have been developing it as a family home and guest lodge ever since. To give you a bit of the flavor of the place let me share a few random facts. The lodge generates its own electricity with diesel generators. The water source is ground water runoff which they filter and treat with ultraviolet light (pretty standard treatment), but it is brown from dissolved substances from the ground (tannins I presume). Everything the lodge uses, from toilet paper to bottled water, is brought there by sea plane. The gasoline and diesel storage tanks (for running the boats and generators) are replenished quarterly. The property consists of the original family home and three cabins built Lincoln log style out of trees felled on the property. There is also a three story building built from lumber milled on the property (yes they built their own lumber mill) with bedrooms and living spaces for staff and family members. There are also sundry other buildings including a green house, boat house, sauna, and generator shelter. There is a dock in front of the compound where your sea plane will drop you off and the family keeps four boats for guest excursions.

The guest cabins are two bedrooms with a small living area and a bathroom each. We were “rooming” with a father and his son. I was not big on the idea of sharing but our roomies were so discrete we wouldn’t have hardly known they were there, if they hadn’t introduced themselves. I hope we were almost as courteous.

We arrived on Sunday August 5th at about 9:00 am. We were greeted on the dock by the family, existing guests, and some staff members (picture the arrival of “the plane, the plane” on fantasy island). We dropped off our bag in our room and almost immediately were in a boat off for our day’s adventure. But let me digress back to our sea plane ride from Kodiak to Afognak. We took off from Kodiak in sunshine, but we were quickly under a low cloud cover in a light fog. We were flying below the fog until it became to dense to see much of anything. Our pilot ascended to 1500 feet and we were in a clear space between the ground fog and a high cloud cover. The pilot told us that Afognak was reporting zero visibility and a zero ceiling, but perhaps we could find somewhere nearby to land and could be picked up by boat. Fifteen minutes or so later, the pilot reported that Afognak was clearing, so we came down through the fog cover and were able to land. I haven’t yet figured out how the pilot knew we were over water when we came through the fog cover—all I could see was dense fog below us. But we landed safely and happily.

Back to our adventure on Afognak—Dana, one of the homesteader’s daughters, took my wife and I, and a father-son duo (our roomies) off in an open boat which I believe was a Boston Whaler. We went salt water fishing for Silver Salmon in a bay at the base of a small stream. We caught a couple of fish but weren’t having much luck overall. So Dana took us to a brackish stream where Pink Salmon were schooling in abundance. But before we began “snagging the Pinks,” we beached the boat and hiked a few hundred yards along a waterfall for some bear viewing. We were overwhelmed. Just yards away from us were a couple of Grizzly sows and five cubs. I have posted a few pictures of the bears we saw. After a half hour or so of watching the bears we went back down the water fall and snagged Pinks for the rest of the day. For those who may not be fish lingo savvy, snagging is exactly what it sounds like. You put a large four pronged hook on the end of your line and cast out to snag the fish. When they are swimming in large schools, it is surprisingly easy. We were doing catch and release so I don’t know how many in total were snagged, but it was easily several multiples of ten (mostly by our roommates who were experienced fishermen, but we both caught a few).

That first night, one of our fellow lodge guests brought Alaskan crab legs which the staff prepared for everyone. These were the best crab legs by far that I have ever eaten.

The next morning after a full breakfast served family style in the family home, we were back in the boat with Dana. We wanted to try bottom fishing for Cod and Halibut so we headed out to sea in relatively calm waters. Twenty minutes out, the wind and waves picked up dramatically. Our host headed back in to the calm of the bays around Afognak. We puttered around the shoreline trying to spot deer. (One of the guests with us had a deer license and was hoping to bag a deer on the trip.) We never saw a deer but we saw puffins, and sea otters. We worked our way over to “bear cove” and hiked up the waterfall again. There were even more bears. We saw two boars and several sows with their cubs. I lost count of all the bears we saw. We hiked a little further up the waterfall and ran into three fish and game volunteers who were out inspecting the fish ladders. (Personally I don’t see why we need to help the fish where we haven’t altered the natural waterway, but I digress to much.) We spent the afternoon snagging Pinks until we were all just tired and ready to head home. That evening we had a King Salmon that had been caught the day before.

The next day out we were with one of the homesteader’s sons, Luke. We were in a larger boat with a small cabin. We tried bottom fishing again, but as soon as we turned off the engine, my wife started feeling a bit seasick, so Luke took us fishing for “Silvers.” We went to yet another secluded bay. This time, though, we tied our boat up to the shore, hiked up a trail a couple of hundred yards to a fresh water lake. There the family had strategically hidden a small open boat. We motored to the other end of the glass like lake, while a couple of bald eagles soared over us. We beached the boat on a small island to stash our lunch and my wife who was still feeling a little squeamish from the rocking boat decided to stay ashore. She explored the small island, laid in the sun, and fished a little from shore. The three of us in the boat all caught several Silvers and a few Sockeyes. That night for dinner we had fried chicken a nice break from all fish all the time.

So what could possibly be wrong with this idyllic picture? Nothing, absolutely nothing. But I suggested to my wife that she confirm one more time with the matriarch our departure plans the next day. We had already confirmed in four emails and on the day of our arrival, but something was still unsettling me. It may have been the matriarch’s response when we confirmed our departure plans on the day of our arrival: “oh, so you’re the ones.”

Let me explain. Our purpose in going to Alaska was to attend my wife’s family reunion in Homer, Alaska starting on the evening of Wednesday August 8, 2007. Our trip to Afognak was simply an add on we had done to round out the trip and see a little more of Alaska. We explained all of this when we were discussing the trip with Mrs. Randall, ten months ahead of time. She recommended that we fly to Kodiak, spend our first night there, then the next morning take the float plane charter to Afognak. She then recommended that we take a float plane charter from Afognak directly to Homer the evening of August 8, 2007. That way we would get four full days of activities. Her recommendation was perfect.

We made the arrangements with Mrs. Randall and paid for them ten months ahead of time. But things changed for Mrs. Randall in the mean time. She overbooked her lodge and one of her guides/children had to head back to college the evening before we left. Moreover, she had a couple coming into Afognak from Kodiak the MORNING of August 8, 2007. If only she could get us to take the morning charter to Kodiak instead of the evening charter to Homer, not only would she get rid of a couple of guests early, she would only have to pay one roundtrip sea plane charter from Kodiak to Afognak and back, instead of a one way charter for the arriving couple and a one way charter for us to Homer, thus she would pocket an extra few hundred dollars.

Without telling us she simply booked us on the morning charter to Kodiak, instead of the evening charter to Homer. Kodiak is an island! She made no allowance for how we were to get from Kodiak to Homer, or even where we might stay in Kodiak if traveling proved impossible. Once we were off her island, those would be our problems. It wasn’t until we pressed her several times the evening before we were supposed to leave that she finally fessed up, but in doing so tried to blame us for a mix up. We quickly killed the blame game by pointing out that we had brought copies of all the emails and by reminding her of her comment two nights earlier “Oh, so you’re the ones.” She then adopted the confused approach with a story about how there was another couple that changed their plans and she must have gotten us mixed up. Turns out, though that she had a file for each guest, including one for us with all of our emails and a final bill that she had written up since our arrival that quoted the fare for a one way charter to Homer (the charter to Homer was a couple hundred dollars more than the one way charter to Kodiak). In the end the truth was self evident. At that late date, she was unable to book the charter directly to Homer (at least she claimed that she was unable to do so). At our insistence, Mrs. Randall was able to book a milk run flying from Afognak to Kodiak to Anchorage to Homer, thus we were able to spend a day of our vacation touring the airports of Alaska instead of the wildlife.

With that kind of chicanery, while we wanted to give Afognak five stars, we really should have given it one. We gave it three stars because Dana and the “boys” who work their tails off guiding the guests did such a wonderful job.

  • Stayed: August 2007, travelled as a couple
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13  Thank Kerwin G
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
afognak7, Co-owner at Afognak Wilderness Lodge, responded to this reviewResponded 3 October 2007

When guests want to reserve an additional day or more to their vacation with us, they must be very explicit, in writing, before their arrival date AND they must have secured a copy of our verifying invoice.
We have maintained very high standards for 34 years, with many repeat & referred national & international guests. We provide a wide array of current references with their phone/e-mail contacts each season within our brochures so prospective guests arrive with the greatest assurance of being taken good care of.

Shannon Randall, Co-owner.

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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 25 September 2016
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  • Stayed: September 2016, travelled with family
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Thank _andrea_witte
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Reviewed 1 September 2014
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Room Tip: In einem der Hüttenzimmer stand ein riesiger, ausgestopfter Kodiakbär. Imposant!
  • Stayed: June 2014, travelled with friends
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1  Thank Patrick0051
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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