Taking a trip up the Taku

A place where tourists, salmon and bears really do mix

Finding adventure in Juneau, isn’t the problem. It’s finding the time to do it all that poses a challenge.


Here, where opportunities and resources are virtually endless, you could spend a lifetime in this place without seeing everything there is to see and doing everything there is to do.

But it’s worth a shot.

My time here in the capital city is over after nearly two years, and there’s still plenty I left out on the table. Maybe if it was all play and no work, I might have been able to enjoy all I’d hoped. But I had credit cards and student loans to pay. Income was vital.

Fortunately for me, I was able to kill several birds with one stone. I’m speaking figuratively, of course.

With only a few days left in town before my flight south, I was fortunate enough to catch a flight with Wings Airways to see a part of Southeast I had yet to lay eyes on outside of a picture book or someone’s Facebook page.

It’s remarkable how much can be done and seen in three hours by plane. The group of three of us reported downtown at Wings Airways headquarters on a Wednesday morning. We nabbed a spot on a float plane headed up the Taku River, over the Taku Glacier and to the Taku Glacier Lodge. Each of the five planes was packed, and among the 50 people in tow for lunch, there were more fanny packs and cargo pants than a chess club on a day hike.

The group my friends and I joined was dubbed the “Grizzly Bears,” — a name I assure you had nothing to do with the level of intimidation the nine of us exuded. We hopped on the plane with our pilot, Dan, and flew out above the city and back over Douglas Island toward the Taku River. The audio narrative that came through the headsets in the plane’s cabin informed the passengers that Admiralty Island is bigger than Rhode Island.

I guess it’s not all that shocking when you think about it, but an entire state? It really gives you a perspective on the sheer size of Southeast Alaska alone. Forget about the rest of the state.

After flying over the Juneau Ice Field — which, apparently, is also bigger than Rhode Island — the planes circled over the Taku flats and landed on the water. It was a smoother landing than any runway I’ve ever bounced around on. We pulled up to the dock and walked toward the lodge. A pack of dogs, consisting of domestic labs clearly enjoying their lives, greeted us.

For my friends and me, the first stop was the bar, where we picked up a few beers from the Alaskan Brewing Company. When it’s only 11:30 a.m. and you’re around a bunch of tourists, the only other people drinking beer besides the three of us had southern accents.

With refreshments in hand, we walked outside to explore the grounds. The Taku Lodge’s main cabin was built in the 1920s and has since been joined by several more buildings in the years following. The lodge is run by a fairly small group of young employees who seem happier to be there than anyone on the tour. Then again, if you get to spend an Alaskan summer out there and you’re not happy, there’s most likely something wrong with you.

We walked around the side of the main cabin and were greeted by the smell of fresh salmon being cooked over an open fire by Wes, the chef. This was about the time I realized how worth it the trip was. We dined. Salmon doesn’t get better than that.

During lunch, the manager of the lodge, Michael Ward, shared with that day’s group the history of the Taku Glacier Lodge. Ward mentioned the fact bears have developed a tendency to visit the grill pit after the food is off the flame, guests seated near the window began to get excited. As if on cue a black bear could be seen practically sitting in the pit having a nice lunch of salmon-grease-soaked sand. Visitors began to pour out of the main cabin.

Cameras clicked and people made noise, but the lunch guest seemed unphased. Employees kept the customers at a safe distance — both for themselves and the bear — and one guy in particular basically played the part of Taku Glacier Lodge bouncer. Except, he was allowed to carry a large stick.

There are still plenty of things I wish I had done during my time in Juneau, but I can sleep well at night after experiencing this. Jumping on a float plane and flying out to the lodge for the best salmon lunch I’d ever have isn’t such a bad morning.

It’s one of the many things, I learned, that makes Juneau so unique.

• Matthew Tynan worked as a reporter for the Juneau Empire for two years before recently returning to his home state of Texas.


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