Tutka Bay Wilderness Lodge

From the moment I spied Tutka Bay Wilderness Lodge from the floatplane – a few rooftops and wooden walkways surrounded by a forest of Sitka spruce, fingers of dark coastal waters and pine clad islands, set against a backdrop of mountains and a glacier — I was hooked.

Tutka Bay is small, remote and blissfully quiet, an Alaskan cocktail of kayaks, innovative dining, sea otters and tranquility. There are just six cabins and a few guestrooms in the lodge, which is owned by Carl and Kirsten Dixon. They have a sister property, Winterlake Lodge, which lies north of Anchorage. The Dixon’s have spent years as lodge owners and Kirsten has emerged as perhaps Alaska’s best known chef and cookbook author, someone who studied at Cordon Bleu in Paris and brought that discipline to the wild, where foraging is the rule.

The welcome at Tutka Bay Lodge.

The magic starts with your seaplane arrival at the entrance to a seven-mile fjord at the southern end of Kachemak Bay, 90 minutes by air south of Anchorage. You pull up to the long dock and all you see, apart from the welcome staff, are a couple of roofs in the trees. Tutka Bay Wilderness Lodge reveals itself slowly and theatrically.

The dock at Tutka Bay Lodge.

There’s a spider web of wooden walkways snaking along the shoreline, elevated to accommodate the 30 foot tides. Look down and you’ll see salmon, starfish and countless other examples of sea life. There are handcrafted cabins, all unique, a small lodge for gathering and dining, and even a re-purposed crabbing boat called Widgeon II that was originally a World War II-era troop carrier. It now serves as the Cooking School at Tutka Bay.

The Russian-style banya at Tutka Bay Lodge

My favorite structure, easily spotted by the plume of wood smoke from a stove pipe, was the Russian-style banya, a wood-fired sauna with a seriously hot stove that was always cooking, a thatch of birch branches at the ready for those who wanted a thwacking and the real Russian experience. After an arrival lunch of a fresh salmon burger, I headed out sea kayaking. In a two hour paddle, I saw a bevy of bald eagles eating salmon on a beach, sea otters lazily paddling on their backs and a spout of water, followed by the unmistakable site of humpback’s tail extending straight above the surface. It got better from there.

Carly Potgieter, right, of Tutka Bay Lodge

Carly Potgieter, the charming and well-traveled daughter of the Dixons, was running the show when I visited. Yet it’s her mother’s culinary vision that informs the meals at Tutka Bay. Each one is special, each one centered on a special dish, but also accommodatingto the dietary needs of any guests. It’s the advantage of such a small lodge, one with such a high staff to guest ratio.

A salmon burger at Tutka Bay Lodge

Evenings began with cocktails on the deck, with hors d’oeuvres like halibut carpaccio, or smoked salmon cardamom spread. Not everything is local. The cheeseboard presented at cocktail hour each night is from Manhattan’s legendary Murray’s Cheese, which arrives via next-day air.

The multi course dinner – it might feature Alaska King Crab, smoked scallops or salmon as star attractions – was always artfully served, and frequently foraged, at least in part, from the woods and especially the shoreline, where the receding tide unveiled a cornucopia of edible sea creatures and an array of seaweeds and kelp. Wines from the Northwest and Alaskan Amber Beer were at the ready.

Then it was time to adjourn to that the vast deck, for a campfire, an after dinner drink, stargazing or maybe a song from someone strumming a guitar, hoping for a glimpse of the Northern Lights.

The true luxury is the landscape, one of the last fingers of the temperate coastal rain forest that extends along the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Just standing on the deck of the lodge makes you feel immersed in something much larger than yourself.

Sea kayaking at Tutka Bay Lodge

You can enjoy the outdoors in many ways, choosing from a menu of pack rafting, paddle boarding and guided shoreline foraging followed by a cooking class. I chose a day long sea kayak with a guide into the tidal outlet that is Tutka Bay, with a hike through woods coated in iridescent green moss, spotting otters, harbor seals and 30 bald eagles clustered in a few tall spruces.

Tutka Bay is a remarkable marriage of wilderness and luxury, and truly unlike any place I have ever stayed. It’s ideal for first-timers for the 49th state but it’s also a stunning experience for those of use who’ve visited Alaska before.

Cabin at Tutka Bay Lodge

Tutka Bay Wilderness Lodge offers all-inclusive rates. A three night stay includes transportation via round trip water taxi from Homer; accommodation in a private cabin; meals; customized guide service; one out-of-camp excursion every two days; one complimentary massage per person; yoga class; use of all adventure gear; house wine and beer. Rates for the package are $4,875 per person

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