If you are down in Miami, Florida enjoying a relaxing day at South Beach, you probably don't worry about where you lay out your towel and beach gear. The tidal variation there is only 2-3 feet. But let's say you head out west to Orange County, California to enjoy those SoCal beaches...need to worry there? Nope, at worst you are looking at a 3-4 foot variation over the course of the approximately 6 hours it takes the tides to change. Let's hop on a flight and head to the Big Island of Hawai'i to see what we find there. A pitiful 1-2 foot tidal swings. East coast, west, coast, Hawaiian coast...if you've been to any or all of these, you probably never have even noticed changes in the water elevation. Tides are simply something you are vaguely aware of, but its hard to understand the dynamics of something you can't really see. So let's journey on up to Alaska!
Seward, Alaska...home to Kenai Fjords National Park. We have the privilege of guiding trips along this pristine coastline and tides are a very important part of our everyday life. That's because the tidal variation in our waters here can top out at over 16 feet!!! And that is vertical feet which is roughly the size of an overpass you would drive under...crazy! An average tidal variation here probably runs in the 8-9 foot range, but when we have a full or new moon (I won't bore you with the details of how the tides work because its very confusing and entire books are written on it and I still don't completely understand it all), the variation between high and low tide and reach up to 16 feet which is exactly what happened earlier this month when we experienced the big supermoon. Nearby Cook Inlet has the largest tidal variations in the United States averaging out at roughly 30 foot variations...which to clarify means the ocean depth insanely changes 30 vertical feet!
As you can now imagine, tides play a large role in planning our trips and expeditions. You wouldn't want to leave your kayak near the water's edge and go for a hike with an incoming tide because you would find yourself without a boat to get home in. And you wouldn't want to set up camp without knowing how high the tide will come up that day because you might wake up in the middle of the night to waves crashing down your tent.
Tides in Alaska are an overlooked but awesome part of this place. We have coastal hiking trails only accessible at certain tides; we have one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world that live in the intertidal zone perfect for tidepooling at lower tides; we have the bore tide which is the leading edge of an incoming tide in narrow inlets with large tidal variations that can cause up to a 6 foot standing wave that travels for miles against the current; we have beaches that disappear at high tide and deposit cool things like drift wood, sea glass, and jelly fish as the tide ebbs out; we have a place in Alaska where something as seemingly simplistic as the tide is a beautiful and wondrous phenomenon to behold.