The Alaska Volcano
or Alaska's Hot Spots!

An Alaska Volcano will show up now and then in various parts of the state. The Aleutian Chain islands are made up of a string of volcanic mountains, which start on the mainland, on the west side of Cook Inlet.

There are also volcanoes in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, in the Southeastern panhandle of Alaska and Kodiak Island.

Alaska Volcanoes in the Cook Inlet Region, near major towns:

Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula, which has Kenai, Soldotna, Homer and a string of smaller towns along its west coast are all within 100 miles (161km) or less from many of those active volcanoes.

Mt. Spurr, which is only about 80 miles (128km) east of Anchorage, erupted in 1953 and again in 1992. It blew quite a bit of ash over Anchorage, at least in the earlier eruption. Then in late 2004, more activity was noted. Though there were no new eruptions, a flow of debris was seen coming from it later.

My Volcano Story:

When Mt. Spurr erupted in 1953, we were living in a tent at Rabbit Creek, next to the old Seward Highway. School was out and my Mom had just finished giving me and my older sister a bath in our round galvanized tub. She styled our hair, then sent us to the little country grocery store which was about a city block away, down the Highway.

We purchased the groceries, then started back. About half-way home, the sun, which had been shining brightly, all of a sudden disappeared. It turned dark as night, or so we thought. Ashes started falling out of the air. That scared both of us, so we ran the rest of the way as fast as we could.

When we got back, Mom was outside looking for us. Our still-damp hair had gathered enough ashes to turn rather dirty. Even Mom was a bit frightened so we went inside the tent and waited. She rinsed our heads right away to get the ashes out. When the sky cleared, we went back outside to look. The ground had about an inch or so of very fine, powdery ashes covering it. Mom took an empty glass jar and gathered up as much as she could, for a souvenir.

Of course, most of our backwoods neighbors also collected ashes for souvenirs. And I don't remember this, but Mom commented that the grass didn't grow well that year. I guess it was suffocated by the ashes. But it certainly fertilized the ground for future years.

In those days, there were no observatories to give us warnings of such events. So we just lived through them without anyone telling us how dangerous they can be.

Mt. Redoubt is another volcano in Alaska located about 110 miles (177km) southwest of Anchorage. It has a recorded history of erupting in 1902, 1922, 1966, 1989 and in 2009. It blew a lot of ash up in the air in 1989, to about 45,000 feet (13,700km) high, and Anchorage had several inches of ash rain on it. Some of the closer towns on the Kenai peninsula may have been showered with more ashes.

The Augustine Island volcano is located in Cook Inlet, about 174 miles (280km) southwest of Anchorage. It erupted several times in early 1986 and blew some ash on Anchorage, but only enough to get the snow a little dirty. I flew around it in a small plane afterward and it still had some emissions but very little. It erupted again in 1994 and 2006.

Orca Whale Swimming in front of Volcano
Photo of Orca Whale Swimming in Cook Inlet and Augustine Volcano
Photo Courtesy of Isaac Wedin

In addition to these, Mt. Iliamna, Mt. Hayes and Double Glacier also have recorded volcanoes in this area, but with no activity or only minor recorded activity.

As you might guess, the population on the west side of Cook Inlet is almost non-existent, for obvious reasons.

Alaska Volcanoes on the Aleutian Peninsula: (A part of the mainland that is at the head of the Aleutian Chain and below the Cook Inlet Region volcanoes)

There are 42 named volcanoes in this area, with 20 of them having recorded volcanic activity. The rest are inactive or dormant.

The most notable and famous Alaskan volcano is in Katmai National Park on this peninsula. Of course, that is one of the main reasons the area is now a national park.

The 3-day Katmai volcanic eruption that occurred in 1912 was one of the largest volcanoes of the the century. It ejected about 30 times more volcanic material than Mt. St. Helens. Major earthquakes and loud explosions that accompanied this eruption were felt and heard hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. A cloud of ash and debris formed that covered the sky and then moved across the planet, dropping ash wherever it went.

Kodiak, about a 105 miles (170km) away, was covered by a foot or more of volcanic ash. This ash and other results of the volcano, destroyed homes, volumes of wildlife and caused people health difficulties.

Four years later, when National Geographic sent an expedition to explore the area, they found a valley full of volcanic debris that was still steaming! That is what came to be known as the "Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes".

Alaska Volcanoes on the Aleutian Chain:

Though there are about 51 named volcanoes on the Aleutian Chain, only about 27 of them have a record of volcanic activity. The rest are historic or dormant volcanoes. Luckily the activity in most of the live volcanoes is quite mild most of the time.

Mt. Shishaldin, which is the tallest mountain in the Aleutian Chain at 9400' (2857m), is also known as "Smoking Moses". It is located on Unimak Island near False Pass and is an active volcano.

Alaska Volcanoes in Wrangell St.-Elias National Park:

There are 10 named volcanoes, the only active one being Mt. Wrangell. Though most of these are rather tall mountains—over 12,000 feet (3600m) high—they are all dormant or inactive. And even Mt. Wrangell's activity is very minor.

Alaska volcanoes through the rest of the State:

There are quite a few volcanic mountains throughout the rest of Alaska. They are located in the southeast panhandle and in the northern and western parts of the state, also. But these are not included in the list of active volcanoes.

So all of the active and potentially dangerous volcanoes in Alaska are located in the line of mountains that start on the mainland on the west side of Cook Inlet and go out the Aleutian Chain.

But with the Alaska Volcano Observatory watching everything for us, you don't have to worry about getting showered with ash by an Alaska volcano. They warn us when there is heightened earthquake activity in a volcanic area. You can just avoid those areas at that time, to be on the safe side. And from now on, we'll have much milder subjects to discuss, like the fabulous Northern Lights of Alaska...

Return to Top of Alaska Volcano Page

Return To Alaska Facts Page

Return to Tips for Backwoods Alaska Vacations Home Page