Appreciate The Great Outdoors At Chilkoot Trail Or Misty Fjords National Monument
Alaska is, of course, an outdoor adventure wonderland, and each port of call offers plenty for those who want to stay active on vacation. Hike the famous Gold Rush-era Chilkoot Trail in Skagway, kayak to the banks of the Mendenhall Glacier, zipline through the rainforests near Ketchikan, or snorkel the calm waters of Mountain Point, southeast Alaskas prime snorkeling destination. Less active outdoor adventures also await, from riding the rail to the Klondike Summit in Skagway to sailing into the gorgeous Misty Fjords National Monument to riding a Zodiac from Saxman Native Village through Nichols Passage in Ketchikan.
Alaska Cruise Tour Activities Not To Miss
Some people wait their entire lives to get to Alaska, while others can’t wait to go back again and again. The rugged appeal of Alaska is vast, and there’s a never-ending supply of memorable activities and experiences to draw first-time and repeat visitors. An Alaska cruise tour is the perfect way to see the state, from the parks and cities of its interior to its glacial shores and quirky outskirts. To ensure you see all that the 49th State has to offer , we’ve rounded up a dozen don’t-miss cruise tour activities that span land, air, sea and ice. Click through our slides to read about the top 12 cruise tour activities in Alaska and where to find them.
Must See Alaska Cruise Destinations
Find out more about these must see Alaska cruise destinations including popular ports such as Ketchikan and Juneau along with stunning views.
Alaska is cruising paradise for nature fans, landscape photographers and those wanting to explore pristine wilderness areas. Known for its impressive mountains, numerous glaciers and many hiking trails, its a cruising destination like no other. You can kayak iceberg-filled fjords, go whale and bear watching in summer, or visit later in the season for the Northern Lights.
Whichever month you visit, dont miss our top must-see Alaska cruise destinations:
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The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show
The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show is a fun event that the whole family can enjoy. The venue for this spectacle is within walking distance of the cruise ship port and every ship offers excursions for people who wish to attend a show. The show is one hour long and there are three to five opportunities to see the show each day.
Youll be amazed at the strength, skill, endurance, and enthusiasm of the lumberjacks as they climb trees, chop and saw wood, balance on rolling, floating logs and more.
These men and women are professional lumberjacks and jills and most have appeared on ESPN and hold national and world titles in this intriguing sport. A visit to the lumberjack show will be something youll never forget!
Rub Your Nose In The Tundra
The magic and mystery of Alaska can be in the detailsand when you take a deep whiff of the tundra, youll find it raw, but fragrant. You can explore the tundra on a hike, by getting off bus in Denali, or just pulling off the highway. Once youre there, grab a tiny flower between your fingers, and imagine this fragile being surviving for seven months, under feet of snow and in the darkness of a subzero winter. Youll feel the resilience of life and the miracle of creationso go ahead, get up close.
Glacier & Wildlife Cruises
Before or after you board your cruise ship, there are plenty more intimate cruises to take — and they come highly recommended. Sure, like many things in the state of Alaska, the outcome is weather-dependent, but so much is packed into one of these day cruises — marine life, wildlife, glaciers, you name it — you’re almost guaranteed to see something. For the ultimate in ice viewing, we recommend a “26 Glacier” cruise on Prince William Sound. Located right by the cruise terminal in Whittier, these boats depart on multi-hour trips that might yield sea lion and Dall sheep sightings, and on a clear day , up to 26 different glaciers along College Fjord. Even better? Their no seasickness guarantee. For a focus on wildlife that comes complete with stunning vistas, sail Kenai Fjords National Park. A variety of companies operate day cruises from Seward, another major Alaska cruise homeport.
Glacier Bay National Park
Some Alaska cruises spend their entire itinerary at Glacier Bay National Park and understandably so. This UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is the largest in the world, home to dramatic glacier scenery and wildlife watching opportunities.
Cruise there and you can enjoy kayaking, visiting local villages or just admire the non-stop parade of glaciers passing by. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for calving glaciers and have your camera ready.
Summer is the best time to visit for warmth, with April to June being the driest months. That said, a visit in winter gives you the chance to capture fog-shrouded landscapes ideal for moody photography.
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See Alpenglow At Midnight
Long days in Alaska bring a kind of freedom you may never have experiencedwhat a famous Alaska poet describes as the freshness, the freedom, the farness. Indeed, with the expanded daytime that comes with the Midnight Sunand all of the new possibilities that result from it you might feel like a kid again, as if there are no rules. The views are inspiringsuch as that rosy band of Alpenglow you might see around the mountains. A lot of people even say that the sun re-awakens them to the magic of life.
Choosing Your Alaska Small Ship
Once you have an understanding of where you want to cruise and what style of travel you seek, it is time to consider your small ship. Our Alaska small ships are handpicked and scrutinized for safety, service, itinerary and expedition leaders. We are Alaska cruise experts who have cruised aboard or personally inspected every ship on our website, and we are here to make sure you choose the correct ship for your interests, ability and budget. If you have any questions about ships please do not hesitate to call us. See Small Ship vs Big Ship What is the Difference for further details.
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Sitka Alaska Cruise Port Information
Tucked into a bay on the western side of Baranof Island, Sitka is located on the outer coast of Alaskas Inside Passage and is only accessible by air and sea. Being only 4,815 square miles, the city and borough of City is located 90 miles southwest of Juneau, Alaska.
This city of Sitka is a beautiful little fishing village is surrounded by majestic snow-capped peaks and island-studded waters, so youll want to be on deck as your ship approaches Sitka Sound.
Sitka For History And Culture
While Sitka offers various port excursions, most tours allow cruise passengers to immerse themselves in Alaskas colorful history. By touring historical places like Castle Hill, Building 29, and St. Michaels Cathedral, cruise passengers can discover the connections with the Tlingit, Russians, and American people. By watching performances by the Tlingit Dancers and Russian Folk Dancers, youll appreciate that their influences in Alaska remain.
Sitka was Alaskas first capital city and the place where the first American flag flew after its transfer from Russia to the United States. At Castle Hill or Baranof Castle State Historic Site, you can stand at the very spot where the transfer took place in 1867. While no fortification remains, the informational plaques document the historic occasion.
The Sitka History Museum, Russian Bishops House, and Sheldon Jacksons Museum display cultural artifacts, photographs, and intriguing treasures. Another important structure is St. Michaels Orthodox Church. Constructed by the Russians in the 1840s, its claim to fame is North Americas first Catholic house of worship. While its exterior is rather ordinary, its interior showcases some magnificent religious artifacts. With a suggested donation of just USD 5.00, visitors should not miss this beautiful cathedral.
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Relax And Enjoy A Meal
At the end of a long day, or even amidst the hustle and bustle of a busy vacation, sometimes its nice to just sit down with your travel companions to relax and enjoy a good meal and a tall drink. One great way to help support small businesses in Ketchikan is to visit and patronize local restaurants.
There are a wide variety of these establishments near the cruise ship docks. Many or even most of them offer Alaskan fare including caribou burgers and a vast variety of local salmon and seafood dishes. Bon appetit!
Haines Best Weather And Kayaking
Haines doesnt have a lot of cruise ships that call in its port, but it does have some. You can also visit Haines by taking a shore excursion when your ship calls in nearby Skagway. However you get there, Haines is worth a visit for plenty of reasons.
In addition to the scenery that every Alaska town has on offer, Haines is positioned to have the best weather in Southeast Alaska, making it ideal for outdoor activities like kayaking! When I say best weather I mean less rain than most other ports but it doesnt have the wind that Skagway has. In any part of Southeast Alaska you need to be ready for rain, any day, all year, but Haines gives you a better chance of a dry day than most.
Kayaking is unique in Haines because you can take a tour for sea kayaking or you can kayak in Chilkoot Lake, giving options for every preference and every skill level in a kayak. This is a wonderful place to try kayaking for the first time!
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Watch A Whale Shatter The Surface
It may not be rare to spot whales during their annual, thousands-of-miles journey to Alaska. But its especially stirring when you see these immense creatureswhich live in the deep of the ocean, far below the surfacethrow their tons of mass into the air. They’re so graceful, too, that it seems effortless and magical.
Other Alaska Cruise Ports And Embarkation/disembarkation Ports
If youre traveling on a small ship, your ship may call at Wrangell, Petersburg or go ashore at Bartlett Cove in Glacier Bay National Park. These are all wonderful and intimate ports with lots to see and do. Learn more here about Wrangell, here about Petersburg and here about Glacier Bay.
Even though it isnt in Alaska, many cruises which start or end in Seattle stop in Victoria. If your ship calls at Victoria, read all about my suggestions for what to do in Victoria here.
If youre embarking or disembarking in Whittier or Seward, youll be flying in or out of Anchorage. If youre looking to spend a few extra days exploring, read more about all the wonderful things to do in Anchorage here.
Fun fact: my second favorite city in the world in Vancouver, BC! If youre adding some time before or after your cruise, check out my top recommendations for Vancouver here.
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Jilkat Kwaan Cultural Center
About 20 miles outside of town, this working museum, JIlkat Kwaan Cultural Center, honors the legacy of Northwest Coast art as practiced by the famed Chilkat tribe of Tlingit Indians. Check out the famed Whale House artifacts, as well as totemic carvings considered to be the finest indigenous artworks in Alaska.
Choosing The Right Cruise For You In Alaska
Your three main questions in choosing a cruise in Alaska are “When should I go?,” “Where do I want to go?,” and “How big a ship?”
When to Go
If you are considering traveling in a shoulder month, remember that some shops don’t open until Memorial Day, and the visitor season is generally considered over on Labor Day .
Inside Passage or the Gulf of Alaska?
The Inside Passage runs through the area of Alaska known as the Southeast , that narrow strip of the state — islands, mainland coastal communities, and mountains — that runs from the Canadian border in the south to the start of the Gulf in the north, just above the Juneau/Haines/Skagway area. The islands on the western side of the area afford cruise ships a welcome degree of protection from the sea and its attendant rough waters . Because of that shelter, such ports as Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, and others are reached with less rocking and rolling, and thus less risk of seasickness. Sitka is not on the Inside Passage , but that beautiful little community is included in most Inside Passage cruise itineraries.
The Southeast encompasses the capital city, and townships influenced by the former Russian presence in the state , the Tlingit and Haida Native cultures , and the great gold rush of 1898 . It is a land of rainforests, mountains, inlets, and glaciers . The region is rich in wildlife, especially of the marine variety. It is a scenic delight. But then, what part of Alaska isn’t?
Big Ship or Small?
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Your Adventure Is Only A Click Away
The ability of a small boat to maneuver into hidden places makes for an unforgettable experience.Patricia G, Park Ridge, IL
This was perfect for us! Like everyone we met on board, we would not consider a cruise with thousands to be a vacation. We made friends each night in the lounge and it felt like a dinner party. The flexibility of the captain and our guides was a fantastic touch. Being able to go into places where it was just our boat was very special. Richard L, Kamas, UT
Ally P, Poway, CA
Skagway Best Shore Excursion
Skagway is a tiny town with a very busy cruise port! This is as far north as cruise ships go in the Inside Passage . Skagway was put on the map by the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898 and has a colorful history. In fact, the entire downtown is a national park!
The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad was built during the Gold Rush and remains today as a tour for visitors and I will tell you that in my opinion this is the best shore excursion available in Southeast Alaska! There are several options for the train: you can take a round trip summit excursion right from the cruise ship dock, or you can go one way by train and one by bus giving you additional views of this stunning location. You can also do a hike from the train getting dropped off at Denver or Laughton Glacier as part of a tour.
The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad gives you the unique opportunity in Southeast Alaska to get up into the mountains and inland and see a completely different climate. There are good chances to see bears and goats on this trip too! Overall I highly recommend this if you only do one shore excursionmake it this one!
Skagway also has lots of great history to explore and several excellent hikes that leave from downtown and you can easily walk to.
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Advantages Of Visiting Alaska In August
- Warm weather, with temperatures between 45-65 degrees and 18 hours of daylight.
- Abundant fishing opportunities, as halibut, northern pike, rainbow trout, and salmon are all in season.
- Numerous cruise and land tour packages on offer, giving you access to the breathtaking fall foliage of the Last Frontier.
- As for wildlife, August is peak migration season for songbirds and youll see numerous caribou, bears, beavers, orca, and loons on your adventure.
Skagway To Relive The Gold Rush
For most cruise passengers, Skagway is the northernmost Alaska port town visited by cruise ships. With less than 1,000 residents, its quaint and rustic persona contrasts greatly to ports in the Caribbean. In fact, the former Gold Rush town resembles a wild west movie set with its rustic wooden buildings and locals dressed in period costumes. Consider a ride on the White Pass & Yukon Route train when youre not immersing yourself in Alaskas Gold Rush.
As the jewel of Skagway, the White Pass & Yukon Route train picks up cruise passengers at the dock. Then, the narrow-gauge railroad transports them into the Yukon using antique coaches with large viewing windows. The trip into the mountainous region is rated as one of the best train journeys in the world.
- White Pass & Yukon Route train
- Gold Rush Cemetery, Skagway
The track passes rushing waterfalls, picturesque gorges and travels over wooden trestles. For the best views, step outside your passenger car and watch the train round the corners over the timber bridges. The one-hour and 45-minute journey offers breath-taking scenery, perfect for the whole family.
For the adventurous, consider a Chilkoot Hike and Float tour. On this excursion, I walked the same route as the prospectors did years ago, followed by a float down the Taiya River.
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The Return Of Cruising
I wasnt at all surprised to see Harry Sommer enjoying the cruise with his family, as I knew he was aboard the Encore to celebrate the comeback cruise. I even had a chance to sit down with him for a few minutes where he shared his excitement about returning to cruising. Sommer had already sailed with the Greek cruise comeback, but his wife insisted they enjoy the Alaska cruise, too.
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