Arts & Culture In Alaska's Inside Passage
Explore the artistic traditions of the Inside Passage in this five-day itinerary. Your trip includes a look at the rich tradition of Alaska Native art in Southeast Alaska, along with contemporary creations from all traditions and walks of life.
Day 1: Ketchikan
Arrive in Ketchikan via scheduled jet service or Alaska Marine Highway ferry. Ketchikan is renowned for its many totem poles, quite a few of which are scattered through town; keep an eye out for them as you explore downtown attractions including historic Creek Street, the Tongass Historical Museum, and the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center. You can see more totem poles — and sometimes the carvers too, hard at work, plus performances of Alaska Native dance and songs — at Saxman Native Village.
Day 2: Wrangell or Petersburg
Today, you have two options. The first is taking an Alaska Marine Highway ferry for the six-hour trip to Wrangell. Here, art goes back in time with a collection of prehistoric petroglyphs scattered along the beach at Petroglyph Beach State Historic Site. While you’re in town, visit the Wrangell Museum to learn about the region’s rich history and see the exhibit of spruce root and cedar-bark baskets from the late 1800s. Finally, check out the Chief Shakes Tribal House and several totem poles on Chief Shakes Island, accessible from downtown Wrangell via a short boardwalk.
Your other option is to stay on the ferry (10 hours total) and continue on to the community of Petersburg, known as “Little Norway” for its founding by Norwegian fishermen. That culture still runs strong in Petersburg; cruise ships are often greeted with displays of traditional Norwegian dancing, and the town even has its own design of bunad, traditional Norwegian clothing that’s worn by both men and women. You can see the Petersburg bunad in the city museum. Check out the town’s local shops and look for examples of rosemaling, a distinctive flowery Norwegian style of painting still practiced by locals and sometimes stamped into the streets and buildings themselves. Overnight in Wrangell or Petersburg.
If you’d like to see both communities, add a day to your trip and take the single daily flight that connects them.
Day 3: Juneau
Both Petersburg and Wrangell offer daily jet service to Juneau, Alaska’s capital city. Make it a point to tour the Alaska State Museum, where the artifacts include a collection of Alaska Native basketry that is among the most comprehensive in the world. There is an also a collection of Alaska Native-carved ivory ranging from prehistoric to modern, and a collection of work by contemporary artists. Next, pay a visit to the beautiful Walter Soboleff Building, itself a work of art with massive carved and painted panels out front. Inside, the curated collection features some of the world’s best Alaska Native artwork, along with regalia that is still in regular use.
As you stroll Juneau’s downtown streets, keep an eye out for vibrant murals, most of them Tlingit in design, painted on some of the city buildings. Even the two tram cars of the Mt. Roberts Tramway, down near the cruise ship docks, are painted with vivid Tlingit designs. Overnight in Juneau.
Day 4: Sitka
Board a commercial jet for a quick morning flight to Sitka. The historic seaside capital of Russian America, Sitka was founded in 1804. It’s also home to many artists, and all the shops are locally owned—so leave yourself time to shop. You can see more historical artwork in the Sheldon Jackson Museum, which houses a rich collection of Alaska Native artifacts, and a dramatic display of totem poles along wooded paths in Sitka National Historical Park. Spend the night in Sitka.
Day 5: Sitka to Home
Take the afternoon flight to Anchorage, and from there to home. But first, take time to explore some of the many historical Russian buildings that have been transformed into miniature museums, most of them within easy walking distance of downtown Sitka. There are also several notable fort sites where the Tlingit forcefully opposed the Russian occupation; the easiest way to see everything is by booking a van tour with a local guide.
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