This itinerary highlights the best bear-viewing experiences you’re likely to encounter on a cruise through Alaska’s Inside Passage and across the Gulf of Alaska. If you’re only cruising one-way and returning (or departing) by air, you also have the option of following the itinerary in reverse.
Day 1 and 2 Depart Vancouver/Seattle
Most cruises to Alaska’s Inside Passage depart from either Vancouver, B.C. or Seattle, giving you a day or two to get accustomed to shipboard life before you enter the protected waters of Alaska’s Inside Passage.
Day 3 Ketchikan
Alaska’s “First City,” the first port of call on many cruise itineraries, is Ketchikan. A former timber town rich in Alaska Native culture and arts, Ketchikan offers plenty to do whether you’re there for a day or a week. During your day in port, plan to spend at least four hours on a bear-viewing tour to see black bears, and sometimes also brown bears, feeding on salmon in nearby streams and creeks. Popular destinations for bear viewing include Neets Bay and Anan Creek Wildlife Observatory, both of which are accessible via short flights in a floatplane. Once the tour’s over, don’t miss a chance to see the dozens of totem poles standing in Ketchikan and its nearby parks, including Totem Bight State Historical Park.
Day 4 Juneau
Alaska’s capital city is just a short floatplane flight away from Admiralty Island, sometimes referred to as “the fortress of the bears” due to its high concentration of coastal brown bears. Tour operators in Juneau whisk guests over to the island’s bear-viewing area, where your guides will escort you on a beach walk to see bears feeding on salmon near the mouth of the creek.
Day 5 Skagway
Take a quick break from bears to tour Alaska’s most visited national park (and extremely popular stop for cruise ships), Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway. The park’s wide boardwalks and many historic buildings conjure the hard-drinking, fast-living boom days of 1898, when thousands streamed through town in hopes of striking it rich in the gold fields. You’ll have time to take a scenic rail tour, learn about the little-changed methods for mining gold, and have a drink in an old-time saloon.
Day 6 Glacier Bay National Park
Next, you’ll cruise through Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, which is renowned for its spectacular scenery, abundant glaciers, and equally abundant wildlife. Keep an eye out for humpback whales, orcas, sea lions and many seabirds in the water. Keep your eyes on the shoreline, too, for an opportunity to spot bears meandering the rocky beaches. You might even be lucky enough to see a mystical “blue bear” or “glacier bear,” a rare, silver-blue or gray-furred subspecies of the black bear.
Day 7and 8 Gulf of Alaska to Whittier or Seward
Some cruises only run up and down the Inside Passage, with most passengers traveling just one way on the cruise ship and the other way by air. However, some cruise ships continue “cross-gulf” through the Gulf of Alaska to the Southcentral ports of Seward or Whittier, which means you can spend another day or two soaking in sights like the spectacular, glacier-clad College Fjords (near Whittier). Once you arrive in Seward or Whittier, board a train and head to Anchorage, where you’ll spend the night.
Day 9 Anchorage and Katmai National Park and Preserve
In Anchorage, cap off your bear-viewing extravaganza by booking a fly-in trip to Katmai National Park and Preserve, where you can watch bears feeding on salmon in the world-famous Brooks Falls. An experienced guide will escort you to the carefully managed bear-viewing area, where boardwalks and viewing platforms allow guests to get stunningly close to the bears as they gorge on salmon, play, fight for the best fishing spots and feed their cubs. After a full day of mind-blowing proximity to giant brown bears you’ll return to Anchorage, from which you can fly home or continue on to the next stage of your Alaska adventure.