Overview: Sample the best sights and experiences along Alaska’s Inside Passage with this quick five-day itinerary, which includes everything from bear-viewing to whale-watching, spectacular glaciers, and a chance to learn about the culture and history of Southeast Alaska.
Day 1 Ketchikan
Arrive in Ketchikan, which is just over an hour from Seattle by jet. Ketchikan is known for its impressive collection of totem poles, and two of the best places to see them—Saxman Native Village and Totem Bight State Historical Park—are within a short bus ride of town. Also be sure to visit Creek Street, a boardwalk-lined pedestrian area featuring a number of gift shops, restaurants, galleries and even a small museum. In the afternoon, take a boat tour or fly-in sightseeing trip to the 2.3-million-acre Misty Fiords National Monument, a singular tour through some of Alaska’s most dramatic steep-walled, glacier-carved fjords. If you prefer to explore the area by foot, Ketchikan offers a wide variety of hiking trails that take you into the massive, 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest.
Day 2 Wrangell
Take a six-hour ride on one of the Alaska Marine Highway ferries to the tiny village of Wrangell, located at the mouth of the mighty Stikine River. Don’t miss a chance to visit nearby bear-viewing areas, where you can see black bears and sometimes also brown bears in close proximity as they fish salmon out of a rushing creek.
Day 3 Wrangell
Depending on when your ferry to Petersburg departs, you may have up to half a day to explore. Like Ketchikan, Wrangell is known for its collection of totem poles, with more than a dozen scattered throughout town. Just north of Wrangell, Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park is a popular beach-combing location full of prehistoric rock carvings. Wrangell is also home to several excellent day hikes with views of waterfalls or nearby Shoemaker Bay, although you’ll need a rental car to access the trailheads. Once your ferry arrives, settle in for a three-hour ride to Petersburg, where you’ll spend the night.
Day 4 Petersburg
Also known as “Little Norway,” Petersburg is a classic fishing town founded by Norwegian fishermen who realized icebergs from a nearby glacier would help preserve their catch. Petersburg’s main downtown street overlooks the small boat harbor, and the town contains many examples of Norwegian-style street art, painted on the buildings or embedded in the sidewalks. Downtown Petersburg also contains a fisherman’s memorial, a scaled-down dragonboat, and a small but excellent museum. But the biggest adventures here are day cruises to go fishing, see the icebergs of the LeConte Glacier, or observe the breaching humpback whales of Frederick Sound. Spend the night at one of Petersburg’s charming bed and breakfasts or hotels.
Day 5 Juneau
From Petersburg, hop a short flight to Juneau, Alaska’s capital city. Here, you have your choice of many short adventures that take only an hour or two each: You can take the aerial tram to the top of Mount Roberts for an eagle’s eye view of the surrounding area, visit one of the city’s excellent museums, see world-class Alaska Native artwork at the Walter Soboleff Building, make the pilgrimage to see the blue ice of the Mendenhall Glacier, or hop on a helicopter for a quick flightseeing trip that can include glacier trekking or a dog sled tour on glacier snow and ice. When you’re ready to head home, Juneau is less than three hours from Seattle by jet.
Juneau places dozens of adventures at your fingertips, so you might want to stick around a few extra days to enjoy the the fishing, whale-watching, ziplining, viewing brown bears in the wild, and a day trip to historic Skagway. Or, if you can spare a few more days, consider adding a trip to Anchorage and Fairbanks, where Alaska’s best inland adventures make the perfect complement to the water-based experiences you just enjoyed in Southeast.