Big cruise ships usually don’t start visiting Southeast Alaska until May, so an April visit to the Inside Passage offers plenty of uncrowded, often discounted opportunities to see the region’s looming, temperate rainforest, craggy glacier fjords, and gleaming blue glaciers.
Day 1 Ketchikan
Spring is an excellent time to join tens of thousands of migratory birds and whales on their return to summer feeding grounds in Alaska. Start in Ketchikan, which is visited by thousands of rufous hummingbirds on their annual circuit between California, the Rocky Mountains and Alaska. The Ketchikan Hummingbird Festival runs throughout the month of April. While you’re there, keep your eye out for gray whales migrating northward to their summer feeding grounds in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas—they sometimes stick so close to shore that you can see them from land.
Day 2 Ketchikan
Ketchikan has the world’s largest collection of totem poles, a form of traditional art practiced by the Alaska Native Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples. One of the best places to see the poles is Totem Bight State Historical Park, which features more than a dozen totem poles and a traditional Tlingit clan house in a beautiful coastal setting. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center opens its doors to showcase beautiful rainforest exhibits, stories and artifacts from the area’s vibrant Alaska Native culture, and a wealth of interactive nature exhibits.
Day 3 Wrangell
Fly to the tiny village of Wrangell for the Stikine River Birding Festival, held every year in late April. This four-day festival celebrates the millions of migratory shorebirds that flock to the Stikine River Delta, along with thousands of eagles that also congregate near the river to feed on spawning hooligan, a type of smelt.
Day 4 Juneau
Your next stop by plane is Juneau, Alaska’s capital city. Head out for a whale watching excursion to see humpback whales with calves in tow, fresh off their annual migration from warm-water breeding grounds in Mexico and Hawaii; the whales usually start arriving in April. You may also see orcas, sea lions, seals, puffins, murres, cormorants and dozens of other shorebirds. Enjoy locally brewed beer and fresh seafood for dinner at a waterfront eatery before you retire to your hotel.
Day 5 Juneau to Haines
Catch the Alaska state ferry north to Haines (heads up—you’ll have to take a taxi or a rental car to the ferry terminal in Juneau’s Auke Bay neighborhood; there is no mass transit). The four-hour trip offers opportunities to see more whales, along with the stunning mountains, waterfalls and dense rainforest of the coastline along the Lynn Canal. In Haines, take a photography tour to capture unforgettable images of the rich variety of wildlife that pass through or make their homes in the Chilkat Valley area. Don’t forget to stop by the nearby Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve and look for bald eagles, although your best chance of seeing eagles here is actually from October to February.
Day 6 Juneau
Fly back to Juneau and end your visit with a walking tour of the downtown area. Local attractions include the white-columned governor’s house, the the historic Wickersham House, a wealth of locally owned gift shops and art galleries, and the spectacular, newly renovated Alaska State Museum.