Southeast Alaska’s deep fjords, rich cultures, and towering trees of the world’s largest temperate rainforest are just waiting to be explored. Take this multi-day itinerary to wander some of the Inside Passage’s favorite tourist destinations – without the crowds! Discover your own hidden gems and “must see” locations in the Tongass National Forest’s 17 million acres (plus 11,000 miles of shoreline). Note: the locations on this itinerary are connected by regularly scheduled flight service or by Alaska Marine Highway System ferries – which will allow for a more leisurely travel experience. Check the AMHS website to confirm schedules and routes, as well as make advance reservations (highly recommended).
Summer visitors traveling by cruise ship generally start (or end) their Alaska adventure in Ketchikan, Alaska’s southernmost city and “Salmon Capitol of the World.” Start your visit with a walk along historic Creek Street – a boardwalk path along (and above) Ketchikan Creek. Formerly the heart of Ketchikan’s red-light district, Creek Street is now home to shops and boutiques specializing in Alaska Native art and other local crafts. Here, you can watch salmon swimming upstream to spawn as you have lunch at an outdoor café. Afterward, talk a short walk up to the Totem Heritage Center to learn more about Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures and see Center’s collection of 19th Century totem poles. More of these “silent storytellers” and a community clan house can be found at Totem Bight State Historic Park, approximately 8 miles north of downtown Ketchikan.
Stay overnight at a local hotel or camp at Settler’s Cove State Recreation Site, approximately 19 miles outside of town.
Ketchikan is about wide-open spaces – like Misty Fjords National Monument. Take a boat tour to look for whales and other wildlife on your way into the deep fjords – carved by retreating glaciers over thousands of years – or take a flightseeing excursion to get a bird’s eye view of the endless landscapes and cascading waterfalls. Plan an entire day for this excursion – you won’t regret it!
Dinner and overnight in Ketchikan
Start your day up, up, and away on an easy flight from Ketchikan to Juneau. This 3-hour flight takes you over an iconic Alaskan landscape of snow-covered mountains, emerald rainforest, and deep blue coasts.
After arriving, check in to one of Juneau’s many hotels before wandering the historic downtown area. In addition to its gold rush past, you’ll want to explore Juneau’s history as the seat of territorial and state government – and there’s lots to learn! From Alaska’s state capitol building on 4th Street – originally built in 1931 for the territorial legislature – to the 26-room Governor’s mansion and the Wickersham State Historic Site, you’ll get a glimpse of Alaska’s administrative roots. Next, continue up the hill to get away from it all on one of the Juneau Trail System’s many paths into the peaceful rainforest environment, or head out to see the brilliant blues of the Mendenhall Glacier, a thirteen mile-long river of ice of the Tongass National Forest.
Juneau is a great location for fabulous day trips. Want to watch wildlife? Sign up for a day trip to Pack Creek to see the brown bears of Admiralty Island National Monument – or, take a whale-watching trip in Tracy Arm. Looking for something more active? Take a helicopter and land on the Juneau Ice Field for a dogsledding adventure, or - if you have a few extra days – take the ferry to nearby Gustavus to kayak the coastline in Glacier Bay National Park.
From Juneau, catch the evening flight to Sitka and stay overnight at a local hotel.
After breakfast, start your day on a walking or biking tour of Sitka history and culture. Start your exploration at the end of the road in Starrigavan Bay. Wander the trails looking for birds and visit the Old Sitka State Historical Park. This former site of Fort Archangel Michael, the area’s first Russian settlement, was destroyed by the Tlingits in 1802. Work your way into Sitka’s downtown and visit the many National Historic Landmarks, including some of the few remaining Russian-American era buildings and St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, originally constructed 1848 and rebuilt after a fire in 1966. Make your way to Barnof Castle State Historic Site (also known as Castle Hill), site of the first American flag raised in Alaska and where the territory of Alaska was transferred to the United States in October 1867. Finally, make your way to the Sitka National Historical Park, where Russians laid siege to the Tlingit stronghold of Shee Atika in 1804. Today, look for bald eagles resting on towering spruce trees near one of the park’s many historic Tlingit and Haida totem poles.
Today, take a walk, boat, or bike on the wild side. Rent a bike and head to the Alaska Raptor Center and watch injured birds relearn to fly, then on to the Fortress of the Bear (open by appointment) to learn about their orphaned bears, and to the Sitka Sound Science Center for an introduction to Southeast Alaska’s marine life. In the afternoon, take a half-day boat trip to look for whales and other marine wildlife (or do some serious saltwater fishing) and perhaps stop for a soak in Goddard Hot Springs, which is only accessible by boat or float plane.
Take the early morning flight to Juneau, then continue by small plane or ferry to Haines.
Start your visit with a walking tour of the city, originally called ‘the end of the trail’ by the Chilkat People. While the Jilkaat Kwan Heritage Center is currently closed, you can make an appointment to visit the Haines Sheldon Museum to learn about local history and culture. Each fall, Haines hosts a Bald Eagle Festival, so make your way to the American Bald Eagle Foundation to learn about our national bird and how the area’s ecosystem supports the largest concentration of bald eagles in the United States. End your exploration at the old Ft. Seward National Historic Site. The century-old buildings of Alaska’s first permanent Army post are now hotels, shops, and private residences. Stop by and pick up a tasty beverage at a local brewery or distillery.
Overnight in Haines.
Break out your camera and binoculars! You have three options for your final day in Southeast: take a raft trip (or combo hike/raft trip) down the Chilkat River to see stunning views of Chilkat Inlet and bears, moose, and other wildlife; drive up the Haines Highway, one of Alaska’s official scenic byways, to the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve and stop in one of the highway’s many riverside pullouts for a picnic lunch with some of the more than 3,500 bald eagles who congregate in the area each fall to feed on plentiful salmon; or rent a kayak to paddle Lynn Canal and experience the Chilkat Peninsula’s varied shoreline as you look for whales, otters, and sea lions.
Overnight in Haines before heading home via Juneau.