Alaska cruise highlights

The most popular small ship cruise in Alaska travels around the Alexander Archipelago in the south, during the summer. Here, you can go hiking in Tongass National Forest, exploring the caves; snorkel around Prince of Wales Island; watch bears on Admiralty Island and spot whales in the famous Stephens Passage. This is all part of the larger channel that stretches down this Northern Pacific coast known as the Inside Passage. Some cruises also take you further south to natural nirvanas such as Misty Fjords National Monument and the historic Wrangell Island.
Admiralty Island

1. Admiralty Island

One of Alaska’s ABC Islands (Admiralty, Baranof and Chichagof) it is almost fully protected by the Admiralty Island National Monument wilderness designation. This wild habitat is particularly favourable to brown bears, with the highest concentration in North America. Check out Anan Creek where there is a viewing stand for watching bear pounce on salmon, as well as a photographers’ viewing blind at water level.
Glacier Bay National Park

2. Glacier Bay National Park

Glacier Bay is a natural artery taking you to the national park’s heart. Travel on a small ship owned by indigenous Tlingit people to see the Fairweather Mountains, icebergs, calving glaciers and a plethora of wildlife. There are plenty of giant cruisers here too, but trust the Tlingit to seek out secret spots. Most boats come here for a day; we have cruises that spend three in these western coves alone.

3. Haines

Haines is a little bit of Alaskan heaven, located under snowcapped peaks which proffer superb walking and cycling trails as well as river rafting. It is both quaint and quirky and, thankfully, not deluged by thousands of giant cruise ship passengers. Its history is, like so much of Alaska, fascinating. From military outpost to gold rush town, the indigenous Tlingit call it End of the Trail. Which, for some cruises, it is.

4. Juneau

Juneau is Alaska’s capital and the main port for vessels heading off into the Inner Reaches and Eastern Coves. It is quaint city which is easy to get around with plenty of spots to learn about its fascinating history, including The State Museum and the Russian Orthodox Church. Take the tramway/cable car up to Mount Roberts that overlooks the city, then have a beer at the Alaskan Brewery.
Kuiu & Kupreanof Islands

5. Kuiu & Kupreanof Islands

Two of the large islands within the Alexander Archipelago. Small boats navigate around their coves, small harbours and Tlingit homes, such as at the village of Kake on Kupreanof. Kupreanof is also part of the Tongass National Forest. On Kuiu, Saginaw Bay is a top spot for marine fossil hunting. Petersburg, a fishing village on nearby Mitkof Island, is also a fascinating stop for its Norwegian heritage.
Misty Fjords National Monument

6. Misty Fjords National Monument

The USA’s designated national monuments are like national parks, but with different small print. This wonder is sometimes called ‘Yosemite of the North’, with glacial valleys instead of canyons, 900m cliffs that rival the dramatic granite rock faces of Yosemite, as well as black and brown bears. Sea kayak around its shores and be ready to take lots of deep breaths: this is heart stoppingly beautiful.
Prince of Wales Island

7. Prince of Wales Island

Take on one of many hiking trails on this wild idyll, one of the largest islands in the country at  217x72 km. Alaska does big and beautiful, as you will see in these wildlife filled, forested landscapes that wrap around coves, lakes and straits. With much of it karst limestone, there are over 850 grottos and caves, the most famous being El Capitan, one of the largest in the Americas.

8. Sitka

A fascinating small city on Baranof Island. The indigenous population is Tlingit, but it was also capital of Alaska under Russian rule. Visit Sitka National Historical Park and, at sea, explore Sitka and Hoonah Sounds, where the shores are home to sea otters, bears, whales and superb birdlife. The east of Baranof is packed with beauty spots, as is nearby Chichagof Island, with kayaking in Tenakee Inlet a must do.
Tlingit culture

9. Tlingit culture

The name of these indigenous inhabitants of the Alexander Archipelago translates as ‘People of the Tides’. You may be lucky enough to travel on a boat owned by a Tlingit community, as these people have temperate rainforests, coves and wildlife habitats mapped on their souls. Don’t miss their Kik-setti Totem Park in Wrangell. Some boats invite Tlingit people to give lectures and storytelling sessions onboard.
Tongass National Forest

10. Tongass National Forest

Cruise through the Tongass Narrows to reveal the largest national forest in the USA, spreading over mainland and islands. Kayak or paddle board around its shores to gain perspective on this temperate rainforest, with a vast canopy of hemlock, spruce and cedar. Prince of Wales Island is a wonderful place to explore the forest, albeit just a tiny bit though, given that it covers 69,000 km2 – about the size of Ireland.
Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness

11. Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness

If you think that the name of this alone is somewhat overpowering, just wait until you see the real thing. A protected wilderness area, its main features are Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm, two narrow fjords with sheer granite sides, calving glaciers, plunging waterfalls and ice floes. It is home to bears, deer and superb birdlife and scenery that can move you to tears.
Whales in Stephens Passage

12. Whales in Stephens Passage

Stretching along the southeast coast for 170km, the Passage touches the shores of Admiralty and Douglas Islands, as well as the mainland as far down as Frederick Sound. This dramatic, mountainous seascape also has the largest concentration of humpback whales in the northern hemisphere during summer feeding season. Orca, porpoise, Steller sea lions and shoreline foraging bears also make regular appearances.

13. Wrangell

Wrangell is one of the oldest towns in Alaska on Wrangell Island in the Alexander Archipelago and, like many of these remote outposts, has been occupied by Russians and British in the past, but is now home to a small indigenous population. In fact, it is the only Alaskan city to have been governed by four nations, and it is a wonderful place to learn about the region’s Tlingit and Haida cultures.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Alaska cruising or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Elaine] [Top of the page : C Watts ] [Admiralty Island: USDA Forest Service Alaska Region] [Glacier Bay National Park - seals : Mark Byzewski] [Haines : LCGS Russ] [Juneau : mark byzewski] [Kuiu & Kupreanof Islands: USDA Forest Service Alaska Region] [Misty Fjords National Monument: mark byzewski] [Sitka: Sitka National Historical Park ] [or: Sitka National Historical Park] [Tlingit culture - wooden statue : Jeremy Keith] [OR This one - wooden staute : Roy Luck ] [Tongass National Forest: USDA Forest Service Alaska Region] [Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness: Ian D. Keating] [Whales in Stephens Passage: G. Frank Peterson] [Wrangell: BeringStrait ]