Some of the best memories and photos from a cruise happen off the ship during your shore excursions. Here are a few of my favorite ports of call for Alaska cruises.
Every cruise line stops in Juneau, the capital of Alaska, with very few exceptions. You may have a standard image of a state capital in your mind – toss it out. This city is like no other capital in the US. For starters, you can only reach it by ship or plane. No roads lead to Juneau. Once there, the main attractions will involve some sort of frozen fun.
Take a helicopter ride and walk on a glacier. Hop on another flightseeing tour and scoot over the ice in a dog sled at local musher’s camp. For the adventurous, take a sea kayak in Smuggler’s Cove, an airboat to view Mendenhall, or zipline the canopy. Also, no trip to Alaska is complete without bear watching. There are several tour options (with a float plane, helicopter, or ground vehicle ride) that will place you at observation points around the city.
For the safety of your group and the wildlife, never wander alone into the Alaskan wilderness. Finally, go mining at Gold Creek, attend a salmon bake dinner, or visit the museums and rainforest gardens in this most scenic of state capitals.
If you pass on the glaciers and sled dog adventures in Juneau, you can catch them in Skagway as well. Otherwise, consider riding one of the scenic railways for a tour of the White Pass and beyond. This is one of the two main routes used by fortune-seekers during the Klondike Gold Rush. It’s also called “Dead Horse Trail”; you’ll see why when you experience the elevations!
After you return to town, take the time to visit several of the small museums scattered about the area. All are within walking distance and feature different aspects of this frontier town from saloons, art, shootouts, outlaws, and brothels. It’s the Wild West with soaring summits, glaciers, and salmon.
Shore excursions in Ketchikan will envelope you with cultural and historic richness that can only be found in Alaska. My travel preference to get an overview of a new location is to take a guided tour. Then, you can wander about on your own; re-visiting the most interesting points at a deeper level.
Check out the heritage and discovery centers, as well as museums. They have vast information and displays on native cultures and historic events. Walk along Creek Street; stop at Totem Bight State Historical Park; tour Saxman Native Village; and make a pic at Chief Johnson Totem Pole. To stretch your legs, the Rainbird Trail is your destination. Unlike many locations in Alaska, it is easily accessible on foot and located fairly close to the cruise ship terminals. Here you can have a sense of the frontier wilderness (without getting the attention of bears), and enjoy views of neighboring islands. Insider hint: sunsets on this trail are worth the wait.
Angela is a professional freelance travel writer and published indie author – AngelaMinor.com