When to go – April to October
Alaska is often referred to as America’s last frontier, as the 49th state remains largely untouched by humans. Due to the cold winters, Alaskan cruises typically only take place from the end of April to the beginning of October, but you’ll be left breathless by what you’ll discover in this snow-covered and rugged landscape.
Popular Alaskan ports include the capital city Juneau – the only U.S state capital that’s not accessible by car and where you can watch brown bears in their natural habitat. Alternatively, enjoy a stop in Anchorage where popular excursions include exhilarating dogsled rides and flights over stunning glaciers. Or simply stay on board to soak up the beauty of the Hubbard Glacier – six miles wide, 76 miles long and 40 stories high!
Another popular option is to visit the rainforests of Alaska, which are eight miles from the port of Ketchikan. The 40 acre forest is home to bald eagles, black bears, seals and much more. If you’re feeling brave you can even have a go at zip-lining over the rainforest canopy! And if all that sounds too much like hard work, you can always sit back and watch nature’s most spectacular light show – the Aurora Borealis for a truly memorable trip.
Peak season runs from late May to early September, while the shoulder season runs from May to early June, and late August to September.
Juneau is surrounded by towering mountains and the waters of the Gastineau Channel, and with no roads leading in or out of the town, it is one of the US’ most unusual state capitals.
Whale-watching trips, zip-lining, the Capitol building and the Alaskan Brewing Co are all big draws but perhaps the highlight is the Alaska State Museum which features a range of exhibits focusing on the human and natural history of the state.
The Juneau Icefield, home to the 13-mile long Mendenhall Glacier which ends at Mendenhall Lake is also worth exploring. The glacier is easily viewed from the Forest Service’s historic visitor centre.
Sitting on Baranof Island in the Pacific Ocean, Sitka is an incredibly striking city with views across the Sitka Sound and its many forested islands as well as the extinct Mt Edgecumbe volcano.
The city’s picturesque quality owes much to its Russian heritage which is beautifully remembered in the collections of art and religious treasures on show in the St Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral.
Much of the city’s cultural centres and sites lie on Lincoln Street, or just off it, including the Sheldon Jackson Museum. The museum is home to a fascinating collection of indigenous Alaskan artefacts, including boats, sleds and masks as well as hunting tools.
At the end of Lincoln Street, you’ll find Alaska’s smallest national park – the Sitka National Historical Park. The site is famous as the place where the native Tlingit Indians were defeated by the Russians in 1804, and the outline of their fort is still present. The mile-long Totem Trail leads you past 18 totems displayed at the 1904 Louisiana Exposition and is well worth wondering.
Misty Ketchikan, known for many years as the “Salmon Capital of the World” offers plenty of superb outdoor activities as well as fascinating cultural sites and curios.
Kayaking in the nearby Misty Fjords National Monument is likely to be the highlight if you’re an outdoorsmen but it has strong competition from hikes up nearby Deer Mountain which overlooks the beautiful town.
Creek Street, a boardwalk built over Ketchikan Creek is a brilliant place to spend an afternoon. Home to restaurants, unique curio shops and the Dolly’s House Museum it is also the start of the Married Man’s Trail and the Salmon Ladder.
The Southeast Alaska Discovery Center offers a unique insight into the natural and cultural history of the surrounding Tongass National Forest. The lush rainforest is home to a model native fishing village and visitors can learn how the forest sustains local communities today.