THEInside Passage is a natural channel that crosses the set of islands, fjords and inlets along the southeastern coast of Alaska. However, the term is usually extended to also classify the entire mainland, both the mainland coast and the islands, which surrounds this maritime passage. In this article, speaking of Inside Passage, I will therefore refer in general terms to the entire Southeast Alaskan region, enclosed between the Pacific Ocean and the Canadian state of British Columbia.
- How to reach us
- What to see in the Inside Passage
- The cities of the Inside Passage
- The natural attractions of the Inside Passage
How to reach us
There are various ways to reach the Southeast region and the various points of interest that the Inside Passage has to offer to a visitor. It all depends on which cities or natural attractions you intend to include in your itinerary. But let's start from an assumption: roads are scarce, so the car is the least used vehicle and definitely not recommended for a trip to this region. The only city I recommend you to reach by car, if you plan an itinerary starting from Canada, is Skagway. For all other destinations, plane and ship are the two alternatives to choose from.
- air: it is the fastest way to move between the different towns of the region. If you travel by plane, it is likely that the most convenient flights in terms of timetables and prices are those that arrive in the capital Juneau, well connected to the rest of Alaska and to other airports in the USA and Canada. From Juneau, short-haul flights to other airports in the south-east are frequent and fast.
- Nave: it is the best way to visit this region. It's true: the plane is much faster, but navigating these waters allows you to admire what many define as the most evocative coastal landscapes in North America. Millions of tourists every year choose this means of transport, moving above all on board large cruise ships, but there is the possibility of organizing a trip by sea independently, taking advantage of the capillary lines of theAlaska Marine Highway System. In addition, if you depart from Washington State or British Columbia, Washington State Ferries and British Columbia Ferry are two other ferry companies that allow you to reach some ports of the Inside Passage.
Considering the sometimes considerable distances between one port and another, my advice is to integrate maritime transport with air transport. Traveling by sea for the shorter routes (and to reach destinations without an airport) and by air for the longer ones, can help you organize a trip that is both comfortable and suggestive.
Otherwise you can always consider the possibility of opting for some cruises, you can choose the best ones by clicking on the link below.
Look for a cruise on the Inside Passage
What to see in the Inside Passage
We are talking about one of the most beautiful regions in the state, where sea and mountains merge using fjords and glaciers as glue. Only 70.000 people live here, but the small seaside towns in which they reside are among the most visited in all of Alaska. Dominating this wild realm is there Tongass National Forest: the largest national forest in the United States, covering nearly 80% of the region. A rainforest where hundreds of animal species still live unaware of the presence of man.
The cities of the Inside Passage
Although the population of southeastern Alaskan is very small, it is distributed in various small villages, each of which is worthy of interest. Let's go and discover them by following the Inside Passage route from south to north, the direction you will follow if you embark, as is more likely, in Seattle or Vancouver.
It is one of the most visited destinations, not only for the convenience of reaching it (as well as being the first stop for ferries, it also has one of the main airports in the region). Ketchikan is the salmon capital of the world and the home base for visiting the spectacular Misty Fiords. You can find out more on the page dedicated to what to see in Ketchikan.
Compared to other settlements, which have become a tourist magnet today, Wrangell has preserved the traditional life of the locals more. It also has a feature that differentiates it from all other Alaska cities: it is the only one to have been ruled by 4 sovereign powers, namely Tlingit, Russian, British and US. Local history can be explored in the Wrangell Museum, but if you are looking above all for the traditions of the natives, you can reach the island on foot (via a footbridge) Chief Shakes Island, where totems and tranquility reign.
Even older than the Tlingit artifacts are the petroglyphs found on the island's beaches, which are around 8000 years old. The origins of the rock carvings are unclear, but you can see them at Petroglyph Beach State Historic Site. Trekking enthusiasts will not be disappointed by the city's surroundings: Wrangell Island is almost entirely immersed in the rainforest and is full of trails. I suggest the Rainbow Falls Trail, suitable for everyone, leading to the 30,5m high Rainbow Falls.
Even lovers of fishing and large mammals will find satisfaction in Wrangell: theAnan Creek it is the richest salmon stream in the whole of the south-east and therefore attracts many brown bears, baribals and other animals. All 'Anan Wildlife Observatory bears can be observed without danger. The glacier LeConte Glacier and the river Stikine River they are among the main attractions for tourists looking for natural beauty.
Given the Russian past of Alaska, one might think that even Petersburg (easily associated with the famous St. Petersburg), carries this heritage. Instead, it was founded by a Norwegian immigrant, Peter Buschmann, who built some buildings here, attracting more and more Scandinavian immigrants during the nineteenth century, until the town received the nickname of Little Norway. Even today, every year, the third weekend of May, the Little Norway Festival, where you dress up as Vikings and have a great feast of fish while drinking from the horns.
Fishing is the main activity of the city and it is one of the best places to eat fresh fish at a not too high price. Among the main points of interest is the Sons of Norway Hall, a pile-dwelling complex on the Hammer Slough marsh, where each house is decorated with rosemaling (the floral decoration that became famous in Norway in the eighteenth century). Don't miss the Clausen Memorial Museum: among the artifacts of the native Tlingit, stands a stuffed salmon so large as to inspire fear (57,4 kg), considered among the largest ever caught in the world.
The natural feature of the Mitkof island, on which the town is located, are the mossy marshes, where numerous species of water birds live. The Blind Slough Swan Observatory it is the ideal place to observe the friendly migratory trumpet swans (in summer and autumn).
The first capital of Alaska, when the state was still under Russian rule, it keeps its traditions alive and is therefore one of the most unusual places to visit in an American state. Find out more in our article dedicated to what to see in Sitka.
The Alaskan capital is an essential stop on a journey along the Inside Passage. Not only for the central role of the city, but also and above all because, being in the center of the coastal archipelago, it is the ideal starting point for numerous excursions. In our dedicated article you can read what to see in Juneau and which tours are available in the surrounding area.
It is one of the less visited cities of the Inside Passage and this makes it more authentic than other places that are instead falling prey to mass tourism. At the same time it is one of the few reachable by car from Canada and the rest of Alaska. This is where you need to go if you want to get a taste of authentic Alaska, that of old days. Start your visit from Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center, a collection of 3000 items ranging from indigenous artifacts to Chinese trunks. It was created by one of the first inhabitants of Haines, Steve Sheldon, who began collecting objects at the age of 8 and continued throughout his life.
THEAlaska Indian Arts and Chilkat Center for the Arts are other places to admire indigenous art masterpieces. But the most particular museum of the city is theHammer museum: a collection of over 1400 hammers, each with its own history and use. About 50km north of the city you can visit the nature reserve Kroschel Wildlife Center, home to bears, wolves and many other animals.
Even more interesting, however, is theAlaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve: a reserve of 19 thousand hectares where over 3000 eagles gather every year in the areas called, not surprisingly, Valley of the Eagles e Eagle Council Grounds. The birds of prey spend the winter here because a hot spring greatly prolongs the migration of the salmon, which become easy prey for the eagles.
The last stage is also one of the main ones from a tourist point of view. This tiny village of less than 2000 souls is the gateway to the Klondike gold mines. On the page dedicated to what to see in Skagway you can find more information about it.
The natural attractions of the Inside Passage
The towns bordering the Inside Passage are worth a visit, but what makes Southeast Alaska unique is its pristine nature. Tongass Forest covers most of the islands and the thin coastline that separates the Inside Passage from the Canadian border. The vast wooded areas are interrupted by some of the greatest natural wonders Alaska has to offer, starting with the majestic glaciers. As I did for the cities, also in this case I will list the main naturalistic attractions starting from the south.
The misty fjords are one of the most evocative and mysterious places in the state. Not far from the southern border of the state, they are easily accessible from Ketchikan. On the dedicated page you will find more information on the tours available to visit this spectacular area of Alaska.
Prince of Wales Island
One of the largest islands in the United States along with Kodiak Island and Big Island in Hawaii. If your Alaska trip focuses on the Southeast and you love the trekking in the uncontaminated nature, this is the destination for you. The island contains the largest number of roads in the whole region which, in addition to connecting the various villages that dot its coasts, allow you to reach the innermost areas, from which numerous paths branch off. It is also one of the best places to stay rent a kayak to admire the rocky cliffs from the sea and have a good chance of running into some whales.
This island, halfway between Sitka and Juneau, is one of the best places in the world to see bears in the wild. In fact, here there is the highest density of brown bears in the whole United States, to give you an idea think that the ratio between these animals and the local inhabitants is 3 to 1. Bears are not the only attraction on the island : their survival is guaranteed by the fact that many other animals find their habitat here, thus creating a unique and complete ecosystem.
Very close to the capital of Alaska and easily accessible from here, it is one of the most visited glaciers in the state. On the page dedicated to what to see in Juenau you will find more information on the various ways and organized tours you will have to visit this majestic glacier.
Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve
To separate the southeast from the rest of Alaska is Glacier Bay: a complex system of glaciers that all overlook the same large bay over 100km long and which continues to widen today due to the melting of the ice. We have placed it in the Top 10 of the must-see places in alaska because it really has something unique. If we consider it as a single park together with the neighboring nature reserves (il Wrangell-St.Elias and the Canadians Kluane National Park e Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park) would be the largest protected area in the world.
The most beautiful glaciers are the Reid Glacier, Lamplugh Glacier and Margerie Glacier. Every day fragments of ice and large icebergs break away from the glaciers and end up in the sea: a spectacle that leaves visitors breathless who go to the bay with the boats of the organized tours. For visits to Glacier Bay the reference point is Gustavus, reachable by plane or ferry: tours by sea and small airplanes flying over the glaciers depart from here.
The Inside Passage is also one of the best places in the world to spot whales. Boat or kayak tours depart from all the main towns in the region to spot the large cetaceans, which flock to these inlets especially in summer and autumn, when the waters are richer in plankton. Here are some excursions you can consider if you want to spot these huge cetaceans.
- Whale Watching Cruise and Kayaking Excursion from Juneau
- Three-hour cruise from Juneau
- Whale Watching and Ketchikan Sightseeing Tour
It is difficult to recommend hotels in which to stay overnight with an entire region in range. What I recommend is to stay overnight in those cities that are located in strategic points to reach the best attractions of the region. Ketchikan, Juneau and Sitka are certainly among those to be favored, and in the articles that we have dedicated on the site to these destinations you will be able to find advice on accommodation.
For a list of all the hotels available in these locations you can take a look at the links below.
- Where sleeping in Ketchikan
- Where sleeping in Juenau
- Where to sleep in Sitka