Located on Revillagigedo Island and surrounded by the Tongass National Forest, sits the city of Ketchikan, the southernmost entrance to Alaska’s famed Inside Passage and the “Salmon Capitol of the World”. As we walked on to our cruise ship’s deck, we were greeted by the most picturesque Alaskan city, and we all knew despite being sleep-deprived from a week full of adventures we would thoroughly enjoy exploring our last port call by sea and by land.
Our first method of transportation, sea. We boarded our tour boat and cruised through the Tongass Narrows and on up glacier-carved George Inlet. We saw beautiful waterfalls, lush greenery, and the vast changes that occur with the tides in this region of the world. Despite the pretty much constant drizzle, we enjoyed the sights this area of the region had to offer.
We made it to our final destination of the “by sea” portion of our adventure, the George Inlet Cannery. Opened in 1914, this now inactive old historic Libby Cannery once played a major part to the economy of Ketchikan. We strolled through the old cannery, and even got to see a demonstration of how the machinery operated thanks to an old fisherman’s hobby of collecting cannery equipment. An odd hobby, but it definitely provided a great glimpse of history for us tourists.
After our tour we got to sample some amazingly fresh and delicious salmon before loading the bus for our next destination, Saxman. Saxman Native Village, located just outside of Ketchikan, was established in 1894 by Samuel Saxman, a teacher. It is home to the largest collection of standing totem poles. The art on the totem poles is very intricate. The village also includes a clan house and walking paths through the forest.
Off Young Bay along the Gastineau Channel you can find the second largest city in the United States by area and the capital of Alaska, Juneau. Fun fact: Juneau has a land area that is almost as large as Rhode Island and Delaware combined, but despite it’s size Juneau can only be accessed by sea or by air.
As we departed our ship and boarded the bus to our excursion for the day, we were greeted by what the locals call “blue clouds”, or the sky peeking through the cloud coverage, as the city normally experiences 200+ days of precipitation a year. We were excited to not be greeted by sheets of rain, because we were going to see the Mendenhall Glacier and go whale watching!
Our bus pulled up to the Mendenhall Glacier visitor center, and as we headed inside we got the chance to learn all about the glacier and the Juneau Icefield, the fifth largest icefield in North America. Then we headed outside to see the 12 mile long glacier.
After wandering around the path along Mendenhall Lake examining the glacier, we loaded back on our tour bus to head to our next location to go whale watching. Now, normally on these excursions one or two whales will be spotted, but both of our naturalists said we got to see something very rare.
We witnessed about 15 different humpbacks, including Sasha the AK whale! We even saw three groups of two whales, which our naturalists said was pretty cool since humpbacks rarely travel or feed in groups.
We trolled around just watching them dive and feed. It was a pretty cool experience, and one that has not been easily forgotten!
Skagway, Alaska. Year round population is approximately 900 give or take. Despite its small size, this city made a name for itself as the “Gateway to the Yukon” during the Yukon Gold Rush when gold was discovered in the Klondike River, 600 miles north of Skagway.
Out of the Gold Rush came an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, and our first excursion in this city, the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad. As we boarded “The Scenic Railway of the World”, we were filled with anticipation of the sights we were going to see, including the Klondike Trail of ‘98.
As we pulled away from the docks, we were provided with background information on Skagway and the men who found the gold in the Klondike. As we started our 2,885-foot climb to the summit of White Pass, we couldn’t get over the beauty of everything. The mountains, glaciers, gorges, and waterfalls were spectacular, and the original trestle bridges alone are a marvel of civil engineering.
We stopped at the summit, which is at the boarder of the US and Canada, and rolled our way across the boarder. Making it my first time into Canada, but not my last! We then turned our seats around and started our descent. I highly recommend you take a ride on one of the routes offered by White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad if you are ever in Skagway. It is definitely a one of a kind way to see the beauty of Alaska and this trail that was a part of America’s and Canada’s history. You can even check a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark off your bucket list!
After our train ride, we wandered around Skagway, did a little souvenir shopping, and grabbed a quick lunch at Skagway Fish Company, a great little local joint, before we headed off to our second excursion of the day: a Backcountry Jeep Safari to Carcross, Yukon! But that’s a story for another day.
In early June of 2012, my family cruised The Last Frontier (aka Alaska). The trip was to celebrate my brother’s 21st birthday, my MBA graduation, and my parents 30th wedding anniversary. This trip was our third cruise to take as a family and was by far the best cruise we have ever taken. We still talk about it to this day.
Our first introduction to the rugged beauty of Alaska’s Inside Passage took place on our first “Fun Day at Sea”. My parents decided to splurge and purchase tickets to take a tour to explore the Tracy Arm Fjord. Hands down, one of the top experiences of my life, and it was the best way to kick-off this trip! I definitely recommend you take this excursion if given the chance!
This tour meanders along the 30-mile fjord with majestic cliffs rising along either side. It was absolutely breath-taking! You see majestic waterfalls, hanging glaciers, bald eagles, sea lions, bears, and more! We spotted our first humpback whale while on this excursion. Shout-out to my mom for spotting it!
The excursion ends with an up-close view of Sawyer Glacier. It definitely makes you feel small standing next to something of this size. We even got to see the glacier calf, which is very rare. Calving is when sections of the glaciers fall off thus forming brand new icebergs. The naturalist on board said the chunk we saw calf was the size of a small house! It looked so tiny compared to the whole glacier, but it definitely put into perspective the size of Sawyer Glacier!