For most people, their first introduction to Alaska includes a cruise through the Inside Passage, with stops most often in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway. Icy Straight, Haines and Sitka are occasional replacements for one of the "big 3", as I call them.
Each of these stops offer unique experiences that highlight the best things about Alaska: Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, salmon fishing and the 14,000 totem poles in Ketchikan, Russian history in Sitka, bears in Icy Straight and exploring the Yukon from Skagway. These are just a few examples of special memories that are created in the Last Frontier.
While I often recommend these cruises, I also point out that when 3-5 ships are in port at the same time, especially during the peak summer months, it does get crowded.
And thus it would be remiss of me not to mention the quieter ports of call.
There is a saying that some of the best gifts come in small packages, and this certainly holds true for both the smaller ports and the smaller ships that take you there.
Smaller ships, those under 1000 passengers, are more nimble and sail into areas big ships just can't get to. The even smaller adventure ships, under 100 passengers, take you further off the beaten path, to remote scenic spots, areas experienced by only a few. And with their flexible schedules (unlike bigger ships that have exact itineraries), no two adventures are exactly the same. Surprises await, largely based on what Mother Nature is doing that day.
Imagine, a king crab feast on a remote beach, sailing into (versus flying over) Misty Fjord National Monument Wilderness area, hiking in a pristine rain forest, kayaking near glaciers. All of this is part of a small ship experience.
So what are some of the quieter ports these ships call on?
The small adventure cruises have been visiting Sitka for quite some time, a wonderful community where culture and wilderness come together. Sitka offers a rich blend of Russian and native history, combined with exceptional wilderness and wildlife experiences. Sitka is located on Baranof Island, on the outer coast of the Inside Passage.
Petersburg is just over 100 miles south of Juneau. Home to 3000 residents, it largely focuses on the fishing industry. Petersburg is located on Frederick Sound, the summer feeding ground of hundreds of humpback whales. Another draw to the area is Leconte Glacier Bay, North America's southernmost tidewater glacier. Only 15 miles from Petersburg, here you'll find all shapes and sizes of bergs. - a popular kayaking area.
Wrangell is a playground for those seeking wildlife, glaciers, adventure and just plain fun - thus the draw for small ship cruises. Wrangell is located on the Stikine River, a designated wilderness area that attracts black and brown bears due to the plentiful salmon.
Kake is located on the northwest side of Kupreanof Island (west of Petersburg). Kake is the site of a 128 foot totem pole, one of the world's largest.
Places with no ports per se
Whether its to quietly watch humpback and orcas, take in the mesmerizing scenery, kayak off the back of the ship in a remote fjord, hop on a skiff to explore the coastline or get dropped off for a hike, the Inside Passage, with all its straights, islands and fjords, provides plenty of scenic areas to simply drop anchor. Glacier Bay, Chichagof Island, Tongass National Forest, Chatham Straight, Misty Fjords National Monument Wilderness area - so many places to the see the quieter side of Alaska.
Ready to explore the quieter side of Alaska?
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Laurie Marschall - Owner and Founder