Alaska Inside Passage

Alaska’s Inside Passage

Alaska, United States of America

“I see something new every day that I go out in my boat and nature never fails to surprise me and fill me with joy”, a fisherman in Ketchikan said after three bald eagles flew across the bay, majestic, and clearly after a fish meal. Boats are the main way of getting about in South Eastern Alaska, as there are few roads in this wilderness and kingdom of glaciers and ice.

This is a journey to keep your eyes peeled for wildlife and where the beauty of Alaska will stay with you forever. Whales rule the ocean here and an impromptu display of a humpback tail as it breeches the ocean is why many people choose to come to the Inside Passage to see the wonders of the natural world.

Unlike the sea in the north of the region, the Inside Passage is sheltered and usually a pleasant and smooth journey. Many people choose to take a cruise, with a number of companies offering tours of the Alaskan Coast, and there is also a less expensive choice of taking the local ferry from Seattle up to Juneau. Flights are also available, but traveling by boat is a great way to see Glacier Bay and the whales. This is a 1000 mile journey through the narrow strip of coast and islands that make up the Inside Passage. This passage was once covered in ice, but the glaciers are slowly receding and the environmental fragility of this region is clear. For miles there are endless forests, dramatic fjords, and deserted beaches—here and there a canoe—and suddenly a dot in the distance as one or two people can be seen near a lone dwelling. Very few people live in Alaska all year round, with many returning to the “lower 48” for winter. The best time to visit is from May to September.

Many people visiting the Inside Passage stop off at Juneau, Alaska’s capital. A small town, it is best known for the magnificent Mendenhall Glacier, which is just outside Juneau. With lots of walks in the area, it is worth spending some time to explore the tracks beyond the viewing points. Skagway, along the coast, is best known for its connections with the Gold Rush, and the Whitehorse Pass Railway is worth a visit for some spectacular views across the mountains and the harbour itself—and a lucky few may even see bears. One hundred thousand people travelled up the Inside Passage to Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush and just 112 people actually found any gold at all. This makes the train ride up the Whitehorse Pass more poignant, as many men walked up using mules in search of gold, several never returning. At Ketchikan, many people visit the nearby totem poles, and there are also opportunities to go out with a fishing crew and see how fish are caught in Alaska. You may also see seals, eagles, and whatever happens to be in the area on the day. The town of Sitka retains its Russian charms and connections and is less touristy than those frequented by tour boats. Whale watching trips are available from most areas or you can test your luck by watching out on your journey up the Inside Passage.

In the far north of the Inside Passage lies Glacier Bay, which is a national park and was once a solid pack of ice. Entering via Gustavus, the Bay opens into inlets and a range of glaciers sweeping down to the sea. A pale blue ocean ahead, the stillness and only the sound of the ship’s motors are the striking thing about Glacier Bay. Depending on weather conditions and the state of the glaciers calving, the ships will get as close as possible to the glaciers themselves. Ice floats by and here and there a hiss and splash as a piece breaks off and falls into the sea. The Marjorie Glacier and John Hopkins Glaciers are the most well known here and are spectacular feats of nature. This is a place to bring a camera and one to simply stand and stare and consider how small man is in relation to the might of nature.

The Inside Passage has some dramatic fjords and stunning scenery set against snow capped mountains. At Midsummer the sun doesn’t set, creating a pinky glow to the sea and mountain scenery. This is a water journey to take and experience the wonders of nature, be it a humpback whale’s impromptu entrance or the might of the glaciers and the welcome of the locals.

(Image by Flickr user : Rennett Stowe)

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