More than a million tourists visit Alaska every year; many of them via luxury cruise liners. In between the fun and food, nearly all of them are hoping for an exciting shore excursion. From its beautiful glaciers to enduring and remarkable wildlife, the United States’ most northern state offers much to those in search of wonder. If you’re planning on cruising Alaska, put these unforgettable extras on your cruise itinerary.
5 Shore Stops worth making during a cruise through Alaska:
The Valley of the Eagles
Oceania Cruises offers shore excursions in Haines, where you will find one of the most stunning offerings in all of Alaska. Roughly half of the entire world’s eagle population resides in the state, but Alaska’s Valley of the Eagles hosts the largest gathering of these solitary creatures. It’s marked every November by the Alaska Bald Eagle Festival when over 3,500 eagles make their way to the Haines area to mate.
The Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary
A 40-acre sanctuary, this reserve is a wilderness and nature lover’s paradise. Covered in stands of spruce, hemlock, alder and cedar that tower over a rainforest floor of moss, berries and wildflowers, the sanctuary is a haven for many of Alaska’s most wild things. Guests can interact with a herd of reindeer on-site before watching a native totem-pole carver at work and visit an old and fully restored sawmill. Eagle Creek, a stream that is full of salmon when spawning time comes, runs through the sanctuary. Mink, wolves and black bear also find their way onto the sanctuaries grounds from time to time.
Hike The Tongass National Forest
Tongass National Forest has over 700 miles of well-maintained trails across its 17 million acres, and those hiking trails vary enough to accommodate almost any hiker, regardless of age or ability. Established in 1902 by President Teddy Roosevelt, Tongass is the United States’ largest national forest. To this day, around 75,000 people of three Alaska Native nations depend on its land for their way of life. 31 separate communities exist in its borders. In fact, Juneau — the state’s capital — is inside Tongass, but the sights and sounds of Tongass are what make the hiking so spectacular. Its streams and rivers house five different species of salmon. Brown and black bears, bald eagles, the Arctic tern, wolves and more all call the forest their home. The forest is mostly Western redcedar, Sitka spruce and Western hemlock. It is the planet’s largest remaining temperate rainforest. Because the land here is wet for most of the year, pack waterproof boots and raingear.
One of the most enjoyable and unique shore excursions an Alaska cruiser can do is sea kayaking. From humpback whales and porpoises to sea otters and salmon-snatching bears, Alaska’s wild creatures are more easily and more enjoyably seen from a sea kayak. If you’ve never kayaked before, don’t worry! The guides that accompany you on a sea kayak shore excursion are extremely knowledgeable and friendly, and they will give you expert instruction before you venture out along the shoreline to enjoy Alaska’s remarkable unspoiled beauty from a completely unique viewpoint.
Ketchikan’s Saxman Totem Village
Ketchikan is a fishing and logging town developed according to what it is: part of the town sits atop fill and pilings that have been built up in the water, and the rest of it winds into the Alaskan hillside and forest. Somehow still maintaining itself as a community apart from the tourists who visit it each year, Ketchikan is also home to the Saxman Totem Village, which is a totem park that has 29 authentic totems carved by Tlingit and Haida natives. Moved from their original sites in the 1930s, the totem poles have been completely restored by native carvers. Guides for these shore excursions give excellent insight into the practices and meanings of the poles. For the shore excursioner who wants to learn more about Alaska’s rich cultural history, the Saxman Totem Village is a must.
From calving glaciers to the Northern Lights, an Alaskan cruise offers sights and sounds unlike any other. Make your time even more memorable by heading ashore to experience a wilderness and culture unlike any other in the country.
About the Author: Carrie Meeks is a contributing writer whose favorite places to travel are in the good, old U.S.A.