Southeast Alaska/Inside Passage
See glaciers, whales and a capital city
Do you crave watching glaciers tower over the water? Or do you prefer seeing whales breach, propelling their 40-ton bodies into the sky? You can experience all of this by visiting the southeast Alaska, where the Inside Passage awaits.
Southeast Alaska is a region of the 49th state you may never have heard about. However, you most assuredly have seen images of its stunning landscapes. In the southeast, you'll find humpback whales, the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and the Edgecumbe Volcano. In the southeast, you'll also find towns like Skagway, Sitka, Haines and Alaska's capital city, Juneau. Take a trip to the Inside Passage on the Alaskan Panhandle and you're in southeast Alaska.
Southeast Alaska is one of the most populated and most visited areas in the state. Cruise ships put into port near Juneau and Sitka, and the Alaskan road system makes nearly all the towns on the panhandle accessible by RVs. Full-service RV parks dot the landscape all along the southeast shoreline. Pick out one to call home base and start exploring.
At one point in the state's history, the capital city was called Harrisburg, just like in Pennsylvania. Two prospectors in 1880 wandered into the Tlingit tribal colony looking for gold. The prospectors, Richard Harris and Joe Juneau, found gold, and the gold rush was on. Other would-be gold miners started to flock to Harrisburg until one day, Harris fell out of favor with Chief Kowee of the Tlingit tribe. The chief took the name from Harris and gave it instead to his partner. Juneau, and the rest, as they say, is history.
As the state's capital city, Juneau has lots to offer visitors. Culture, arts, fine dining, local eateries (all serving the freshest catch of the day) are part of the Juneau landscape. But Juneau is in Alaska, making this capital city a little different than many others you've ever visited. For instance, in most capital cities in America you'd be hard pressed to see a moose cross the street or a bear out your back window, but those sights aren't uncommon in Juneau.
The waters around Juneau are also home to one of the largest mammals in the world, the humpback whale. Nearly 600 humpback whales inhabit the waters of the northern inside passage and the best time to spot one is between the months of April and November. Tours that rarely return to shore without spotting at least a couple, and most trips are filled with whale sightings that will make your vacation pictures something to truly brag about.
Chances are, you've never seen a bald eagle outside of video or photograph. If that's the case, go to Southeast Alaska, where approximately 20,000 bald eagles reside. Only about 70,000 people call Southeast Alaska home, so that's about one bald eagle for every three people.
The eagles stick around because of the abundant food supply in the open waters of the inside passage. Near Haines you'll find the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, where you're nearly guaranteed to see a majestic beauty up close. If you go there in November and December, you'll get a rare glimpse of between 3,000 and 4,000 bald eagles in one place when they gather at the Chilkat River Council Grounds. For 19 years, the Annual Bald Eagle Festival has been held here, as the bald eagles come to feed on the late run of chum salmon. The festival is held in mid-November and offers photography workshops, live raptor demonstrations and, of course, all those eagles to photograph.
From Haines, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is just 15 minutes by air or three hours by car. Located near Gustavus, the park covers 3.3 million acres of untouched beauty, including 16 tidal glaciers that can only be reached by boat. Numerous boat tours will spend the day or half a day in the bay. Wait until the first time you hear the crack and crash of the ice breaking off one of these mountains of ice and you'll wonder why you didn't do this sooner.
From snow-capped mountains, tidal glaciers to a rainforest, the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve has what any nature lover will want out of a vacation.
At the bottom of the panhandle near Sitka, Alaska, is a sight that can be a little intimidating. After all, it's a volcano. Mount Edgecumbe is just 13 miles from downtown Sitka and stands 3,200 feet tall. The snowcapped cone brings beauty to the area and although it's considered dormant, it is not extinct. The last eruption was nearly 10,000 years ago.
Sitka is the ancestral home of the Tlingit people. It was captured early in its history by the Russians and became the Russian capital in America. In 1867, of course, Sitka was sold to the United States along with the rest of Alaska.
When you visit Sitka you'll find all these cultural influences throughout the town. Sitka is also the largest city in North America in terms of landmass—4,710 square miles.
Just 15 miles south of Sitka is the Goddard Hot Springs. These traditionally medicinal hot springs have been an oasis to the Tlingit people throughout history. Today, locals and visitors alike soak in the hot water of the springs to wash away the aches and pains of every day life. But don't tarry—adventure awaits.
For More Information:
Kenai Visitor and Convention Bureau
Alaska Travel Industry Association