North America is home to some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, from the heights of the Rocky Mountains, where snow-tipped peaks tower over lakes and forests filled with stunning wildlife, to the fabled Inside Passage, where glaciers calve and whales make sport in dazzling fjords.
If you want to take in this awe-inspiring natural beauty, one of the most exciting ways is an Alaskan cruise. Combine it with a rail journey through the Canadian Rockies and the memories will last a lifetime. Here are some of the extraordinary and quirky ports of call in the Inside Passage.
This Alaskan city faces the Inside Passage, which is home to Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian First Nations people. See their history in the carved totem poles throughout the town and spot the city’s namesake eagles (its Tlingit name is Kach Khanna or ‘spread wings of the eagle’). You can also watch salmon leap upstream, try not to get between a bear cub and its mother, or browse the quaint over-water shops on Creek Street. Shore excursions include a native village and lumberjack show, a seaplane flight over the fjords, and ziplining.
The remote capital of Alaska, Juneau is reachable only by boat or seaplane. It’s known for its ample opportunities to view glaciers, from places like Tracy Arm Fjord, the Juneau Icefields and Glacier Bay National Park. You can even drive to the Mendenhall Glacier. The city sits between the sea and the mountains, and a nice excursion is to take the ‘vertical’ Mount Roberts Tramway for amazing views of lush rainforest, alpine flowers and the Gastineau Channel. Juneau is also a great spot for whale-watching tours, as both humpback and killer whales inhabit these waters.
Skagway is Gold Rush country, a town that in 1896-97 swelled from a few tents to 20,000 people. It even rated a mention in the Jack London’s 1903 novel The Call of the Wild. Today its population ranges from 1,000-2,000 and its boardwalk is lined with buildings that recall the Gold Rush era. You can pan for gold, attend a lively salmon bake, explore the Skagway Glacier by dogsled, or take a ride on the scenic railway.
Icy Strait Point
This cruise destination is actually a private tourist spot, owned by more than 1,000 Alaskan First Nations people with ties to the nearby village of Hoonah and the Glacier Bay area. It sits on Chichagof Island and offers adventure, wilderness, wildlife and Tlingit hospitality, with dancing and art. There’s a restored 1912 salmon cannery and museum, nature trails, restaurants, shops and a beach. You can also go on the world’s largest ziprider, and get close to humpback whales and brown bears in the wild.
Sitka, once under Russian rule, affords more stunning mountain and seaside views. It sits on an island boasting abundant wildlife, including whales, bears, deer, sea otters and bald eagles. It was the site of a battle between Russian forces and First Nations warriors in 1804, and formed part of the Alaska Purchase in 1867, when the Russian Empire sold its holdings to the United States. You can still see the Russian-built churches with their onion domes.
This little port on Kaien Island is in the wild Northwest Coast of Canada’s British Columbia. Visitors can take a seaplane to Quotoon Falls; play a round of golf at the Prince Rupert Centennial Golf Course, walk through rainforests, kayak Kloiya Bay, or learn about Tsimshian traditions at the Museum of Northern British Columbia.
* Featured image: The Inside Passage. Image: Getty