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Inside Passage (Ketchikan, Sitka, other towns), Alaska

Great Destination:

Value for Money:

Total Stars:

Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • Tongass is America’s largest national forest at 16.8 million acres.
  • Juneau is the only state capital in the U.S. with no road access.
  • Admiralty Island claims North America’s highest concentration of nesting eagles.
  • Malaspina Glacier is North America’s largest glacier.
  • In another era, there were 30 houses of prostitution on Creek Street in Ketchikan.

Panhandle of the North

The name Inside Passage refers the sheltered waterway that parallels Alaska’s panhandle, the narrow north-south strip of land that lines the western border of British Columbia in Canada.

A remarkably large portion of that panhandle is really a collection of islands and peninsulas, which allows for passage from town to town on calmer waters than those on the Pacific just beyond the waterway. As a result, the Inside Passage is the route of choice for local ferries and for cruise ships. Ferries cover a 3,500-mile route system here and serve 30 Alaska ports. ( covers Alaska cruising separately at

Given the Inside Passage is an area of islands, peninsulas, inlets, fjords, rivers — plus glaciers, the region is just naturally beautiful and even awesome. It also suits the active traveler who wants to paddle a kayak, trek on a glacier, view scenery from a bicycle and more.

Wildlife, particularly whales and other marine animals, bears, bald eagles and puffins, add another layer of attractions for those who love nature.

Finally, visitors come because of an interest in Alaska’s first inhabitants, as well as the story of European settlement. Russia, once owner of Alaska, left a distinctive mark, and the same can be said of the Klondike Gold Rush.

Here is a selection of attractive destinations, north to south:

  • Skagway, founded in 1898 during the Gold Rush, features historic buildings and other signs of its origins and gives access to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
  • Juneau, the state capital and gateway to Glacier Bay National Park, reflects its settlement period in Victorian homes and a Russian Orthodox church.
  • Sitka was the Russian capital (1808-1867), which shows in some architecture, but it’s a good place to pursue an interest in native culture, as well.
  • Wrangell, also touched by the Russian and Gold Rush eras, offers Native American experiences and access to wildlife and glaciers.
  • Ketchikan, located in the Tongass National Forest and surrounded by mountains and water, has a definite Wild West feel to it, enhanced by a (defunct) red-light district. Visitors gain insights into native culture here and the local timber industry.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Get active in Gustavus. Your choices include mountain biking, a guided hiking tour, sea kayaking, fishing or wildlife viewing.
  • At Yakutat, take a kayak expedition to Hubbard Glacier and Russell Fjord.
  • Ride North America’s longest zipline at Icy Strait Point.
  • From Hoonah, Alaska’s largest Tlingit Indian settlement, embark on a sportfishing excursion. Or pursue this passion from a fishing lodge in Elfin Cove.
  • Near Haines, camp in sight of two glaciers at Chilkat State Park. Look for bald eagles, too; up to 3,000 congregate in the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve in fall and winter to feed on spawning salmon.
  • At Wrangell, take a jetboat up the Stikine River. Or, at Haines, sign on
    for a float trip or a jetboat trip through the Bald Eagle Preserve.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Take a flightseeing tour over the Juneau Icefield, or do that sightseeing from the air over Malaspina Glacier from Yakutat or over Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.
  • Using a walking-tour map, explore Ketchikan’s historic areas, including Creek Street, once the town’s infamous red-light district. Former houses of prostitution are now a string of colorful shops plus Dolly’s House Museum, named for the town’s most famous madam. A Dolly impersonator greets museum visitors.
  • Pan for gold in Juneau. Hike for an hour or more on one of Juneau’s glaciers, too.
  • Photograph the dramatic lineup of totem poles in the Sitka National Historical Park not far outside of Sitka. Or view the traditional-style clan houses in Haines, Sitka or Wrangell.
  • Fish in salt or fresh waters on Prince of Wales Island, for halibut, king salmon or steelhead.
  • Take a boat tour to Tracy Arm Fjord to see birds, seals and whales.

Things to do for Authentics

  • From Bartlett Cove, take a full-day cruise up Glacier Bay aboard the Spirit of Adventure. View the glaciers, but also watch for sea lions, seals, sea otters, whales — and even puffins. Also, you may see a range of land animals, such black bear, brown bear, moose and mountain goats, as well as abundant bird life.
  • Tour the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery in Juneau, and eat salmon when you get a chance.
  • Get a taste of Russia in Alaska: At Sitka, the historic capital of Russian America, visit St. Michaels Cathedral, the Russian cemetery and the Russian Bishop’s House.
  • Experience Native American culture at the Naa Kahidi Dance show in Sitka. For a comparable Russian experience, see the New Archangel Dancers.
  • At Wrangell, search for prehistoric rock carvings at the Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park.
  • In May, attend the Little Norway Festival in Petersburg. Many residents boast a Norwegian heritage.

Additional Resources

For information, consult the Alaska Travel Industry Association at