A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.
Juneau: 41°/67°/Partly sunny
Associated Press archive 2005
Alaska Canopy Adventures guide Jessica Eastwood zips past a bald eagle perched on a tree, at left, during a tour near Ketchikan. The company also offers tours near Juneau.
Southeast is packed with fun, no matter your port of call
All of Southeast Alaska is part of a temperate rain forest, so bring a raincoat. Besides that, you'll need a big sense of adventure if you're going to get even a little taste of the smorgasbord of fun in Alaska's panhandle.
White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad: The narrow-gauge railroad was cut out of precipitous mountain slopes in the late 1890s. Today, the train starts in Skagway and hauls tourists on a 41-mile round trip to White Pass summit, taking visitors briefly into British Columbia. There are other trips too. (www.whitepassrailroad.com)
Tracy Arm: The fjord is one of the best places to see huge icebergs. Cruise ships head into the fjord to visit Sawyer Glacier, which calves off massive chunks of ice. Traveling down Tracy Arm is like walking down an ice-studded hallway with walls that climb thousands of feet skyward. Day cruises can be arranged from Juneau, about 45 miles north of Tracy Arm.
Rain forest Canopy and Zipline tours: Enjoy an eagle-eye view of Southeast rain forest while walking on sky bridges more than 100 feet in the air and flying through the trees on ziplines. They are offered in Ketchikan and Juneau. (www.alaskacanopy.com)
Rumbling glaciers and icebergs: Glacier Bay National Park is home to a huge collection of glaciers, including tidewater glaciers that continually calve off icebergs. Big cruise ships stop at the park, but it's possible to take day trips into the park or to kayak among the icebergs. (www.nps.gov/glba/)
And that doesn't even include my favorite place in Southeast, tiny Elfin Cove, population 25.
Southeast is a spectacular land of glaciers, soaring mountains that are snow-capped year-round, lushly forested islands and tons of wildlife. While most visitors come and go on cruise ships, time in port allows for some exciting adventures. And for independent travelers, more time means more adventures.
Here is a quick breakdown on some of the highlights in Southeast's many port towns. (And they're all pretty much port towns since all the communities sit on the Inside Passage.)
The discovery of gold at the end of the 1800s put this area on the map. Those gold seekers traveled the Chilkoot Trail toward the Klondike gold fields.
Today, visitors can retrace the steps of the hardy men of yesteryear on the mostly uphill trail. Most won't want to spend the two to six days it might take to make the trek, so they enjoy the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway mentioned earlier. The railroad is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. The train climbs 2,865 feet in 20 miles, chugging up 4 percent grades, crossing wooden trestles and plunging into tunnels blasted through solid rock.
Most of downtown Skagway is part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park (www.nps.gov/klgo/), so no matter where you go, there likely is a story behind every building or monument you pass. Ranger-led walking tours of the historic district are offered five times daily. The tours are free and last 45 minutes.
Ask at the Skagway Visitors Information Center downtown for one of the city's self-guided walking tour maps to learn more about Skagway's historic sites. It will point out such places as the Gold Rush Cemetery, where "Soapy" Smith is buried.
Skagway is one of the rare Southeast towns that can be reached by motor vehicle. The South Klondike Highway knifes inland, paralleling the rail line, and joins the Alaska Highway at Whitehorse, Yukon.
The waters of the Inside Passage are loaded with nutrient-rich krill and small fish in the summer, attracting humpback whales who linger here to fatten up before their migrations to Hawaii or Mexico for winter.
So from Juneau, the state capital, there are plenty of day trips to look for whales. The smaller boats leave Auke Bay and often head for Admiralty Island, which has one of the world's largest concentrations of brown bears -- about 2.3 per square mile -- in the world. Other animals that might be seen on whale-watching cruises include orcas, sea lions, harbor seals, Dall porpoises, eagles and a variety of seabirds.
Helicopter trips to glaciers are another popular outing in Juneau. The tours generally include a glacier landing and the opportunity to walk on the ice. Some companies also have arrangements to offer summer dog sled rides on the snow-covered glaciers.
Alaska Canopy Adventures offers one of its rain forest canopy and zipline adventures from the Juneau area. The trip includes 10 ziplines and two treetop skybridges.
In addition to more opportunities to play atop the trees, Ketchikan has plenty to keep visitors busy.
The rich history of Native Alaskans is on display throughout the community. The Totem Heritage Center is just a short walk from the town center. It is caretaker of Native artworks that were never intended to last the ages. The Tlingit and Haida villagers, who lived nearby, carved totem poles. The poles were allowed to rot where they were planted.
Because of that, no totem poles survive from the 18th century, and the few poles that remain from the mid-1800s are now protected indoors. Guides point out the distinguishing features of Tlingit and Haida poles -- animals and figures of mythology that made up family crests.
Totem Bight State Park is eight miles north of Ketchikan. There is a historic collection of 14 totem poles at the park and a replica clan house.
Wrangell: Located south of Juneau in the middle of the Tongass National Forest, the Wrangell area offers tons of outdoor fun, including mountain biking and hiking. (www.wrangell.com)
Petersburg: This town maintains its Scandinavian heritage, with rosmaling decor on many of the houses and buildings. (www.petersburg.org)
Sitka: Located 90 miles west of Juneau, Sitka is the historic capital of Russian-America. Sitka's Russian heritage can be seen today throughout the town. One of the highlights of a stop in Sitka is the Alaska Raptor Center. (www.sitka.org)