Alaska Excursions

Alaska Excursions

A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.

Iditarod 41

Photos and stories from the last great race.

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Southeast Alaska -- The Inside Passage

The waterfront at Ketchikan.

Southeast Alaska Tourism Council

The waterfront at Ketchikan.

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Alaska regions

Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America, is seen just before sunset on a late March flightseeing trip. The south peak, right, is the summit at 20,320 feet; the north peak stands 19,470 feet high. Climbing season on the big mountain is May through July.

Alaska can be divided into five broad regions.

Northern Alaska

The Arrigetch Peaks are found in Gates of the Arctic National Park, which is in the Brooks Range.

In this area above the Arctic Circle people depend on the land and its many resources.

Southeast Alaska

The waterfront at Ketchikan.

See America's northernmost rain forest or a humpback whale.

Western Alaska

A recreational boat follows the channel markers leading into Iliuliuk Harbor near Unalaska's Church of the Holy Ascension. Unalaska and its companion settlement, Dutch Harbor, are in the Aleutian Islands.

This area is home to the country's busiest fishing port.

The Interior

The Alaska Range is the Interior's defining feature. In Denali National Park, Wonder Lake reflects Mount McKinley reflects at sunset.

This vast area is alive with gold mining and plenty of outdoor activities.

South east

Southcentral Alaska has the state's largest city, Anchorage, but it also has scenic wonders such as Passage Canal at Whittier.

Also known as Alaska's Panhandle, the area is filled with forests, glaciers and hiking trails.

Panhandle is a happy mixture of land, water and heritage

The Southeast region, the seat of Alaska's government and timber industry, is a 500-mile-long vacation paradise of forests, wildlife, rock and water long famous as the Inside Passage.

About half of the tourists who come to Alaska arrive or depart on cruise ships that make their way through the islands of the Inside Passage to Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway and other destinations.

The Tongass National Forest, America's northernmost rain forest, is the dominant feature, bringing under federal control much of the region's mainland and islands.

The Tongass, while logged in places, protects wilderness and is used for recreation.

Two parts of the forest are preserved as national monuments: Misty Fjords and Admiralty Island; land in those areas and elsewhere is designated wilderness.

National parks of the Inside Passage

Southeast has two big national parks, Glacier Bay and Yakutat-area Wrangell-St. Elias (which is so big that it spreads into the Southcentral region). These parks, at the uppermost part of Southeast, join with Canada's Kluane National Park to form a World Heritage Site.

There are also two smaller national historical parks in Southeast Alaska: Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway and Sitka National Historical Park in Alaska's first capital city.

Inside Passage attractions

Outdoor activities -- wildlife viewing, kayaking, glacier watching, hiking and birding -- can be part of any trip to Southeast Alaska.

In addition, there are museums elaborating on Alaska's mixture of Native, European and Asian heritages; don't miss the totem poles, dancers or Alaska State Museum.

Cities, towns and villages of the Inside Passage

Here's a quick tour of Southeast Alaska, moving from south to north.

  • Metlakatla (1,421 residents) has Alaska's only Indian reservation.
  • Ketchikan (7,845) plays up its boisterous history of timber, gold and fishing.
  • Craig (1,227) is a fishing and timber town, but many people like it for its kayaking possibilities and access to the many caves on Prince of Wales Island, the country's third largest island.
  • Hyder, (89) where bears dine in Fish Creek, is accessible through British Columbia.
  • Wrangell (2,144) features petroglyphs and access to the Stikine River and to Anan Creek's salmon-eating black bears.
  • Petersburg, (3,146) a fishing town, enjoys its Scandinavian heritage.
  • Sitka, (8,894) the only Southeast town facing the Gulf of Alaska, has Sitka National Historical Park to remember its Native and Russian background, and lots of whales near shore.
  • Juneau (30,981) has a mountain tram, a salmon hatchery, the state museum and the governor's mansion.
  • Hoonah (868) is the main home of the Huna, a Tlingit tribe that has lived in the Glacier Bay/Icy Strait area since prehistory.
  • Haines (1,714) has Fort William H. Seward, dancers, the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, and a road that connects with the Alaska Highway.
  • Skagway (841) was the debarkation point for stampeders heading over Chilkoot Pass in the Klondike gold rush of 1897-98. A great deal of town is now part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
  • Gustavus (421) is the front door to Glacier Bay National Park. Watch for bears and whales on your way to the glaciers.
  • Yakutat, (724) where steelhead trout and salmon fill the streams, is on the way to Hubbard Glacier in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

Water and wildlife

Kayakers love the Inside Passage for its islands and coves. Anglers love the fishing -- the trout, the halibut and especially the big runs of salmon, which at one time allowed Ketchikan to boast that it was the salmon capital of the world.

Whales, especially humpbacks, thrive in the lush, cold waters of Southeast. Whale-watching tours are available in many towns, and scientists come from around the world to study cetaceans near Petersburg and Sitka. This is an area full of wildlife.

The wealth of the Gulf of Alaska encourages airborne life as well. An enormous flock of eagles, perhaps 3,000 -- gathers each fall along the Chilkat River north of Haines to consume the late run of chum salmon. A slightly smaller gathering occurs along the Stikine River near Wrangell. Bears collect along the rivers as well to claim their share of the bounty.


Southeast Alaska's climate has earned its reputation for rainfall -- if not heavy, then persistent.

Summers are warm and winters are mild, thanks to the moderating effect of the Gulf of Alaska and Inside Passage.

The Inside Passage's heritage

The people who for millennia have shared the fish with the eagles and bears -- the Tlingit, Tsimshian and Haida Indians -- are honored at historical sites and museums throughout Southeast.

Totem poles and troupes, such as the Chilkat Indian Dancers of Haines, provide daily reminders of what life was like a little more than a century ago. Their dancing and artwork may be found at attractions and museums around Southeast.

Getting around

The continental highway system touches Southeast Alaska in only three places: roads to Haines, Skagway and Hyder.

The Alaska Marine Highway System sends its ferries up and down the Panhandle, connecting Skagway and Haines with Juneau and points south through Ketchikan and Metlakatla, then on to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and Bellingham, Wash. Private ferries carry passengers from the Ketchikan airport to and from town, between Juneau and Gustavus/Glacier Bay, and between Haines and Skagway, which are 350 road miles apart but only 14 ocean miles apart. Yakutat, north of Glacier Bay National Park, is reached by ferry and plane.

Air transportation in this watery kingdom is important. Jet service totes passengers and cargo to the larger cities in Southeast, with connections or direct flights to Seattle and Anchorage. Floatplane air taxis link the villages and, like charter boats, provide drop-off service to hikers and kayakers.


The capital of Alaska is Juneau, founded in 1880 by prospectors and now the largest city in Southeast and the state's third largest. Sitka, on Baranof Island, was the capital when the fur-seeking Russians held sway over Alaska.

The United States gave Russia $7.2 million in 1867 for Alaska, and prospectors and salmon fishermen soon became the dominant force in the colonial economy.

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