A silvery dreamscape of luminous fjords and pristine glaciers, Alaska’s Inside Passage is one of the top cruise destinations in North America. Those who navigate its 500 miles of Pacific coastline or venture into its 17 million acres of misty rainforest will encounter a wilderness of singular beauty and enchantment.
The Inside Passage is coextensive with Alaska’s southeastern panhandle, comprising a teeming archipelago veined with icy deep-water channels. On the bigger islands, 80 percent of the surface is covered with the red cedars and sitka spruces of the Tongass National Forest, the largest in America, while along the shore the system of frozen crags known as Glacier Bay echoes with the calving of thunderous ice floes as they crash and slip into the ocean.
The Inside Passage also has its outposts of civilization. Juneau, Alaska’s ragtag capital, serves as a base for excursions, as do picturesque fishing villages like Ketchikan—“the salmon capital of the world”—and Wrangell. In many towns, you can learn about native peoples such as the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian, whose history is reflected their ancestral art and dance, as well as in the totem poles that tower over local parks.
Wildlife lovers too will encounter an abundance of marvels in Alaska’s gateway. Admiralty Island boasts a brown-bear population that outnumbers its human counterpart by three to one, while in summer and autumn humpback whales cavort in the waters around Juneau. Birders can glimpse bald eagles diving for salmon in the glacial inlets, or, on marshy Mitkof Island, observe the nesting of migratory trumpet swans. Other stars of the local ecosystems include orcas, wolves, and sea otters.
Ice fields, evergreen forests, indigenous tribes: the Inside Passage is the portal to Alaska’s vast bounty of natural and human wonders.