Alaska is a HUUUGEEE place, but luckily, Alaska can be divided into different regions that make it explorable like Southeast Alaska. For so long, this state has been on my bucket list and I’m so happy from this recent summer I got to explore it through a cruise trip. Of course, Alaska isn’t only explorable by a cruise, but you can see it through taking ferries and through planes. If you’re curious about Southeast Alaska and what places and things it has to offer, read on!
Some fun facts about Southeast Alaska:
- In Southeast Alaska, the Alexander Archipalego is located there which has a group of 1,100 islands.
- The Tongass National Forest is located here in Southeast Alaska, which is the largest National Forest in the whole country of United States. It takes up most of the Inside Passage, the passage waterway that cruises take, and it covers 16.7 millions of acres. It’s so remote that it is home to a lot of endangered flora and fauna.
- You’ll recognize that Southeast Alaska is a temperate rainforest.
- Southeast Alaska is home to native Alaskans and commonly it is where the Tlingits reside.
- There are no really highways here, so boats and aircraft are the means of transportation. You’ll see a lot of sea planes!
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Icy Strait Point
Icy Strait Point was once the location of a large salmon cannery where it ran from 1912 up to the 1950s. The cannery was shut down for decades until an Alaska native corporation decided to purchase and rehabilitate this island and now it is a cruise port. Icy Strait Point is known for a destination that cruises stop by and bring cruise guests there to explore. An Alaskan tribe, the Tlingit, also lives on this island and influence some of the businesses being ran there.
Things to do on Icy Strait Point
If you’re looking for outdoor adventure, through outdoor recreation and manmade attractions, you’ll find it here. On Icy Strait Point, it is home to the largest (and highest) zip line in the world!! It is 5,330 feet long with a 1,300 feet vertical drop. There’s a gondola ride that you can take (for free) that takes you on the other side of the island too that takes you through the forest and up top the hills. Once you get off the gondola ride, you will see a gift shop and you can choose if you’d like to do some of the hiking trails there. Even on the other side back, there are hiking trails there, the beach front, restaurants (where you can eat seafood on the waterfront), and a museum. There are also shows held to see Alaska Native dancers perform.
If you want a beach to experience the Alaskan waters, Icy Strait Point may be a very good choice to dip in. I got to experience its chilling clear waters there! The cruise director of the Carnival ship I was on hosted a Polar Plunge and I participated. The water here can get cold even on warm sunny summer days but still worth it swimming in these pristine waters! I do recommend wearing water shoes because your feet will hurt as you cross through these coral-like rocks.
Juneau is the capital city of Alaska. This city is pretty scenic and is considered for its wildlife spots, history, art, music, and of course, food. You will also see there’s a lot of Native Alaska influence to find there.
Things to do on Juneau
One of my most favorite things I’ve done in Juneau and that I recommend everyone should see is to go to Mendenhall Glacier. I have a whole guide of how you should explore this glacier relic from 3k+ years ago as there are a lot of hiking trails and viewpoints to see this, which also provides opportunities to water activities such as canoeing, kayaking, and more. You could also do a more expensive way to tour it by doing a helicopter tour on the ice field.
If you like museums, check out The Juneau-Douglas City Museum and Alaska State Museum. The Juneau-Douglas City Museum is great for learning about the cultural heritage, the preserved history, and a look into the mining history and politics while Alaska State Museum is great to learn about Alaska’s people and history too and art.
Go to Juneau’s historic downtown and you’ll get to do a lot of shopping, eating, and drinking. The downtown is so cool that it is surrounded by elevated mountains, boardwalks on top of the sea, and you will feel like you’re walking around a mining town from the Gold Rush times. When shopping, you’ll find a lot of beautiful and authentic jewelry, Alaskan souvenirs (I got some of the best souvenirs to bring home from this store called Alaska Shirt Company!), Native Alaskan finds, art, authentic Alaskan snacks to-go, and more.
If you’re looking to eat down here, I recommend Tracy’s Crab Shack for some of the best seafood straight from Alaska as they’re known for their king crabs and other crabs. Red Dog is a famous saloon where you can go in for entertainment, food, and for its bar scene. If you’re looking to get a taste of halibut fish straight here from Alaska, try The Hangar on the Wharf.
Looking for a way to see nature at an elevation? Juneau has a tram you can ride! Mount Robert’s Tram will allow you to see what’s below in downtown Juneau with sweeping views all around from 1,800 feet high. It also will allow you to do some short hikes once you’re up there!
Another cute Alaskan town to see in Southeast Alaska is Ketchikan. This city is scenic and known for some of the best wildlife viewings along with its waterfalls and snowcapped mountains.
Things to do on Ketchikan
If you’re looking for beautiful scenery, Misty Fjords National Monument is a remote wilderness that many visitors can see, just by boat or aircraft. This huge wilderness contains ocean inlets, rivers, and streams from melting glaciers. It can be explored through kayaking.
Ketchikan is known for their display of a lot of totem poles and the best way to see these is through Totem Heritage Center and Totem Bright State Park.
You’ve probably seen this scenic picture a lot of a picturesque boardwalk lined with colorful buildings, but if you want to explore downtown for some shopping and food, head down to Creek Street. Learning about its history is cool as this used to be a Red Light District up until the 1950s and also there is wildlife that can occasionally be spotted here like seals, otters, eagles and on summer months, salmon gather by thousands.
If you’re looking for water activities, you can go on fishing charters, sea kayaking tours, or even snorkel!
Wildlife is one of the things known here in Ketchikan so you may want to take a tour on it. A great 90-minute tour I took that showed us soo many bald eagles (fun fact: there are 30k+ bald eagles in Alaska!) and how king salmon looks is Ketchitour LLC. The tour includes a city tour too. They’ll take you to a spot by a bridge by Ketchikan Gateway Borough where you can see these wildlife go to their habitat, and you may even spot black bears there too! (I didn’t get to see any at the time, so seeing wildlife isn’t always guaranteed!) Along this tour, the guide will take you to a hidden waterfall and show you beautiful homes situated along the waterways there.
Tracy Arm Fjord
This is a place I highly, highly recommend everyone should see! This place is one of the most beautiful places you’ll see in America and it’ll remind you just how untouched and unspoiled the natural beauty that Alaska holds. Jaw dropping in every corner and located 45 miles south from Juneau and in a wilderness that spans 653,179 acres, every steep cliff and canyon I saw here was just incredibly shaped and its sheer granite features were alluring. There were sooo many waterfalls that I’ve never seen before in my life in one area alone! Inside the Tracy Arm Fjord also lies the Sawyer Glacier, which there are boat tours that offer close-ups of the glacier.
During the summer, the icebergs become floating ice that are so small! Sadly, climate change is pretty evident here😢 and that’s why I document whatever I can in cold climate places. Famous natural John Muir said Tracy Arm is a “wild, unfinished Yosemite.”
This fjord is only accessible by boat and plane. It has towering granite cliffs, 1,000+ feet waterfalls, lots of wildlife, icebergs, home to the Sawyer Glaciers, 7,000+ feet mountains, and the fjord is 30 miles long situated.
If you go on an Alaska cruise like I did, this may actually be on the itinerary and you can spend a whole day to explore this fjord! So if you’re interested in going on a cruise to Southeast Alaska and you want to see this place, make sure it’s part of the itinerary first.
Glacier Bay National Park
Once again another place that is only accessible by plane and boat is Glacier Bay National Park! This glorious place covers 3.3 million acres with glaciers, fjords, rainforests, marine wildlife, and tall rugged mountains that you can see closer up through sightseeing. Although Glacier Bay National Park is hard to go see due to the fact there’s a lottery process of only 2 ships per day can go see it! If you really want to see this place, make sure to see if a cruise has it on their itinerary. Some cruise ships may at least pass by the massive lands from a very distance so you can get glimpses of the huge national park and let you know when while you’re cruising.
Skagway is a popular stop for cruise ships too and is a known tourist trade city. It’s scenic all around and is one of the few Inside Passage cities that’s accessible via road.
Things to do on Skagway
You’ve probably seen it all around social media of a train ride in Alaska, and Skagway is known for the White Pass and Yukon Railroad aka the “Scenic Railroad of the World”. This is a must place that you cannot skip!
You can tour around the city from renting a bike to guided bicycle tours and waterwise, there are kayaking tours. Thinking you need to see more nature? A glacier is never a bad idea and there is a guided glacier tour you can take to see glacier-filled valleys and to show off the Gold Rush lands using Temsco Helicopters Inc. Another thing this tour company has as an excursion is dog sledding and you can combine the both of those too.
Sitka is known for its fishing in Southeast Alaska, but here you can also find seafood and scenic adventures. It used to once be the Russia American capital in 1808!
Things to do on Sitka
You can tour the city in a fun way through a checkered car through Sitka Checkered Tours. You can learn about the history from Jeff who is a certified naturalist with 25+ years of experience in tourism. The tour also stops at two of the most popular sites in Sitka, which is Fortress of the Bears, a refuge for bears, and Alaska Raptor Center, a rehabilitation for raptors.
If you’re looking for walking opportunities, you can walk up Baranof Castle Hill, a historic site. Sitka also has some of the most scenic hikes to see Tongass National Forest and AllTrails offers a great recommendation list of those trails.
Harry’s Soda Shop shares the same building as Harry Race Pharmacy. This soda shop is such a classic twist on soda shops and has a large variety of soda and sundae floats.
Great museums to see history through artifacts of the Tlingit, Russian, and American history can be viewed through Sheldon Jackson Museum and Sitka History Museum. Sitka Sound Science Center can help you learn about the marine ecosystem as it has an aquarium and hatchery, including a 60-feet deep tank of Alaska’s marine life.
Like I previously mentioned, Sitka is known for its fishing. You can get on fishing charters to get on that. Here’s a list by Visit Sitka of fishing expeditions and charters you can join.
Bonus: The Ultimate Road Trip from North to Alaska
One of the coolest road trips you can take in North America is the road trip from Canada to Alaska. There will be endless sceneries to pass through in Canadian and Alaskan cities, and there’s nothing like hitting a road like that! Travel Alaska (a.k.a Alaska’s official tourism site) talks more about how to get this road trip and answers some frequently asked questions.
Okay whoa, that was a comprehensive list of places and things to do in Southeast Alaska! I was awe-inspired just how big and beautiful Alaska really was and if there’s a state you MUST go to, I’d say, Alaska, hands down. Are there any places on this list you want to or are planning to see?