A cruise through Alaska’s Inside Passage is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and something worth considering if you are a nature enthusiast or just love holidaying amidst spectacular scenery (who doesn’t?!). If the Inside Passage is on your radar, then here is a brief guide to help you make your dream trip a reality. If it’s not on your radar yet, it soon will be!
The Inside Passage is a network of waterways that famously spider leg along the Alaskan coast between the mainland and islands. The sea route spans from Seattle in the south to the Alaskan Panhandle in the north and draws nature-lovers to the region with its striking scenery and abundant wildlife. It is shaped by vast glaciers spilling from the towering mountains and is flanked in parts by lush forests and charming coastal towns. As the Inside Passage is sheltered between the Pacific Coast islands and the mainland, the waters are quite calm and make for pleasant sailing through an incredibly scenic region.
Cruises of Alaska’s Inside Passage run from mid-April to late-September taking advantage of the warmer months in the northern hemisphere. You’ll enjoy warmer and longer days in June and July, however, peak summer brings with it some bugs so pack some repellent spray if you are travelling at this time of the season. May presents the driest climate and you’ll notice the average rainfall starting to creep up in August and September. Travelling in spring will showcase the foliage coming back to life while snow still caps the mountains, and if you are cruising toward the end of the season you’ll see the autumn leaves turning the forests a reddish hue.
Wildlife viewing can be rather unpredictable however, the animals will stir early in the cruise season as spring sees them shake off the winter blues and welcome newborns into the countryside. The peak salmon season in the middle of summer sees bears drawn to river mouths and makes this time of year great for bear viewing, particularly between July through early September. Humpback whales migrate to the waters of the Inside Passage in April and usually stay around for the duration of the cruise season. If it is Orcas you are hoping to see, then travelling from May through to early June will give you your best chance of spotting them.
Cruises of the Inside Passage usually operate as a round trip from Seattle or Vancouver, or as a one-way voyage between Seattle or Vancouver in the south and Seward or Whittier in the north. These itineraries usually port in Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan and take in scenic wonders along the way, including the famous Glacier Bay.
Juneau is nestled at the foot of towering mountains and boasts Mendenhall Glacier and the Juneau Icefield on its doorstep. Here you can browse the rustic shops, brave a dog sled ride over an icy glacier, take a kayak out wildlife spotting or hike through the natural landscape encircling Alaska’s remote capital. Uncover the Gold Rush history in Skagway, meander the wooden boardwalks admiring the historic facades, and perhaps relax in a classic saloon during your time there. In Ketchikan you can experience native arts and culture aplenty and enjoy some fresh local fare in the ‘Salmon Capital of the World’.
Scenic cruising between ports is no less captivating than the ports themselves, as you glide atop the glassy water punctuated with floating chunks of ice and marine life rippling the surface. The glacial landscape of Glacier Bay National Park is one for the memory books. Local rangers will join you to share their knowledge of this incredible place as you glide past calving glaciers and rivers of ice. Listen to the landscape creak and groan as parts of these enormous formations sever and thunder into the abyss below.
For something a little different, Tauck offer a unique itinerary that spends eight days navigating the watercourse between Juneau to Vancouver on a small ship, getting up close and personal to the natural landscapes. APT use the same vessel, Le Soléal, to offer an expedition cruise along the coast in conjunction with their exploration of the Rockies on their incredible 27-day itinerary. Le Soléal welcomes just 264 passengers meaning the smaller ship offers a different itinerary to the mainstream cruise ships, getting into narrower waterways and closer to the dramatic shorelines. APT also offers a six-star experience aboard Seabourn’s all-suite small ship, Seabourn Sojourn, with just 450 guests and an incredible way to cap off an exploration of the Rockies.
You can pair your Alaskan cruise with a land tour by coach or rail to encompass more of this scenic part of the world. The most common tour combinations include a journey through the Canadian Rockies, an exploration of Alaska’s Denali National Park, or both. With so much on offer, it is worth considering extending your stay and seeing more nearby treasures to cap off an unforgettable cruise through Alaska’s Inside Passage. Many operators offer pre-packaged cruise and tour combinations to make the experience seamless and stress-free for you.
Take a look at our collection of Alaska cruises and combos to find the right one for you.