Vast expanses of peerless natural beauty, a fascinating frontier history and brilliantly varied ports characterise cruises along the Alaskan and west Canadian coastline.
Sailing through the ‘Inside Passage’, a network of passages that weave through islands on the Pacific coast of British Columbia and Alaska is a truly unique experience. The contrasts are spectacular, from the metropolitan and cultural melting pot that is Vancouver to the isolated ice fields of Juneau; cruising in this part of the world is breathtaking.
Take a look at just a few of the highlights that await.
Misty Ketchikan, known for many years as the “Salmon Capital of the World” offers plenty of superb outdoor activities as well as fascinating cultural sites and curios.
Kayaking in the nearby Misty Fjords National Monument is likely to be the highlight if you’re an outdoorsmen but it has strong competition from hikes up nearby Deer Mountain which overlooks the beautiful town.
Creek Street, a boardwalk built over Ketchikan Creek is a brilliant place to spend an afternoon. Home to restaurants, unique curio shops and the Dolly’s House Museum it is also the start of the Married Man’s Trail and the Salmon Ladder.
The Southeast Alaska Discovery Center offers a unique insight into the natural and cultural history of the surrounding Tongass National Forest. The lush rainforest is home to a model native fishing village and visitors can learn how the forest sustains local communities today.
Juneau is surrounded by towering mountains and the waters of the Gastineau Channel, and with no roads leading in or out of the town, it is one of the US’ most unusual state capitals.
Whale-watching trips, zip-lining, the Capitol building and the Alaskan Brewing Co are all big draws but perhaps the highlight is the Alaska State Museum which features a range of exhibits focusing on the human and natural history of the state.
The Juneau Icefield, home to the 13-mile long Mendenhall Glacier which ends at Mendenhall Lake is also worth exploring. The glacier is easily viewed from the Forest Service’s historic visitor centre.
Once the shortest gateway to the Klondike gold fields, Skagway once boomed in the gold rush of the late 19th century, but when the treasures dried up, so did the miners. The result is a fascinating living museum of gold-rush-era hotels, saloons, dance halls and gambling houses in a port town with a population of just over 1,000.
Perhaps the most popular activity is the White Pass Summit train ride. A 40-mile round trip that traces the Klondike Trail taken by gold miners to the top of the 3,000 foot summit, taking in Bridal Veil Falls, Inspiration Point and Dead Horse Gulch on the way. The journey offers breathtaking panoramic views of mountains, glaciers, gorges and waterfalls.
Sitting on Baranof Island in the Pacific Ocean, Sitka is an incredibly striking city with views across the Sitka Sound and its many forested islands as well as the extinct Mt Edgecumbe volcano.
The city’s picturesque quality owes much to its Russian heritage which is beautifully remembered in the collections of art and religious treasures on show in the St Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral.
Much of the city’s cultural centres and sites lie on Lincoln Street, or just off it, including the Sheldon Jackson Museum. The museum is home to a fascinating collection of indigenous Alaskan artefacts, including boats, sleds and masks as well as hunting tools.
At the end of Lincoln Street, you’ll find Alaska’s smallest national park – the Sitka National Historical Park. The site is famous as the place where the native Tlingit Indians were defeated by the Russians in 1804, and the outline of their fort is still present. The mile-long Totem Trail leads you past 18 totems displayed at the 1904 Louisiana Exposition and is well worth wondering.
Vancouver is very much a city of plenty with massive skyscrapers, heritage sites, mountains and diverse neighbourhoods filling it with character.
The city is regarded as one of the best places to live in the world and it’s easy to see why, there’s so much to see and do that an extended stay is often recommended by visitors wherever possible.
Granville Island’s covered public market is a delight for foodies with an abundance of artisan foods from cheeses and charcuterie to coffee and chai. The market is incredibly popular and coordinated tasting tours are a real treat.
For a slice of history head to Gastown, considered to be the birthplace of modern Vancouver, Gastwon has retained its historic charm while playing home to the city’s independent boutique and new media scene. For a bit of kitsch, the steam-powered clock is a quirky bit of fun.
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