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38 Best Excursions on Alaska Cruise Itineraries!

For many, the Alaskan frontier represents the final bastion of untamed wilderness in North America—a vast, wild expanse that pulses with life, legends, and awe-inspiring landscapes.

With so many ports and a myriad of excursions to choose from, it might feel overwhelming. But fret not, dear traveler! We’ve curated the ultimate guide to the best excursions on Alaska cruise itineraries.

Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie, a history buff, or someone just looking to immerse themselves in raw, unfiltered nature, there’s an Alaskan adventure calling out to you.


Juneau: The Capital Wonders

Perched on the Gastineau Channel’s edge, enveloped by mountain ranges and lush rainforests, Juneau is not just Alaska’s capital in name—it’s also the capital of breathtaking adventures.

Being inaccessible by road from the rest of the state has its perks; Juneau remains a gem to be discovered primarily by water or air. Here are the top excursions to consider:

Mendenhall Glacier & Wildlife Quest

One of Juneau’s crowning jewels, the Mendenhall Glacier, stretches out in a glorious icy expanse. Picture this: a 13-mile river of ice, surrounded by pristine waters and lush landscapes.

And while the glacier is awe-inspiring, the journey to it is equally so. Many tours also offer wildlife quests, where you might spot black bears fishing for salmon or eagles soaring majestically above.

The visitor center here provides a trove of information, interactive displays, and trails for those keen to explore more.

Insider Tip: Don’t miss the Nugget Falls trail, a relatively easy hike that offers a vantage point of both the glacier and the roaring falls.

Whale Watching Tours

Can you hear the call of the humpbacks? These gentle giants are frequent visitors to Juneau’s waters, especially between April and November.

Embark on a specialized boat tour, often accompanied by marine biologists, and witness the breathtaking sight of whales breaching, tail slapping, and bubble net feeding. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a pod of orcas slicing through the waters!

Insider Tip: Pack binoculars and a good camera. The memory is lasting, but a well-captured photo of a breaching whale is priceless.

Downtown Historical Walking Tour

While nature is the primary allure, don’t underestimate Juneau’s rich tapestry of history. Delve into tales of gold rush pioneers, indigenous heritage, and architectural marvels.

Guided walking tours offer insights into Juneau’s transformation from a Tlingit fishing camp to the bustling state capital. Stops often include the Red Dog Saloon, St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, and the Governor’s Mansion.

Insider Tip: Engage with your guide—they’re often locals with personal stories and fun anecdotes that bring history to life.

There you have it—three distinct experiences that encapsulate the essence of Juneau. Whether you’re marveling at nature’s icy artistry, sharing a moment with a whale, or walking through history-laden streets, Juneau promises an Alaskan experience like no other.


Skagway: Gateway to the Klondike

Imagine stepping back in time, right into the heart of the Gold Rush era. Skagway, with its beautifully preserved buildings and the indomitable spirit of adventure, offers just that.

Once a major port for hopeful gold miners dreaming of striking it rich, today’s Skagway is a treasure trove of history and natural beauty. Let’s dig into the top excursions:

White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad

Board this vintage railway, a testament to human determination and engineering prowess. As the train chugs along, you’ll be treated to breathtaking vistas—gorges, glaciers, waterfalls, and tunnels. Listen to tales of the Gold Rush, the challenges faced by miners, and the legacy of this iconic railway.

Insider Tip: Secure a seat on the left side when heading up for the best views. And don’t forget your camera, one of the top cruise essentials; the scenic beauty is unparalleled.

Helicopter Glacier Discovery

For those who prefer a bird’s eye view, a helicopter ride over Skagway and its surrounding glaciers is pure magic.

Hover over the vast icy expanses, land on a glacier, and maybe even have a mini snowball fight or sip glacial meltwater. It’s an experience that will make you appreciate Alaska’s vastness and beauty.

Insider Tip: Dress in layers. Even in summer, glaciers can be cold, especially when you’re standing right on top of one!

Gold Rush History Tour & Panning

Get your hands dirty, quite literally, as you relive the excitement of the Gold Rush. Join a guided tour that takes you through Skagway’s history, shares tales of the Tlingit people, and introduces the brave souls who embarked on the treacherous Chilkoot Trail. Round off your excursion by trying your hand at gold panning—maybe you’ll find your fortune!

Insider Tip: While the gold flecks you find might not make you rich, they make for a fantastic keepsake. Cherish the experience, not the value of your find.

Skagway, with its fusion of rich history and mesmerizing landscapes, promises adventures that resonate with the soul. Whether you’re chasing the horizon on a train, flying over glacial wonders, or sifting through waters in search of gold, this port town guarantees memories as golden as its history.


Ketchikan: The Salmon Capital

Nestled on Revillagigedo Island’s shores, Ketchikan is more than just its moniker of ‘Salmon Capital of the World’. While the salmon runs are legendary, Ketchikan is also a portal to vibrant indigenous culture, sprawling rainforests, and a deep-rooted logging history.

The vibrant totem poles scattered around the town are storytellers, hinting at the rich tapestry of legends and traditions. Here’s a glimpse of the best excursions this port has to offer:

Misty Fjords Seaplane Adventure

Alaska is all about vast, untamed landscapes, and there’s no better way to witness its grandeur than from the sky. Board a seaplane and soar over the Misty Fjords National Monument.

The dramatic cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and serene lakes are a sight to behold. Many tours offer a water landing, allowing you a moment on a secluded lake to truly soak in the tranquility.

Insider Tip: If you’re a photography enthusiast, ensure you have a polarizing filter. It’ll help reduce the glare from the plane’s windows, capturing those perfect shots.

Lumberjack Show & Totem Pole Park

Celebrate Ketchikan’s logging heritage with a thrilling Lumberjack Show. Witness ax-throwing, log rolling, and tree climbing, all performed by world-class athletes. It’s not just about brawn; the show is infused with humor and historical tales.

Post-show, a visit to the Totem Pole Park offers insights into the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures. These towering poles, carved with symbols and figures, narrate tales of lineage, rights, and ceremonies.

Insider Tip: Engage with the local guides at Totem Pole Park. Their anecdotes and stories bring to life the intricate carvings and symbols.

Wildlife Sanctuary & Eagle Center

Nature enthusiasts, this one’s for you! Venture into the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary, where you might spot deer, bald eagles, and even black bears in their natural habitat. The adjoining Raptor Center rehabilitates injured birds, offering an up-close experience with these majestic creatures.

Insider Tip: Wear comfortable walking shoes and muted colors. The sanctuary is all about observing animals in their natural setting, and you’d want to blend in, not stand out!

Ketchikan, with its meld of culture, history, and nature, offers a multifaceted Alaskan experience. Whether you’re floating above fjords, cheering for lumberjacks, or quietly observing a deer grazing, Ketchikan’s charm lies in its diverse offerings, ensuring every traveler finds their own unique Alaskan story.


Sitka: Where Russia Meets Alaska

If Ketchikan is a storyteller of indigenous heritage, Sitka adds another layer: Russian history. Once the capital of Russian Alaska, Sitka’s onion-domed churches stand as a testament to this era.

The town, with its blend of cultures and dramatic landscapes, offers a truly unique Alaskan experience. Here are some of the best excursions in Sitka.

Sitka National Historical Park & Totem Trail

The oldest national park in Alaska, this site commemorates the 1804 Battle of Sitka between the Russians and Tlingit.

Wander along the scenic Totem Trail, lined with intricately carved totem poles, each telling its own story. The Visitor Center offers demonstrations in traditional Tlingit art forms and insights into the history of the area.

Insider Tip: Consider hiring a local guide. Their in-depth knowledge of the park’s history and the stories behind each totem can greatly enhance your experience.

Raptor Center & Fortress of the Bear

Get up close with Alaska’s wildlife! The Alaska Raptor Center rehabilitates injured birds, providing an opportunity to see bald eagles, owls, and hawks up close. Meanwhile, the Fortress of the Bear rescues orphaned bear cubs, offering a safe space for them while educating visitors on these majestic creatures.

Insider Tip: If visiting in the morning, you might catch feeding time – a real treat as you watch these creatures in action.

Russian Bishop’s House & St. Michael’s Cathedral

Dive into Sitka’s Russian heritage. The Russian Bishop’s House, one of the few surviving examples of Russian colonial architecture in North America, takes you back in time. Nearby, St. Michael’s Cathedral, with its iconic onion dome, houses a rich collection of Russian Orthodox art and artifacts.

Insider Tip: Attend a service at St. Michael’s Cathedral if you can. The traditional chanting and liturgy are a mesmerizing experience, even if you don’t follow the faith.

Sitka’s magic lies in its duality – where east meets west, and where towering forests provide a backdrop to historical architecture. Whether you’re tracing the footprints of Russian settlers, delving into indigenous culture, or marveling at Alaska’s wildlife, Sitka offers a mosaic of memories that linger long after you’ve set sail.


Anchorage: Urban Pulse Amidst Wild Beauty

Cradled between the Chugach Mountains and the waters of Cook Inlet, Anchorage is a bustling metropolis with a wild heart.

Offering a mix of contemporary culture and raw, natural beauty, it’s a city where you can enjoy a sophisticated evening out followed by a wilderness hike the next morning. Here’s your guide to the best excursions in and around Anchorage:

Flattop Mountain Hike

Regarded as Alaska’s most visited peak, Flattop Mountain provides a moderately challenging trail with rewarding panoramic views of Anchorage, Cook Inlet, and on clear days, even Denali. At 3,510 feet, the summit is a favorite spot for both locals and tourists.

Insider Tip: Bring a windbreaker. Even in summer, it can be quite breezy at the top. And remember, the views at any point of the hike are stunning, so you decide your endpoint!

Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

For those who prefer a more leisurely exploration, this 11-mile trail winds its way along the coast, offering views of downtown Anchorage, Cook Inlet, and Mount McKinley. Whether you’re walking, biking, or even rollerblading, keep an eye out for moose, beluga whales, and a plethora of bird species.

Insider Tip: Rent a bike if you want to cover more ground in less time. Several rental shops near the trailhead can set you up with all you need.

Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center

Delve into the art, history, and culture of Alaska. This state-of-the-art museum is a trove of knowledge, showcasing everything from native Alaskan art to contemporary installations. The Imaginarium Discovery Center within is a hit with kids, making it a perfect family excursion.

Insider Tip: Don’t miss the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center within the museum, where you can explore over 600 indigenous artifacts.

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Located just outside Anchorage, this center is a sanctuary for injured and orphaned wildlife. From bears to bison, moose to musk oxen, get an up-close look at Alaska’s diverse fauna while learning about conservation efforts in the region.

Insider Tip: Join one of the guided tours. The passionate staff offers insights into the animals’ stories, behaviors, and the center’s mission.

Anchorage, with its juxtaposition of urban life and wilderness, presents a vibrant tableau of experiences. Whether you’re scaling a mountain, cruising down a scenic trail, delving into history at a museum, or mingling with Alaska’s wildlife, the city beckons with a promise of memories waiting to be made.

Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay: Nature’s Frozen Masterpiece

Breathtakingly vast, eerily quiet, and ethereally beautiful – that’s Glacier Bay for you. This national park and preserve sprawls over 3.3 million acres, housing a dynamic mosaic of ecosystems and a vast expanse of tidewater glaciers.

It’s a place where time seems to stand still, and nature performs its grand symphony. Here are the best ways to experience this natural wonder:

Tidewater Glacier Viewing

The star attraction! Witness the sheer might of glaciers like Margerie and Lamplugh as they meet the sea. If you’re fortunate, you might even witness the dramatic calving process, where chunks of ice break off and crash into the water below, creating a thunderous roar.

Insider Tip: The early bird gets the worm. Sunrise viewings often come with added benefits – fewer crowds and a mesmerizing play of colors as the first rays of sun hit the ice.

Guided Kayak Tours

Paddle through the serene waters of Glacier Bay, amidst floating icebergs and with a backdrop of towering glaciers. This intimate experience lets you appreciate the bay’s vastness, and you might even spot sea otters, seals, or porpoises along the way.

Insider Tip: Dress in layers. Even in summer, Glacier Bay can be chilly, especially when you’re on the water.

Ranger-led Programs

During peak season, park rangers hop aboard cruise ships to provide insights about the park’s geology, wildlife, and history. Their knowledge and passion make for an engaging and educational experience.

Insider Tip: Keep your camera ready. Rangers often point out wildlife sightings, from distant mountain goats to humpback whales.

Bird Watching

Glacier Bay is a haven for bird enthusiasts. With over 280 bird species recorded, from bald eagles and puffins to varied seabirds, it’s a symphony of chirps, songs, and calls.

Insider Tip: The park’s Beardslee Islands are a hot spot for birdwatching, especially during migration seasons.

Glacier Bay isn’t just a destination; it’s an experience, a lesson in the relentless power and ephemeral beauty of nature.

Whether you’re standing on the deck of a cruise ship, dwarfed by the grandeur of towering glaciers, or kayaking through icy waters with seals for company, Glacier Bay etches memories that last a lifetime. It’s Mother Nature’s masterpiece, waiting to be explored.

Icy Strait Point

Icy Strait Point: Where Culture Clashes with Wild Splendor

Icy Strait Point, near the village of Hoonah on Chichagof Island, is a unique port of call that offers visitors an unfiltered taste of Alaska’s indigenous culture and its untamed wild beauty.

It’s not just a destination; it’s a step back in time, an opportunity to experience Tlingit culture and nature side by side. Let’s explore the offerings of this authentic Alaskan gem:

World’s Largest ZipRider

For thrill-seekers, the Icy Strait Point ZipRider is an absolute must. At 1,300 feet high and spanning a mile long, it’s one of the world’s highest and longest ziplines. As you zoom down, soak in the panoramic views of Port Frederick, the surrounding forests, and your cruise ship far below.

Insider Tip: Dress warm! Even on a sunny day, the high altitude can make the ride chilly.

Whale Watching Tours

Icy Strait Point boasts some of the most consistent whale sightings in Alaska. Set sail on a local boat, and you might be treated to the majestic sight of humpback whales breaching, orcas hunting in pods, and playful sea lions basking on the rocks.

Insider Tip: Evening tours often offer calmer waters and a magical sunset backdrop, adding to the charm of the experience.

Tlingit Cultural Experience

At the heart of Icy Strait Point is the Huna Tlingit culture. Attend a traditional dance performance, visit the Hoonah Museum for historical insights, or simply interact with the locals to immerse yourself in their rich heritage.

Insider Tip: Local artisans often sell handmade crafts at the Heritage Center. These make for unique souvenirs with stories behind them.

Forest and Nature Trails

Wander through dense rainforests, past trickling streams and under the canopy of ancient trees. The trails here range from easy walks to challenging hikes, all offering a deep dive into Alaska’s pristine wilderness.

Insider Tip: Keep an eye out for wildlife. From bald eagles perched high up to brown bears foraging in the underbrush, Icy Strait Point is alive with nature’s wonders.

Icy Strait Point is a testament to Alaska’s heart and soul. Here, traditions passed down through generations find their home beside the call of the wild.

Whether you’re soaring above treetops, sailing beside giants of the deep, delving into age-old customs, or simply wandering through tranquil forests, Icy Strait Point promises a touch of magic at every turn.

Alaska cruise

Highlights of an Alaskan Cruise: Unveiling Nature’s Grand Theater

When it comes to cruising destinations, few can rival the allure of Alaska’s rugged coastline. An Alaskan cruise offers a symphony of experiences – from glacier-clad fjords and dense rainforests to native villages and pulsating cities.

Whether you’re an adventurer at heart, a wildlife enthusiast, or a culture vulture, here’s what you can look forward to on this epic voyage:

Glacier Gazing:

Witnessing glaciers like the Hubbard, Margerie, or those in Tracy Arm Fjord, from the comfort of a cruise deck is surreal. The sheer size, the luminescent blue hues, and the drama of calving make it an experience like no other.

Wildlife Encounters

Alaska is a wildlife lover’s dream. Whether it’s watching bald eagles soar above, spotting humpback whales playfully breach, or observing brown bears in their natural habitat, the encounters are numerous and awe-inspiring.

Northern Lights

If you’re cruising in the right season, the ethereal dance of the Aurora Borealis is an experience that transcends description. The dark Alaskan nights offer the perfect canvas for this natural light show.

Cultural Dive

Visiting places like Icy Strait Point or Ketchikan gives passengers a profound insight into indigenous Alaskan cultures. From totem pole parks to Tlingit dance performances, it’s a beautiful exploration of tradition and history.

Adventure Galore

Every port offers a plethora of excursions. Whether it’s ziplining in Icy Strait Point, salmon fishing in Ketchikan, dog sledding on a glacier, or hiking in Skagway, there’s never a dull moment.

Scenic Cruising

Simply cruising the Inside Passage or the Gulf of Alaska is a visual treat. The dramatic seascapes, snow-clad peaks, lush green forests, and the occasional sighting of marine life make even a day at sea exhilarating.

Culinary Delights

From feasting on fresh Alaskan salmon to savoring locally brewed craft beers, an Alaskan cruise offers a culinary journey that’s as rich and varied as its landscapes.

An Alaskan cruise isn’t just a holiday; it’s an odyssey. It’s about immersing oneself in a land where nature reigns supreme, and traditions run deep. Whether you’re on the deck, gazing at a golden sunset over the ocean, or on land, listening to tales of ancient tribes, every moment is a highlight, a story waiting to be lived.

Concluding the Alaskan Odyssey

Alaska, with its pristine landscapes, vibrant cultures, and ethereal natural phenomena, is often termed the ‘Last Frontier’. But for those who’ve had the fortune of cruising its waters, it feels more like the ‘First Love’. Every fjord, every wildlife encounter, every gust of the chilly wind holds a story – of times gone by, of nature in its rawest form, and of mankind living in harmony with the elements.

Taking an Alaskan cruise is more than just a vacation; it’s an exploration of the soul. It reminds us of the grandeur of our planet, the beauty that lies in its untouched corners, and the melodies of cultures that have thrived for generations. As the ship sails back to its port of origin, passengers are left with a heart full of memories, a camera full of breathtaking snapshots, and a renewed sense of wonder for the world we inhabit.

Whether you’re an adventurer, a historian, or someone seeking tranquility, an Alaskan cruise beckons with a promise – to enchant, to captivate, and to leave you yearning for more. So, as the sun dips below the horizon and paints the Alaskan skies in hues of gold and crimson, one thing becomes clear: this isn’t a goodbye, it’s a see-you-soon. Because Alaska, with its myriad charms, is an affair to remember, and an adventure to revisit.

FAQ: Best Excursions on Alaska Cruise Itineraries

When is the best time to go on an Alaskan cruise for excursions?

  • The Alaskan cruise season typically runs from late April to September, with June to August being peak months. This is when the weather is relatively warmer, and most excursions, from wildlife viewing to glacier tours, are in full swing.

Are excursions booked through the cruise line or independently?

  • Both options are available. Booking through your cruise line can offer convenience and reliability, as they usually work with vetted providers. However, independent bookings can sometimes be more cost-effective and offer a wider range of choices.

What are the must-do excursions in Alaska?

  • While personal preferences vary, popular choices include glacier tours, whale watching, dog sledding, cultural experiences with native tribes, and wildlife safaris.

Is it safe to explore ports on your own without an organized excursion?

  • Many Alaskan ports are safe to explore on your own. Towns like Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway are quite walkable. However, for wilderness adventures, it’s recommended to have a guide due to wildlife and unpredictable weather.

Do I need special gear for Alaskan excursions?

  • Depending on the activity, specialized gear might be provided by the tour operator (e.g., for kayaking or glacier hiking). However, your Alaska cruise packing experience should definitely include waterproof and warm clothing, along with comfortable walking shoes.

How physically demanding are the excursions?

  • Alaskan excursions range from relaxed scenic drives to strenuous hikes. Always check the excursion description and physical requirements before booking.

Can I experience the Northern Lights during my cruise?

  • The best chances to see the Northern Lights in Alaska are from late September to early April. If your cruise is during the peak summer months, chances are slim. However, late-season cruises in September might offer a glimpse.

Are wildlife encounters guaranteed on wildlife excursions?

  • While many excursions take place in areas known for frequent wildlife sightings, no encounter can be 100% guaranteed. Nature is unpredictable. However, local tour operators often know the best spots and times to increase the chances.

Is it environmentally responsible to take glacier tours or wildlife excursions?

  • Many tour operators in Alaska prioritize sustainable and eco-friendly practices. They ensure minimal disturbance to wildlife and natural habitats. Always check the eco-credentials of an excursion provider and follow guidelines to minimize impact.

How do I choose between similar excursions at different ports?

  • Research each port’s unique offerings. For instance, while both Juneau and Ketchikan offer whale-watching, Juneau might have more humpback activity, while Ketchikan offers a richer rainforest experience. Reviews and local advice can also help in making a choice.

Embarking on an Alaskan cruise is undeniably a journey of a lifetime. But the excursions you choose can make the difference between a trip that’s memorable and one that’s truly extraordinary. Always plan ahead, do your research, and get ready for some awe-inspiring Alaskan adventures!