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7 stunning Inside Passage destinations

The Inside Passage with its rugged fjords, drifting patches of fog and rain, icebergs, glaciers, and isolated communities is a breathtaking region.

Despite my strong dislike of ships and spending any more time on water than absolutely necessary, I’d love to return to the Inside Passage one day. There are just too many communities, sights and hiking trails left to explore.

And thankfully, the region’s not overtouristed (yet) due its rather remote location (and associated hefty price tag).

20160830-Canada-496.jpgThe best way to explore the various ports and settlements along the Inside Passage is definitely by ferry. That way, you can make the most of being able to hop around and you can also bring a campervan along to create your very own itinerary.

READ MORE: 5 reasons to travel the Inside Passage by ferry

7 Worthwhile Stops along the Inside Passage

Lots of people think the Inside Passage just covers Alaska.

But you can also sail the Canadian section from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert, and depending on the BC Ferries schedule, you may be able to hop off at one or two (First Nations) communities, e.g. Klemtu, along the way.

Here are 7 stops that I’m keen to make (again) next time!

1. Prince Rupert | British Columbia

We had a bit over a day in Prince Rupert on our way to Alaska, and while it rained a fair bit, we also managed to squeeze in a few sights.

For starters, there’s the fabulous Museum of Northern BC with its incredible collection of First Nations artifacts. We lost track of time and easily spent a couple of hours here.

READ MORE: Aboriginal culture in Canada

Prince Rupert is also perfect for taking a stroll around.

The waterfront and Cow Bay with its cute but not tacky cow patterns everywhere, tiny but quirky shops, and cafés is easily walk-able. Then there are totem poles and amazing murals to discover around every corner. I’m fairly sure I picked up a murals trail map from the visitor information but we either didn’t tick off all 30 of them or I’ve lost some photos as I only seem to have limited photo evidence.

The other place I really loved in Prince Rupert was the community-led Sunken Gardens.

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And for a bit of exercise, we half-ran half-walked the 4.5km Butze Rapids Trail loop (3km south of town), mostly because it was getting late and as usual, we were running out of daylight. The hike is pleasant enough, just don’t expect too much from the rapids.

On my list for next time:

  • The North Pacific Cannery, a national historic site: With boardwalks connecting this historic village, I can’t imagine not loving it
  • Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary: Need I say more? It’s got ‘grizzly bear’ in its name!
  • Drive Highway 16 along the Skeena River: Glaciers, mountain peaks and a winding river, sounds like an amazingly scenic drive

2. Ketchikan | Alaska

After leaving Prince Rupert on the Alaskan ferries, we made our way to Ketchikan and docked there for a couple of hours. I’m fairly sure all the tourists got off, and either wandered around Ketchikan aimlessly or had a bite to eat somewhere.

The walk into town from the ferry dock takes about half an hour as it’s at the other end of town, which seems to be as far away from the cruise ship terminal as possible. This 30 min vigorous exercise gave us just enough time to meander down parts of Waterfront Promenade, take a quick zip up and down Main Street, and skedaddle back to the ferry dock via a supermarket for a few supplies.

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Approaching Ketchikan early evening

Unfortunately, we didn’t even have time to explore the famous Ketchikan Creek Street Boardwalk (formerly a red-light district), which looks super quaint, historic and possibly totally overtouristed if cruise ships are in town. By the way, this is one town you’d want to avoid on cruise ship days as it would be impossibly packed!

On my list for next time:

  • Meander down the Creek Street Boardwalk
  • Visit the Southeast Alaska Discovery Centre (on Main Street): To learn more about the natural and cultural heritage of the Inside Passage region
  • Stop by the Totem Heritage Center: I find indigenous history and culture fascinating so this place sounds like a good spot to learn a bit more
  • Hike some of the local trails, e.g. Rainbird Trail with views of Ketchikan and surrounding islands and fjords
  • Stay overnight at the Ward Lake or Settlers Cove Campground

3. Petersburg | Alaska

If we didn’t have much time in Ketchikan, our stop at Petersburg was even shorter. We didn’t even make it into town but had to turn around at the marina.

Petersburg is also known as Alaska’s Little Norway, and while I’ve never been to Norway, I wouldn’t mind a slice of it in Alaska. Why not?

As it’s located at the end of the Wrangell Narrows, a lot of the big cruiseliners aren’t servicing Petersburg so my guess is that it’s a lot less touristy than, say, Ketchikan or Skagway.

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Petersburg with a backdrop of glaciers (boy, is it cold here!)

Founded by Norwegians, Petersburg is apparently one of the prettiest towns along the Inside Passage. From just docking at the harbour, I can certainly see the allure.

On my list for next time:

  • Wander the streets and boardwalks of Petersburg: That’s really all I want to do (plus take an insane number of photos if it’s really as pretty as they claim)
  • Explore a couple of the local hiking trails, I’m always up for that

4. Juneau | Alaska

Unlike the other ports, I can’t even say I’ve been to Alaska’s capital Juneau because we didn’t leave the ship. 🙁

The ferry docked about 8:30pm and left just after midnight, and I was too tired to get off. Plus the ferry terminal is a fair way out of Juneau so walking to downtown wasn’t really an option.

Obviously this situation would need to be rectified on our next Inside Passage trip as there’s just so much to do and see in Juneau. Ideally, I’d want to have at least a couple of days but possibly more because you know, weather and stuff.

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Approaching Juneau at sunset

So, here’s what I’d definitely want to see…

On my list for next time:

  • Mendenhall Glacier for obvious reasons
  • Walk around Juneau on a non-cruise ship day
  • Hike one of the many trails, maybe the West Glacier Trail or maybe the trail to Herbert Glacier (so many to choose from, apparently over 250mi of trails!)
  • Drive across to Douglas Island for views of Juneau
  • Maybe visit SeaAlaska, a traditional clan house, but I haven’t worked out yet if it’s super touristy
  • Poke around the Alaska State Museum for a dose of local indigenous culture and history
  • Visit the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church for its stunning architecture

Things I’m probably not so interested in because duh, too touristy, include taking the Mt Roberts Tram or just being in Juneau on cruise ship day (ok, I’m repeating myself…).

5. Sitka | Alaska

So here’s a place I haven’t been to at all.

I don’t exactly know why I think it’d be cool to visit Sitka, maybe because it’s played a role in the Russian exploration of Alaska or maybe because this is where Alaska was sold to the US in the mid-1800s. Or maybe I think it would make a great destination because it sees far fewer visitors than Juneau or Ketchikan do, and is kind of off the beaten path.

On my list for next time:

  • Learning more about Alaska’s Russian history at the Russian cemetery or the Russian Memorial
  • Visit the Alaska Raptor Center: Getting close with bald eagles at a bird rehab centre sounds like a great experience!
  • Take a hike among totem poles in Sitka National Historical Park, Alaska’s oldest national park
  • Doing some hiking around Harbor Mountain with views of Sitka Sound

6. Skagway | Alaska

From remote Sitka out on Baranof Island to super popular Skagway. This is where the gold rush all began…

I definitely don’t want to poke around Skagway on cruise ship day, that sounds like my particular version of a nightmare. But I would like to see what all the fuss is about, and whether Skagway really is as tacky and touristy as I’ve read.

There are still plenty of historical buildings dating back to the Klondike Gold Rush, and I really loved exploring Dawson City so maybe Skagway would be just as much fun!

READ MORE: Tracing the Klondike Gold Rush: Things to do in Dawson City

On my list for next time:

  • Take the railway over White Pass: I know this is super touristy but from photos I’ve seen, this trip looks incredibly scenic
  • Hike the Chilkoot Trail: Ok, this is probably going to stay on my bucket list forever (looks amazing though!)
  • Wander around the streets of Skagway and hopefully feel more like stepping back into time than into tacky tourist land

7. Haines | Alaska

Haines marked the final stop on our Inside Passage journey.

We arrived here at the ungodly hour of 4am, and basically rolled off the ferry, found a spot to park our van and went to sleep. A few hours later, we woke up to a bright clear day overlooking the Chilkat Inlet with views nothing short of breathtaking.

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In the early 1900s, the government built a fort at Haines, which is now a national historic site. The row of officer houses (Officer’s Row) looks super picturesque and only a little bit out of place in this neck of the woods. At least one of them is now a B&B, and it would probably be great fun to stay there.

We didn’t spend too much time in Haines as we had the 300km drive to Haines Junctions ahead of us that day. But if we were to visit again, I’d be interested to do these things:

On my list for next time:

  • Hike one of the local trails, like the Mount Riley Trail with fabulous views of the surrounding mountains, glaciers and inlets
  • Take a bit more time to wander around Haines and trace the history and buildings of the fort
  • Watch bald eagles soar at the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve: Last time we were a little too early to see any so maybe more luck next time?

You could also visit the Hammer Museum though I can’t say that I’ve had a hankering so far to see a whole museum full of hammers. That said, the Toaster Museum in Stewart was quirky and I had a blast examining the various contraptions so maybe looking at hammers would be equally fascinating??

Really off the beaten path towns

If you really want to get away from tourists, try one of these places: Elfin Cove (it’s a boardwalk town, yay!), Kake (great for watching bears fish for salmon!!), Tenakee Springs (hot springs on offer) or Angoon (more bear viewing and indigenous history).

Some of them are accessible by the Alaska State Ferry system, while for others you’ll need your own boat or fly in by float plane. Check out Alaska.org for more details.

More posts on Alaska and the Yukon

If you need more convincing that exploring the Inside Passage by ferry is the best idea, peruse my 5 reasons why. Included are some tips on what you need to know about taking the ferries.

The Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 is what Skagway and Dawson City are all about. Here’s how you could spend a day in Dawson City.

Alaska and the Yukon is an outdoor lover’s paradise: Go hiking in Kluane National Park, take a flightseeing tour over Kluane or roam around Tombstone Territorial Park. And that’s just the beginning of all that you could do in this region!

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