The bear es­sen­tials

The best Alaskan shore ex­pe­ri­ences.

Cruise Passenger - - PUBLISHER’S LETTER -

1 Ride the rails

Steeped in gold-rush his­tory, the White Pass rail­road trip tops the ex­cur­sion pop­u­lar­ity charts year af­ter year. Fol­low­ing the trail of the 19th-cen­tury gold prospec­tors (who did it on foot) from Sk­ag­way across the sum­mit of White Pass into Yukon, Canada (take your pass­port), this nar­row-gauge track crosses death-de­fy­ing tres­tle bridges above stun­ning deep ravines and delves into tun­nels cut­ting through moun­tain­ous and treach­er­ous ter­rain. 2 Bear all In Alaska, where there’s salmon, you’ll find bears. For a cou­ple of bear view­ing ex­cur­sions that won’t break the bank (or in­volve a flight), Men­den­hall Glacier in Juneau is a black-bear hot spot as is the tiny vil­lage of Haines for brown bears. Many cruise com­pa­nies have ex­cur­sions at Icy Strait Point, part of Chichagof Is­land, where there’s a high con­cen­tra­tion of brown bears.

3 Take a pad­dle

Kayak­ing is big in Alaska so what bet­ter place to pad­dle the glassy wa­ter of the fiords and hid­den coves to catch a glimpse of har­bour seals, sea li­ons, Dall’s por­poises or pos­si­bly even hump­back whales at eye level? With so many tiny is­lands, kayak­ing is ex­cel­lent in Sitka. You can also take a beau­ti­ful trip in Sk­ag­way and, from Juneau, you can pad­dle out to the spec­tac­u­lar Men­den­hall Glacier.

4 Em­brace the cul­ture

South­east Alaska is a rich ta­pes­try of sto­ries and art­work that in­cludes a range of cul­tures from the in­dige­nous Tlin­git and Haida In­dian com­mu­ni­ties to the Rus­sian and Norwegian in­flu­ence. Walk through the mag­nif­i­cent Totem Parks in Sitka or Ketchikan to learn why th­ese works of art are im­por­tant his­tor­i­cal records, take an ex­cur­sion to a na­tive vil­lage from Ketchikan or catch a cul­tural dance in the Tribal House in Wrangell or Sitka.

5 Take to the skies

With very few roads, float planes and he­li­copters are the taxis of Alaska. Flight­see­ing over the Misty Fjords Mon­u­ment from Ketchikan will lit­er­ally take your breath away. Tow­er­ing moun­tains dip into glassy wa­ter sur­rounded by dense rain­for­est dot­ted with cas­cad­ing wa­ter­falls. Or from Juneau take a flight amongst the ma­jes­tic glaciers of the Juneau Ice­field where you might even be lucky enough to

wit­ness a calv­ing. If that’s not enough of a thrill, there’s also an adren­a­line rush­ing zi­plin­ing park in Juneau.

6 Step back in time

Re­live the gold-rush days and wan­der through the beau­ti­fully pre­served vil­lage of Sk­ag­way. Take a walk with a “madam” to hear tales of the ladies of the night. You can even pan for gold in Liarsville Camp (and dis­cover the story be­hind the name) or take a horse ride through the Klondike Gold Rush Na­tional Park. Creek Street in Ketchikan is also a must-do her­itage ex­pe­ri­ence.

7Go mush­ing

What could be more Alaskan than be­ing on a sled with a team of dogs charg­ing through the snow and ice? With the help of a he­li­copter you can even have this adren­a­line rush in sum­mer or for a slightly more se­date ex­pe­ri­ence many ken­nels hitch their dogs on sleds with wheels in sum­mer. Ei­ther way you’ll get to pat adorable pup­pies. Sk­ag­way, Ketchikan and Juneau all have once-in-al­ife-time-type of dog-sled­ding ex­pe­ri­ences.

8 Catch a big one

You only have see the num­ber of cool boxes at an air­port in Alaska to re­alise it’s the ul­ti­mate fish­ing des­ti­na­tion. Com­mer­cial fish­ing is a ma­jor in­dus­try, how­ever there’s plenty left for the sport­ing an­gler. Salmon will give you a run for your money or try for a mon­ster hal­ibut. Most ports of­fer fish­ing ex­cur­sions, es­pe­cially Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan. If you’re lucky, your itin­er­ary might take in the tiny Norwegian vil­lage of Peter­bor­ough, home of the big com­mer­cial fish­ing ves­sels.

9 Have a whale of a time

The In­side Pas­sage is one of the best places in the world for whale watch­ing. This is where hun­gry hump­backs go to gorge them­selves in the nutri­ent-rich wa­ters be­fore mi­grat­ing to their breed­ing grounds in Hawaii and Baja, Mex­ico. Juneau of­fers bril­liant small ves­sel view­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and to­wards the end of the sea­son, Sitka is also an ex­cel­lent spot. In ad­di­tion to hump­backs, you may be for­tu­nate enough to see Orca whales that tran­sit th­ese wa­ters.

Clock­wise from top: brown bear; he­li­copter tour over the Juneau Ice­field; wildlife watch­ing; kayak­ing; Alaskan totem pole

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