Alaska is a grand destination that is not to be missed. Larger than Texas, California and Montana combined, Alaska’s environs span a coastal temperate rainforest to a dry alpine alluvial plane and a freezing arctic realm. This land of deserved superlatives will wow the intrepid traveler with adventure, spectacular scenery and wildlife. Choosing the best Alaskan journey for you depends on the time you have and your preferred mode of travel because the region is both large and varied.
Cruising the scenic waterways of this beautiful region occurs mainly in the Southeast portion of the state, in what is referred to as the Alaskan Inside Passage, a protected waterway dotted with a multitude of islands and peninsulas, channels, inlets and bays, with dramatic mountains as a backdrop. Somewhat less frequently, expedition ships travel west into the Aleutian Islands or venture further north into the Arctic realm of the Bering Sea.
Given that the Alaskan Inside Passage is not fully accessible by vehicle as connecting roads are scarce to nonexistent; land journeys take place north of the Inside Passage in the northern coastal region and interior of Alaska. Popular areas of exploration include the Seward and Kenai Peninsulas, Anchorage, the Copper River Valley and north towards Talkeetna, Denali National Park, Kantishna, Fairbanks and the Arctic Circle.
Late April to mid-September
Alaska's primary travel season runs during the summer months, May through September with warmer temperatures, long days and accessible wildlife. Throughout the summer weather varies from sunny days in the 70s or 80s to chilly rainy days in the 50s and 60s.
Temperate rainforest areas along the coast experience cooler maritime temperatures, and interior temperatures can vary from warm and sunny to cool and wet. Due to its northern latitude, Alaska offers endless summer days providing plenty of sunlight for activities and explorations.
Inside Passage Small Ship Cruising
We specialize in working with small ship cruises, from as few as 12 passengers, upwards to several hundred. Small ships emphasize unhurried exploration and an in-depth level of access to the pristine Alaskan marine environment and temperate coastal rainforests. The majority of small ship cruises offer all-inclusive programs and unique itineraries, with more amenities and activities, on land or by sea via smaller craft such as Zodiacs, DIBs or skiffs.
Cruises depart from small Southeastern Alaskan cities or towns such as Juneau, Ketchikan or Sitka and it is only at the beginning or end of the “season” that you will find voyages departing from or sailing to Seattle. Travelers fly from their home airport to their point of embarkation city or town to begin their cruise. Most Inside Passage voyages span 8 days, though there are some shorter or longer.
Small ship programs can reach the more uninhabited regions that larger ships cannot access, the heart of Alaska. Excursions are designed and led by onboard expedition leaders and naturalists and they provide travelers with an in-depth, highly educative and unique journey. They are available to answer questions on board and occasionally provide presentations and lectures on topics relevant to the voyage. Small ships operate under a different type of permitting structure for ports visits and landings and have the flexibility to deviate somewhat from their planned itinerary should a wildlife opportunity present itself, such huge pods of whales feeding, an exceptional midnight ‘sunset’, or a sighting of a mother bear and cub digging for mollusks on the shore.
Getting up close with their ship to the shore and to calving glaciers and icebergs is also another advantage of small ships.
Life aboard the small ships is friendly, intimate and casual. The small ships lack the formal nights, casinos and floor shows of large cruise ship trips yet few miss these features. Days begin early, when wildlife is at its most active, and guests are absorbed in daily adventures. Staff mingle with guests during mealtimes, and are often available on deck in the daylight hours to answer questions and help spot wildlife.
Alaska Land Journeys
Another way to experience Alaska is by land, such as guided group tours with fixed departure dates or private custom tours for 1 or more travelers. The shortest of these land journeys is usually pre or post cruise extensions that allow visitors to experience Denali National Park, traveling at least one-way by the Alaska Railroad through breathtaking natural landscapes and overnighting either at the park entrance of Denali National Park, or at one of the specialized lodges on private land deep within or adjacent to the park boundaries. The types of these extensions range greatly in terms of price and level of accommodation, and it is important to note that because of the finite amount of properties near Denali and seats on the train these extensions sell out very quickly and should be booked as far in advance as possible.
For travelers who don’t mind missing out on the Alaska maritime experience, tours exclusively by land are also possible, ranging from self-catered and self-driving tours up to fully escorted group or private custom tours. Common destinations for these tours included the Denali region, the Arctic, the Copper River Valley and the Kenai Peninsula. These tours can offer specific activities such as hiking, biking, mountaineering and river rafting so they can be good for those looking to be a bit more active. The other benefit of land tours is that they tend to offer more time in each area, and they take people off of the beaten path destinations and provide a spacious and uncrowded experience.