If you are like most, when you think of Alaska, you envision lush rainforests, dramatic mountains, miles of unspoiled coastline, and more glaciers than you can count. The Southeast region of Alaska, particularly the “Inside Passage”, represents just that.
Southeast Alaska truly exemplifies the moniker of “the last frontier”. Stretching for 500 miles along the coastline, there are strings of islands with steep cliffs and a temperate rainforest (part of Tongass National Forest). There are parts of this region where there are still no roads and the only way to visit is by air or sea. The channels between the mainland and the islands allow cruise ships and ferries access between many of these remote towns.
Whether you’re interested in native history, wildlife viewing, fishing, or want to experience North America’s majestic landscape, you will find a place along the Inside Passage that will inspire you!
Here are the best places to visit in Southeast Alaska.
Ketchikan is described as Alaska’s “first city” due to its location on the southern tip of the Inside Passage. This town is known for its rich Alaskan Native culture and is home to the world’s largest collection of standing totem poles which can be found throughout the city.
Another favorite for visitors is Creek Street. This area was once the red-light district and lined with brothels but now it is full of shops and local restaurants.
Ketchikan is also the self-proclaimed “Salmon Capital of the World”. This town offers lots of opportunities to test your luck on a fishing charter. While visiting, I went out on a 4-hour fishing charter hunting for halibut. While I did not catch any halibut (based on the time of year), my small group did bring in over 15 salmon that morning!
The old gold rush city of Juneau is the capital city of Alaska. It is a wilderness lover’s paradise, being a small city surrounded by mountains, wooded valleys, bay waters, and a gigantic icefield.
The major highlight in Juneau is Mendenhall Glacier. Mendenhall Glacier is one of the most accessible glaciers in North America. It is located less than 20 minutes from downtown and there is a shuttle bus that can take you there. If you want a little more adrenaline in your day, you can take a helicopter to the glacier and have a short hike across the icefield.
Whale watching proved to be best experienced in Juneau. I was able to spot ~9 humpback whales bubble net feeding one evening while cruising through Auke Bay! This was definitely a highlight of the trip.
Skagway is a town with a colorful past that also serves as the gateway to the Yukon (Canada). This town sits within the St. Elias mountains and previously was a boomtown for a gold-rushers into the Klondike region.
Taking the train on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway is a great experience to have while visiting Skagway. The train climbs nearly 3000 feet while traversing steep grades and around tight, cliffhanger curves as it snakes along the White Pass Summit. The experience of viewing mountains, glaciers, and wildlife while relaxing in a vintage train car is spectacular.
Unlike most other southeast port towns, Skagway is connected to the mainland by road. Visitors can drive the scenic Klondike Highway route through Alaska and into Yukon. The gold rush towns of Carcross and Whitehorse are easily accessible from this highway, and you will find unspoiled, immaculate views along this drive.
Glacier Bay National Park
Although getting here is a bit of a challenge (there is no road access in or out of the park), the awe and sheer beauty of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve makes the journey more than worth it. The park encompasses over 3 million acres of temperate rainforest, rugged mountains, and impressive tidewater glaciers. This wild and remote park is home to 1,045 named glaciers and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The highlight for most visitors to Glacier Bay is the tidewater glaciers of which there are seven in the park. During my visit, I was able to see Margerie Glacier calve into the bay…such a once-in-a-lifetime moment!
These locations are “can’t miss” destinations if you’re planning to visit the Inside Passage of Alaska. I know that you will agree that this region is a special place.
Hey, I'm Ronda Wright 👋🏽
I'm the founder of The Wright Getaway. I love all things travel and helping other people experience the world.
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