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Inside Passage Activity Guide: Exploring Major Ports of Call in Southeast Alaska

Each of Alaska's Inside Passage communities has a unique personality and ambience. Rocky, horizontally challenged Ketchikan radiates quirky charm, reflected in the work of artists like Ray Troll. Beautiful, Russian-accented Sitka hosts a renowned summer music festival. State capitol Juneau offers metropolitan amenities and instant access to nature, with spectacular Mendenhall Glacier in its backyard. A small-town gem, Haines is a close-knit community with an unusual side (check out the Hammer Museum). Undaunted by hordes of summer visitors, Skagway flaunts its racy Klondike past with vivid, fast-paced charm. Each community is home to vibrant, complex Alaska native cultures, at once ancient and contemporary. Each has good ferry service and most are visited by the major cruise ship lines.

For the convenience of travelers whose stays can range from a few hours to a week or more, I have organized each section of the guide according to the amount time visitors have available: a half day, a full day, or several days. There’s no better way to appreciate these ports than on foot, so walking tours and maps are provided. Time estimates are given. You’ll find the usual guidebook info—attractions, shore excursions, flightseeing, wildlife tours by land and water, plus accommodation, and dining. Added to these are some less-usual entries. For those with time and a vehicle (rental options are covered), road trips are included. From Ketchikan, take the private car ferry to Prince of Wales Island. Or drive the three-day circle route from Haines up to Canada’s Yukon Territory down to Skagway, and return by Alaska ferry to Haines. Sidebar essays feature topics such as “Ferry Breaks”—sightseeing options for visitors with only a two- or three-hour layover—and “Good Buys,” showcasing items created and sold only at that destination.

My Travel Philosophy
For me, traveling and writing about it means exploring what makes a destination unique. I focus whenever possible on what you can find only here, not everywhere. And I don’t mean just scenery and wildlife, but also human beings, historical figures and contemporary residents. Some are both. Southeast Alaska's first nations-Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian people have lived here for thousands of years and developed rich, complex cultures, especially strong in the arts. The opportunity to learn about these from the descendants of those who created them is uniquely rewarding. Many attractions and tours are managed and presented by Alaska natives.

As a writer, I seek to showcase homegrown enterprises that support and are supported by the local community. My aim is to encourage and facilitate responsible travel. But what amounts to responsible recreational travel is the subject of debate, under scrutiny for environmental, political and economic reasons. I think that’s a good thing. And so is our curiosity about our planet and the life it supports, human and otherwise. The value of travel—as a means of appreciating our world, understanding, respecting and bridging cultural differences, inspiring cultural outreach and communication—is harder to calculate than a carbon footprint. That doesn’t mean it’s any less important.