This past June we travelled to Alaska the way most people do, by cruise ship. Maybe that's why I was slightly underwhelmed with this particular excursion compared to some of our other recent cross-country trips. A cruise ship almost seems too packaged and commercialized, not quite original enough for something like an Alaskan adventure, but by the end of our vacation, Alaska (and our cruise ship) had greatly exceeded my expectations and quickly landed itself at the number one spot in my wander-luster heart.
Our trip was comprised of 8 days, 7 nights and 4 ports. For anyone interested, our cruise liner was the Norwegian Jewel and I would highly recommend their company. Keep in mind, this was my first cruise so I don't have anything to compare it to, but I can’t imagine the food, service, or experience getting much better.
Our first port was Ketchikan, Alaska and it was far and away my favorite docking view of all of our stops. The colorful houses stacked against the mountainside, the perfect brush-stroke mist rolling in over the tree tops and... the pines. Oh my, those pines. My evergreen senses were just exploding with happiness. When I envision Alaskan living, this is it, right down to the last rain-soaked tavern on the water's edge.
Our first pitstop in Ketchikan was, of course, the gift shop! I must say those cruise ships and ports get suckers like me every time with their trinkets and souvenirs. But after a token magnet was bought, we taxi’d out to a trail named the “Rainbird Trail.” Fun fact: the trail was named after the mythical “rainbird” that was said to inhabit the local rainforest. We didn’t want to hike in an area that was crawling with cruise tourists, but we also didn’t want to spend too much time riding around in a taxi and this trail was the perfect fit. It was less than 10 minutes from port and we only ended up passing one other couple while we were on the trail. The trail was only about 2/3 of a mile long but it provided some steep passes and amazing views. Par for the course, it was raining lightly the entire hike, which I thought was perfectly appropriate for our Alaskan rainforest experience.
Another fun fact: Something extremely special happened on this trail, my brother proposed to his girlfriend, and I was there to document the whole thing!!
After our hike, we taxi’d back to the port area and grabbed some chowder at a local pub. And did a little more shopping of course.
Our second port was in Juneau, Alaska. We lucked out and had absolutely gorgeous weather for our hikes while in the capitol. After docking, we took an air-tram to the top of Mount Roberts and did about 1-2 miles of hiking in an alpine area near the top of the mountain. The trails were fairly easy and slightly busy since the tram is located right off the port, but if you get there early enough, it isn’t overly crowded by any means.
From the mountain-top trails, we hiked another 2 miles to downtown Juneau through the Tongass National Forest. I was convinced we were going to have our first bear sighting, but alas, mountain goats were the only wildlife encountered. We had only 8 hours in Juneau before we had to board the boat again and we used every minute of it soaking up these trails.
After Juneau, we docked in Skagway, Alaska. This was the only port that Taylor and I paid to do an excursion booked through our cruise liner. We met our guide at the port hiked a short distance through town to the railroad platform, then took an hour long train ride aboard the Yukon Railway. After hopping off the train at the our trailhead, we hike eight miles round-trip to the Laughton Glacier, stopping atop the glacier to grab some lunch and hot cocoa. The train ride itself was awesome and provided amazing panoramic scenic views.
Nothwithstanding the beauty seen from the traincar, however, nothing can compare to boots-on-the-ground hiking through the forest, along the river, up the mountain, to the glacier. In eight short miles, we encountered some of the most beautiful terrain on the planet.
Our guides for this excursion were top-notch. They were very laid back, yet informative. Plus, they had a snack bag full of candy bars, so I was immediately sold. They worked for Packer Expeditions, and I would highly recommend booking any excursions through this organization if you’re in their area.
Our final stop was Victoria, British Columbia. This was the perfect ending to a perfect trip. Everything from the landscaping, to the sidewalks, were pristine and gorgeous. We had lunch by the harbor and mostly just walked around the downtown area and enjoyed the sites.