Alaska is one of the best cruising destinations in the world for active travelers ready for those once in a lifetime experiences. From dogsledding to whale watching to helicopter rides above ice fields, there are dozens of action-packed excursions to choose from. What should you do?
Here’s our roundup of the Top 10 cruise adventures in America’s last frontier.
Not the first place you’d think of donning a mask and fins, but snorkeling in Alaska is all the rage and a pretty unique experience considering you’re surrounded by snowy mountain peaks while doing it. Wearing a full wetsuit of course, snorkel in warm, or should we say warm for Alaska, tide pools (generally about 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit) located about five miles from the Ketchikan cruise port. Float above big blue, orange and purple starfish, shiny red sea urchins and kelp forests.
2. Bear scouting
There’s nothing like spotting a bear in the wild and it’s pretty much guaranteed is Neet’s Bay in Tongass National Forest, where you can check out black bears from the safety of a viewing platform. Which is exactly how we like to spot them, from a safe distance.
3. Glacier viewing
The Juneau ice field is massive and the best way to take in its enormity is via a floatplane or helicopter ride above the giant sheets of ice. Helicopters can cruise and hover at lower altitudes for closer views, but they’re costlier to operate (so tour prices are higher). Floatplanes, on the other hand, can fly higher above glaciers and mountains for more panoramic viewing; some tours include a landing on a remote mountain lake where passengers can come out onto the pontoons for a few minutes and snap some photos.
4. Rainforest trekking
Hike in the lush Glacier Bay National Park and get great views of the Mendenhall Glacier and if you’re lucky, spot a brown bear or some porcupines. When your cruise docks in Skagway, hike a rugged two-mile stretch on the remote Chilkoot Trail and walk in the footsteps of the gold-hungry prospectors walked a century ago.
5. Dogsled mushing
This is an excellent choice for adventurous dog-loving families. Some of the camps are a short ride away and the dogs pull a sled on wheels. If you are looking to try your hand at mushing with actual snow on the ground, the camps are so remote you fly there on a helicopter. Once at the retreats, your guide will introduce you to your new set of wheels (the dogs), teach you a few basic commands and then off you go mushing.
6. Whale Watching
There’s nothing quite like being on a small boat and floating so close to a massive breeching whale (in our case whales) that you can almost reach out and touch it. One of the best spots to see the massive mammals is Auke Bay, near Juneau. Most tours have a money-back guarantee if you don’t see a whale. You always do. And you will never forget it. Ever.
After a van ride to the top of Skagway’s White Pass summit nearly 3,000 feet above the cruise ship docks, bike down hill for 15 miles and feel like you’re the only one on the mountain. The snowy peaks, glacier-fed waterfalls and views of the harbor below will impress even the most jaded adventurer.
Another way to get an aerial view of Alaska’s temperate rainforest is to don a harness and glide through the forest canopy and in Juneau, also above the ruins of the historic Treadwell gold mine. Gear up and get that heart racing as you fly hundreds of feet above ground zipping between canopy platforms, cross aerial suspension bridges and repel back down to the ground.
What about exploring Alaska at sea level? Get in a bit of exercise while paddling around cool mountain lakes. Keep your eyes pealed for seals and bald eagles.
10. White Pass & Yukon Railway
This couch potato adventure affords breathtaking views of jagged mountain peaks covered in snow while the ride itself will get your adrenaline going. From the comfort of vintage rail cars, some replicas and some more than a half century old, rattle along curving narrow-gauge tracks that cling to steep cliffs and clamor over wooden trestles and through tunnels as you climb 3,000 feet in just 20 miles.
At the end of the day what matters most is you get outside, breath some fresh air and discover why Alaska lured you North to begin with.
A cruise to Alaska is truly an adventure you'll never forget.