The Alaska Panhandle is best visited in the summer, when temperatures are milder and spawning salmon attract wildlife to the coast. Given how isolated this part of the state is, it’s best to visit by boat, but not that of the mega cruise variety. Instead, opt for an expedition ship, where you’ll be able to slip into areas that aren’t accessible by gargantuan vessels and truly delve into the magic that southeast Alaska has to offer. A leader in such excursions is Lindblad Expeditions, where no more than 62 guests are aboard the ship, creating a much more intimate and memorable experience.
The company teamed up with National Geographic in 2004, offering travelers the opportunity to traverse the waters with professional scientists, photographers, researchers, and naturalists. It’s a recipe that results in enriching adventures that are both explorative and educational. And because everyone onboard searches for those genuinely meaningful and authentic moments, there’s a likeminded camaraderie that’s infectious, making the voyage all that more incredible. Plus, their environmentally conscious practices such as refraining from single-use plastic are admirable.
To start, you’ll land in Juneau, the non-contiguous state’s capital. It might be a little foggy, it’ll possibly be a tad rainy, but the cool, crisp air is immediately invigorating. Take a deep breath, soak up all of the surrounding greenery, and get your rain jacket and waterproof boots ready. It’ll be a trip of a lifetime.
Here, five reasons why you should be going to southeast Alaska this summer.
Wildlife in its Natural Habitat
If you’ve only ever seen animals in controlled environments, this will be a complete eye-opener. There is truly nothing quite like watching a bear hunt for salmon, a raft of sea otters drifting about in the open waters, or elegant bald eagles soaring above as you float down a river. But one thing you’ll really want to keep an eye out for are humpback whales. If you catch these magnificent creatures at the right moment, you just might be lucky enough to see them bubble-net feeding, a unique behavior in which a group of these whales circle and blow bubbles at a school of fish, simultaneously disorienting and corralling their prey, then swim upwards to the surface with their mouths open to catch their meal. In cases like this, it’s where you’ll be extremely thankful that you’ve chosen a company like Lindblad. Because in the event that you come across a feeding pod, there are better chances of taking the time to stop, follow, and observe than adhering to a strict schedule.
When you enter Tracy Arm fjord you’ll be completely dumbfounded by its towering cliffs that hover 2,000 feet above and numerous cascading waterfalls. You’ll inevitably stop by one of two tidewater glaciers known as Sawyer and South Sawyer Glacier. The blue icebergs are unfortunately receding, however, so it’s better to see these formations now than later. Then there’s Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, where what seems like miles of endless snow and ice are captivating from up high. When you stop in Haines, book a tour with Mountain Flying Service—which is owned and operated by husband-and-wife—and hop in a plane to marvel at the Alaskan wilderness (there’s a good chance you’ll spot a few mountain goats along the way). Lastly, cross your fingers for an aurora borealis sighting. That’s right, you can witness this phenomenon in the United States.
Learn About the Indigenous Culture
Along the Chilkat River near Haines is Klukwan, the ancient home of the Tlingit tribe and the only community in southeast Alaska to be governed by its own tribal council. Pay a visit to the village and drop by the Jilkaat Kwaan Cultural Heritage Center to learn about these Alaskan natives, their history, and what they’re doing to preserve their home.
If you’ve been searching for motivation to exercise again, this will certainly jump-start it. While the activities aren’t strenuous by any means, they’ll get you up and moving with the various trail hikes offered as well as opportunities for kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and cycling.
Disconnect and Bond
WiFi is sparse at very best when sailing through this remote destination. There will be several times when reception is completely unavailable, which means it’s a great excuse to entirely disconnect and bond with loved ones or new friends. If you’re taking the kids, make sure to leave the portable gaming devices behind. Don’t forget to chat up the folks you’re on the landing crafts with during outings and those sitting with at the dinner table, though. You’re bound to hear some unbelievable stories.
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