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Viewing the coast of Alaska's Inside Passage on the observation deck of a Holland America line cruise ship

Wild Splendors Of Alaska’s Inside Passage

The Inside Passage is a scenic waterway in Southeast Alaska. Read about the towns you’ll experience on Inside Passage cruises.

Like everything in Alaska, the Inside Passage is full of grandeur. Created by glaciers millions of years ago, it is now a sheltered sea route that runs from the Puget Sound in Washington to Skagway, Alaska. The landscapes are lush and varied, from old-growth forest to crystalline fjords and islets scattered like marbles on the sea. It is a marine highway for cruises and other ships, but also home turf for scores of Alaska wildlife.

Untouched wilderness is just the start. An Alaska Inside Passage cruise stops into remote towns rich with Tlingit heritage, vestiges from Russian influence and Gold Rush lore.

Best Way To Experience The Inside Passage

An Alaska Inside Passage cruise is the best way to see this remarkable area. It is possible to explore independently via a ferry to Inside Passage ports or an island-hopping plane, but you might face steep competition for accommodations. On an Inside Passage cruise, everything is taken care of, while you soak in mile after mile of incredible scenery.

Holland America Line’s Inside Passage cruises from Vancouver have northbound and roundtrip voyages.

Where Is Alaska’s Inside Passage?

This web of waterways known as the “Inside Passage” goes from Seattle to the southeastern Alaska panhandle. It is a common network for ships, as it offers protected, smooth-as-glass sailing. It is one of the few routes in the world with water deep enough for cruise ships to sidle up to cliffs.

The Inside Passage encompasses islands, coves, bays, national parks, and fjords, and gives the opportunity to explore remote towns only accessible by boat or plane. It’s truly magical.

Ports Along The Inside Passage

Explore Alaska’s dynamic history as you cruise along the Inside Passage.

  • Ketchikan: At the southern tip of the Inside Passage, rain-nurtured Ketchikan is nicknamed the First City because it’s often the first Alaska cruise port. Ketchikan is famous for rivers teeming with salmon. You will also find a large collection of Native Alaskan totem poles and a working carving center. No port day is complete without a stroll down Creek Street, a boardwalk with curio shops, galleries and humorous references to Ketchikan’s storied past.
  • Juneau: the misty, laid-back capital is known for outdoor recreation. When you cruise to Juneau, you can hike a glacier and eat fresh-caught fish while sitting seaside. Brave Mount Roberts for panoramic views or go on a whale-watching excursion from Auke Bay.
  • Sitka: The town may be small, but it leaves a lasting impression. An onion-domed church marks Sitka as Russia’s former settlement, New Archangel. Reel in salmon for a few hours or make feathered friends at the Alaska Raptor Center. Or just relax and gaze at Mount Edgecombe, a dormant volcano that resembles Mt. Fuji.
  • Skagway: Frontier spirit runs high in Skagway. Take the White Pass and Yukon Route to skirt narrow cliffs, chug over trestles, and eventually gain a better appreciation for prospectors who took the perilous trek on horseback long ago.

What Wildlife Can I See On An Alaska Inside Passage Cruise?

In Haines, a seaside hamlet on the Alaska Inside Passage, there are more eagles than people. That says a lot about the abundance of wildlife in these waters.

Scan the Inside Passage for Alaska’s iconic wildlife. You may spot humpback whales and orcas and are almost guaranteed a bald eagle sighting. Alaska has a high number of brown and black bears who scour the shoreline for snacks. If you’re lucky, fuzzy cubs will be trailing behind their momma bear.

Other Alaska animals you may see include harbor seals and otters, and Sitka black tail deer. Stay ready with a pair of binoculars and a camera with a long lens.

Many wildlife-specific Alaska shore excursions and tours leave from the Inside Passage ports. Whale watching and bear tours are the most popular.

Notable Inside Passage Landmarks

Misty Fjords Monument

Misty Fjords lives up to its name with its signature blanket of white mist. If there is a lot of rain, the waterfalls are especially dramatic, but the scenery is spellbinding no matter the weather. This vast wilderness along the Inside Passage is only accessible by a boat tour or flightseeing.

Glacier Bay National Park

Glacier Bay National Park is a peak experience on Inside Passage cruises. It is a 3.3 million-acre marine wilderness that encompasses over 1,000 glaciers. The major draw is the eight tidewater glaciers within the park, winding down from the mountains all the way to the sea.

What To Wear On Alaska Inside Passage Cruises?

Tell your friends you're about to embark on an Alaska cruise Inside Passage and they’ll respond, "but what about the weather?"

As a common Scandinavian saying goes, "there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing." The better you prepare and the more meticulous you pack, the more comfortable you’ll be. That doesn’t mean overloading your suitcase, it means including enough of the right gear for the right weather.

Pack waterproof jackets and strive for layers—you need to be ready for a sunny day and a chilly one, as the summertime high is usually only between 50- and 60-degrees Fahrenheit. Occasionally, it reaches 70s and 80s.

Pack lots of sweaters, scarves, long-sleeve shirts, long underwear, a water-repellent jacket, and rainboots along with sunglasses, a swimsuit and a few nights of formal wear for formal nights.

This Alaska cruise packing list offers more tips and advice.

May to September is considered the best time for an Inside Passage Alaska cruise. We can’t wait to show you this incredible place.

View all Alaska Articles and Videos, or see all of Holland America’s Alaska cruise ports.