If you’re cruising to Alaska, you may want to take some fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime shore excursions, either organized through the ship or through independent companies. However, if you want to save money for your next cruise, consider doing your own thing in a some of the ports. Here are 10 inexpensive yet fun things to do while in port on your Alaskan cruise.
1) Upper or Lower Dewey Lake Hike in Skagway
Upper Dewey Lake. All pictures by Melinda Brasher
If you’re up for a serious hike, and especially if it’s a sunny day, you will not regret the steep and stunning trek to Upper Dewey Lake. I’ve done a lot of hiking, but I’ve rarely seen anything more beautiful. If you don’t have time (or leg muscles) for the 3000-foot climb, Lower Dewey Lake is also a very pretty destination.
2) Beach-Combing and Wildlife-Watching in Icy Strait Point
The mostly rocky beaches are fun to stroll along, looking for sea life, artistically stacking rocks, and scanning the waters for seals, dolphins, and other animals. Icy Strait Point is also prime whale-watching territory. The day we were there, I was lucky enough to see a whale lunge-feeding a stone’s throw from shore.
3) Totem Bight Park in Ketchikan
For the price of a bus ride ($2 roundtrip), plus an optional small donation, you can visit Totem Bight Park, a beautiful and peaceful place right along the water, showcasing native totem poles and a replica of a Tlingit longhouse. Be sure to read the fascinating information on the meanings and stories associated with the totems.
4) St. Nicolas Russian Orthodox Church in Juneau
This is a modest building, one of the oldest of its kind in Alaska. If there’s a volunteer inside to talk to, ask questions and you’ll certainly learn something interesting. This is also a good stop on the way to various hikes and walks, like the easy Flume Trail, the rigorous Mt Roberts Trail, or the beautiful Perseverance Trail.
5) Touch tank in Kodiak
Not a lot of cruise ships go to Kodiak, but if you do, consider the Fisheries Research Center Aquarium and Touch Tank. It’s small, but the creatures are beautiful, and touching the alien-looking crabs and sucking anemones gives you a greater connection to them. Plus, the walk is very pretty, with great views from the top of the bridge.
6) Watching Salmon in Creek Street, Ketchikan
If you go during the biggest salmon runs, especially late July to August, Creek Street is great place to watch the fish struggling to make their trip upstream to spawn. They have to fight not only against the flow of the water but against each other—and the occasional hungry seal. Be sure to follow Married Man’s Trail to the fish ladder and spend some time watching them jump up the rocky cascades.
7) Walking Tour in Skagway
Even if you’re not a huge history buff, you’ll like the walking tour of Skagway, where you hear about the gold rush’s winners, losers, and clever shysters like Jeff “Soapy” Smith, whose parlor is pictured here. The tour is free, led by the Klondike Gold Rush National Park rangers. Just sign up beforehand, since tickets go fast.
8) Fort Seward in Haines
This fort is a small military outpost, never much used for actual conflict, but the interpretive signs and the uniform nature of the place make it interesting to wander around for a few minutes. It’s also home to the Alaskan Indian Arts Center, a small collection of native art. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to watch a carver working on a totem pole and talk to them about the process, all while the smell of cedar fills the air.
9) The Russian Cemetery in Sitka
Though some might consider it morbid to visit cemeteries, if the beauty and sense of history attract you, this is one you shouldn’t miss. Tilted and overgrown headstones, some with traditional Eastern Orthodox crosses, mark the passage of many of Sitka’s past inhabitants. It can be a peaceful place, lush and green, with big leaves and bits of moss so thick and springy that you don’t feel like you’re walking on solid ground.
10) Exit Glacier in Seward
Here you can take a short and easy hike nearly to the toe of the glacier, close enough you can feel the cold air coming off of it while you stand in the moonscape created by its recent retreat. If you have time and energy, try the Harding Ice Field Trail. It’s a steep one, but the views down onto the glacier and across to massive Harding Ice Field are spectacular. You can take a shuttle from downtown, round trip, for only $10. The park is free.
Whatever you choose to do in Alaska, you’ll enjoy it. Just remember that you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars in every port to have a great Alaskan adventure.
If you want more details on these and other free and inexpensive things to do in Alaskan ports, check out Cruising Alaska on a Budget; A Cruise and Port Guide by Melinda Brasher.
For more pictures, go to the Cruising Alaska on a Budget Photo Gallery.