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Alaska cruise guide: The Last Frontier

Destination Reviews
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Alaska is the largest wilderness area of the United States and its scale is enough to impress any traveller. Its scenery carved by ice with a beautiful coastline, lush forests and spectacular mountains, the region is home to much indigenous wildlife alongside thriving communities with so many stories to tell.

Stretching beyond the Arctic Circle to the North, southwards along the Pacific coast and reaching out into the Bearing Sea to the West, the landscape is extraordinarily varied. The immense tundra in the northern region is dotted with lakes, and contains the delta of the famed Yukon, not to mention numerous mountain peaks including Denali, the highest in North America and third most prominent in the world. The centre of stunning Denali National Park is home to lynx and golden eagles.

Alaska serenity lake

Containing half the world's glaciers, the ice-carved landscape of fjords and inlets is home to some extraordinary wildlife. In the summer months the salmon run attracts its most famous, albeit reclusive, resident: the brown bear, which will sit watchfully beside the brooks and weirs, or wade into the water, to catch its fill.

You should see breaching whales and whole rafts of sea otters, soaring eagles and vultures drying their wings in the sun.

Alaska Grizzly Bear

Alaska also has a rich history with former frontier towns boasting impressive stories of fortunes made and lost, and famous local characters that could easily have featured in a Hollywood Western. There is also a fascinating native culture and an interesting Russian connection as Alaska was part of the Russian Empire until 1867.

Whilst the key towns and ports of call are bustling and busy, you can be way off the beaten track in no time, exploring a wilderness you are sharing with brown bears, circling birds of prey and waters teeming with life, from whales to sea otters to running salmon racing upstream.

Creek Street, Ketchikan

The region's remoteness means it's best explored by boat and even the state's capital Juneau is unreachable by road thanks to its dramatic hillside location. Popular towns include Ketchikan, a former frontier town situated at the foot of towering Deer Mountain and a popular jumping off point for the Misty Fjords National Monument, a 3,750-square-mile swathe of virgin forest and plunging fjords. Skagway is another impressively well-preserved gold rush town with a charming historic centre where local guides in period dress lend it a distinctly Hollywood feel. From the town ride the Whitepass Railway, snaking up and over the impossibly steep slopes to cross into Canada and the gold fields beyond.

Whitepass Railway

Natural wonders include Hubbard Glacier, the largest tidewater glacier in North America with a six-mile-wide face meeting the sea. The Glacier's rapid advance means that giant icebergs regularly calve into the waters of Disenchantment Bay. The remote Inian Islands, at the northern edge of the Inside Passage, are a natural pinch point where waters of the Pacific are forced through a narrow strait providing rich pickings for marine predators including humpback whales, Steller sea lions and puffins.

Adventurous travellers can enjoy the opportunity to hike ashore with expert guides, who will introduce them to ancient forests and a rich cultural history. There are so many exciting activities available, including kayaking, white water rafting and dog sledding, and you can even snorkel in the icy waters, or go heli-hiking on a glacier.

Hubbard Glacier, Alaska

Itineraries usually operate from or to Canada's eminently liveable Vancouver, which boasts a superb culinary scene with seafood galore and a strong Asian influence, The verdant Stanley Park is 1000 acres of forest intersected by walking and bike trails in the heart of the city. From here the charming Rocky Mountaineer train departs on a variety of rail voyages through the Rocky Mountains.

Seattle is also a common start and end point, an eclectic jumble of different neighbourhoods where trendy boutiques rub shoulders with historic markets where the morning's catch is delivered in unforgettable style, thrown through the air to the stall's safe-handed owner.

To the north, the start and end port is Seward where onward travel to Anchorage is required for international air travel.

Itineraries are commonly between 7-12 days with cruise lines operating a repeating schedule of cruises between May and September.

Meet the author

Alex is Director of Sales & Marketing at Mundy Cruising, having worked with the company for 10 years and in travel for over 18 years. Most recently he's cruised on Regent Seven Seas and has also sailed with Seabourn, Crystal, SeaDream, Tauck and Ponant. His favourite destination is South America however he's also enjoyed cruises in the Western Mediterranean, Middle East, East Africa & Indian Ocean, India, Myanmar, South East Asia and Antarctica. When he’s not travelling he loves walking holidays; a favourite included a trek to Everest Base Camp.

More about Alex

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