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6 Ways to Explore Alaska

Posted by: Windstar Cruises on October 3, 2017

You might spot soaring eagles, brown and black bears, and foraging moose. If you’re lucky, you’ll return with a photo of a whale breaching the surface of Rudyerd Bay.

Exploring the U.S.’s vast last frontier is on many a vacation wish list. Seasoned travelers often opt for ways to see the 49th State in a way that gives a closer look at its bountiful wonders, such as spouting whales and chunks of gigantic glaciers crashing into chilly waters below.

Here are seven excursions to put on your Alaska travel wish-list:

Totem Polls

Marveling at the World’s Largest Collection of Standing Totem Poles in Ketchikan

Sitting at the southern end of the Inside Passage north of British Columbia, Ketchikan often serves as a traveler’s introduction to Alaska. Its centerpiece is nearly 100 tall carved Native American artifacts displayed around and near town, some visible from the street on the tourist bureau’s Ketchikan Walking Tour and many more at the Totem Heritage Center. The center boasts what’s billed as the largest collection of unrestored 19th– century poles as well as masks, ceremonial garb, baskets and historic photographs of villages where the poles were found. You’ll see a “mortuary pole,” honoring a dead person and used to store cremated remains, and a “story pole” detailing a clan’s historical narrative. Travel about three miles south on a shuttle or with a guide to see two dozen more totems at Saxman Native Village. Just north of the city, Totem Bight State Historical Park holds nearly 20 poles, including the imposing Eagle Grave Marker. Travel 10 miles north and see more at Potlatch Totem Park, whose exhibits include five Native Alaskan clan houses.

Taku Glacier

Experiencing the Magnificent Taku Glacier Near Juneau

The blue-tinged ice of Taku Glacier – the largest, most impressive and only advancing glacier on the Juneau Icefield – is recognized as the deepest and thickest alpine temperate glacier known in the world. It is measured at 4,845 feet (1,477 m) thick and about 58 kilometres (36 mi) long. You will board a van for the 15-minute ride to the heliport. Along with the Taku Glacier, you will fly over numerous glacial landscapes, including advancing, retreating, cascading and a one-of-a-kind floating glacier. Under your pilot’s expert guidance, you will get the chance to walk on and explore the ancient landscape, peer down into a crevasse and taste the purity of glacial streams. This tour is perfect for small groups and visits a truly remote, helicopter access only location. The time to see it is soon: it and other Alaska glaciers are shrinking. Visitors also can be ferried to the glacier’s edge, hike to nearby Nugget Falls and see exhibits at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, which is wheelchair accessible.



Mushing Huskies on the Snow Near Juneau

Board a helicopter for a quick flight over ice fields before touching down to take part in one of Alaska’s iconic pastimes. You’ll board a dogsled for a memorable ride on a glacier; not quite the famed Iditarod long-distance race, but fodder for a good tale to tell back home.

Kenai Fjords

Kayaking in Scenic Kenai Fjords National Park

Nearly 40 glaciers flow over the terrain of this pristine wilderness area, where only small boats go. Board a zodiac or kayak to see playful otters, sea lions and porpoises — perhaps even a humpback whale. Onboard naturalists and glaciologists lead these excursions.

Dropping Anchor at a First Nations Community on a Little-Visited Island

Metlakatla, on Annette Island southwest of Ketchikan, is home to the only modern-day settlement of the Tsimshian people in the United States and the sole reservation in Alaska. Visitors to the Annette Island Reserve can see song and dance performances in a traditional longhouse. Also on the island: members of the Tlingit, Aleut, and other Alaskan tribes.

Watching Brown and Black Bears Outside Sitka

Bear encounters in a safe environment are guaranteed at the Fortress of the Bear, the largest nonprofit bear rescue facility in the U.S. Not at all like a zoo, Fortress provides a home for orphaned cubs and lets visitors observe the bruins being fed and at play on nearly an acre of land. Sitka itself, with Russian heritage that includes an onion-domed cathedral, is worth a stroll.

How to Explore

Windstar offers six cruises that feature Alaska: the 11- or 12-day Alaskan Splendors from Vancouver to Seward (Anchorage); the 12-day Islands & Inlets of the Inside Passage from Vancouver to Vancouver; the 13-day Japan & North Pacific Crossing from Tokyo to Seward (Anchorage); the 16-day Aleutians & North Pacific Crossing from Seward (Anchorage) to Tokyo; the 27-day Star Collector: Alaska Crossing to Japan from Vancouver to Tokyo; the 22-day Star Collector: Alaska & James Beard Foundation West Coast Adventure from Vancouver to San Diego, and two cruise tours; 16-day Alaskan Glaciers & Rails to the Rockies Cruise Tour from Vancouver to Calgary, and the 15- or 16-day Alaskan Explorations & Denali Cruise Tour between Vancouver and Fairbanks.

As a nationwide provider of air, rail, motorcoach and cruise guided vacations to more than 65 destinations worldwide, Holiday Vacations’ packages are inclusive of all airfare, fine hotels, delightful meals and all the must-see attractions. Expert tour directors handle all travel details, assuring you a carefree and memorable vacation. Visit or call 800-826-2266 for more information.

For more travel experiences available from Xanterra Travel Collection and its affiliated properties, visit

Kitty Bean Yancey

Written by: Kitty Bean Yancey

Kitty Bean Yancey is a Washington, D.C.-based award-winning former USA TODAY travel writer. She freelances for publications including AARP Magazine and AAA publications.

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