Exploring Alaska's Coastal Wilderness (Juneau to Sitka)
8 days with Natural Habitat Adventures Rating:
Day 1: Juneau, Alaska—Embark Ship
Your small-ship Alaska adventure begins with an early afternoon flight from Seattle to Juneau. Before embarkation, a visit is included to the Alaska State Museum for an introduction to the 49th state, whose name in the Aleut language means "The Great Land." The museum's permanent collection focuses on Alaska’s Native peoples and natural history. Transfer to the pier this afternoon to board the ship, with time to settle in to your cabin before dinner is served. Later this evening, enjoy a music and slideshow presentation by a local entertainer, or, if you prefer, take a few hours on your own to explore the lively port city of Juneau. Downtown Juneau is steps from the harbor and offers a wide array of restaurants, bars and boutiques, with many selling arts, crafts and food products unique to Alaska. Be sure you're back on board in plenty of time for our 11 p.m. departure as we set sail for the pristine wildness of Tracy Arm.
Day 2: Tracy Arm—Fords Terror Wilderness
Early this morning the ship enters Tracy Arm, a narrow fjord with waterfalls cascading from glacially carved walls that rise 3,000 feet into low-hanging clouds. Step out on deck to survey the magnificent scenery as you scout for harbor seals, porpoises, Arctic terns and Bonaparte gulls. At the head of the inlet we reach Sawyer Glacier, noted for its deep blue color. Zodiac excursions take you closer to the glacier's face, where you'll hear the loud cracks and booms of falling ice. Keep an eye out for sure-footed mountain goats scaling the steep granite cliffs above. There may be a chance to stop at a gravel beach for some kayaking or a peaceful walk through the woods, stopping to admire tiny wildflowers and ripening berries.
Day 3: Petersburg
Cruising toward Le Conte Bay, look for humpback whales, which frequently entertain us by breaching and spy-hopping. Weather permitting, you'll have the opportunity to kayak among icebergs and shards that have calved off the LeConte Glacier. Or, choose an optional flightseeing trip via floatplane or helicopter over the glacier for a thrilling aerial perspective, with views into the deep crevasses. There's also a chance to hike on forest trails, accompanied by the ship's natural history staff. Later, visit Petersburg on Mitkof Island, a town of 3,500 founded over a century ago by Norwegian fishermen. The waters here are rich in crab, shrimp and pink (also called humpback) salmon. This evening, a local fishing family visits the ship to share stories of their life in Petersburg. The ship remains at the dock until dinnertime, featuring the catch of the day, then sails away as guests dine in view of the forest and mountains beyond.
Day 4: Frederick Sound / Chatham Strait
These waters are prime habitat for both orcas and humpback whales, and it's not uncommon to see groups of up to 30 at a time. There's plenty of time to observe fascinating behavior—breaching, tail-slapping and feeding modes—as the captain keeps the ship positioned for the best views. Guests congregate on deck while listening to the play-by-play interpretation from the ship's team of expert naturalists. You may also see sea lions hauled out on the rocks, dozing by the dozens. And keep an eye out for bald eagles atop tall spruce trees, surveying the water for fish to prey upon. Once ashore, walk along a quiet forest trail with naturalist guides, learning about the temperate rain forest ecosystem distinctive to Southeast Alaska. These still waters are excellent for kayaking, offering another option for appreciating these lush environs up close.
Day 5: Icy Strait and the Inian Islands
Icy Strait separates Chichagof Island from the Alaskan mainland. The small, scattered Inian Islands rise from the strait's westernmost waters, comprising an uninhabited wilderness that breaks the Pacific Ocean’s strong tides careening toward Glacier Bay. Icy Strait’s rich waters draw abundant marine life, including orca and humpback whales, seals, otters and Dall's porpoise, plus an abundance of Steller sea lions that call the Inian islands home. Watch in wonder as whales surface, while the ship's naturalists lower the hydrophone so you can listen in on their underwater communications. Cruising, hiking and kayaking offer a chance to explore shorelines rich with birdlife, including murrelets, gulls, terns and bald eagles, and forests that shelter brown bears, Sitka black-tailed deer, marten, mink and land otter.
Day 6: Glacier Bay National Park
We spend the entire day cruising in Glacier Bay National Park, surveying the mosaic of inlets, coves, glaciers, lakes and ice-capped mountains that comprise this renowned wilderness. Here in one of Alaska's most iconic landscapes, we cruise to the face of tidewater glaciers that end abruptly at water’s edge, waiting patiently to observe “calving,” when a giant slab of ice falls from the face and crashes into the sea with a thunderous boom. Wildlife abounds in Glacier Bay, and we may see harbor seals, Steller sea lions and mountain goats scaling the rock walls. There's also a good chance to spot both horned and tufted puffins. A visit to Tidal Inlet may reveal a glimpse of brown bears lumbering up the hillside, and if the timing is right, we could spy a mama bear and her cubs playing by the water. In addition to plentiful wildlife, Southeast Alaska is also the homeland of the Tlingit people, and a Native interpreter joins us onboard to share some of their local legends and insight into contemporary Tlingit culture.
Please Note: 2019 National Geographic Sea Lion departures will have a modified itinerary and will not be calling on Glacier Bay National Park. Guests will instead explore the rarely visited outer bays—either Dundas Bay or Fern Harbor—with opportunities for naturalist-led coastal hikes looking for evidence of moose or wolves, kayaking into secluded coves, or cruising around sea stacks via expedition landing craft.
Day 7: Southeast Alaska's Islands, Bays and Fjords
Nature is the ship's guide today as we sail with no specific itinerary, the captain choosing the best course as conditions dictate. We may stop at an isolated beach to look into tide pools, do some beachcombing and wander forest trails. At high summer, the forest floor is often carpeted with wildflowers. Later, walking ashore on one of area’s many islands, keep an eye out for old bear tracks worn into the soil in the open meadows. This is home turf for the massive brown bears Alaska is famous for—the world's largest coastal grizzly. It is also home to the world’s highest density of nesting bald eagles. If conditions permit, a paddling excursion offers an eye-level view of the rich marine life.
Day 8: Sitka—Disembark Ship / Seattle / Depart
After breakfast, disembark in Sitka, Southeast Alaska’s only town that sits directly on the ocean among a scenic scattering of small islands. In the native Tlingit language, Sitka means "the village behind the island." It has been home to various cultures for thousands of years, but its Russian heritage endures, a legacy from the fur trading enterprise that dominated the region in the 18th and 19th centuries. Russian influence is readily apparent in St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church, with its distinctive onion domes, in the center of town. Sitka's Native heritage is equally vivid in the grand totem poles that line the wooded trails through Sitka National Historic Park. At the Raptor Rehabilitation Center, get close-up views of species normally seen at a distance in the wild—bald eagles, hawks, falcons and owls. After lunch, your Southeast Alaska cruise concludes as you disembark in Sitka’s harbor, backdropped by the volcanic peak of Mount Edgecumbe. A transfer to the airport is included for an afternoon flight to Seattle, to meet onward flights.
All This Included
An Intimate Voyage Through the Wildlife-Rich Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska
Where can you wake to the cry of a bald eagle, watch tons of ice crash from the face of a glacier, walk among old-growth spruce and cedars, and observe whales lunge-feeding, perhaps in a single day? It's all here in Southeast Alaska, a maze of icy fjords and forested islands rich in wildlife. Our Alaska expedition is an epic journey through this vast marine wilderness, far from big cruise ship crowds. These voyages aboard compact National Geographic ships showcase the tranquil channels of the Inside Passage and the geologic time capsule that is Glacier Bay National Park. Join onboard naturalist experts to wander through temperate rain forest to cascading waterfalls, watch whales and seabirds, and identify wildflowers. Forays by kayak and expedition landing craft in protected waters offer exhilarating wildlife encounters. Learn, too, about Alaska’s rich Native American heritage.
Cruising: Cabin onboard National Geographic Sea Lion, National Geographic Quest or National Geographic Venture
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* The prices shown are U.S. dollars per person, based on double occupancy, and subject to availability. Prices quoted for land/cruise arrangements are subject to increase without notice. Once we have received your deposit, land/cruise prices are guaranteed. Air prices quoted via phone or email are subject to increase and are guaranteed only from the time that full payment is received. Also, air prices or air promotions mentioned on this site or on the phone do not include baggage fees imposed by airlines.