Great shore excursions in Alaska

Cruising has made Alaska’s once-impenetrable wilderness accessible to millions. But to really get a feel for the unforgiving landscapes that made erstwhile gold rush ‘stampeders’ quiver in their boots, you need to get off the ship and stretch your legs a little. Here are a few very Alaskan things to do in some of the classic ports of call that dot the 49th state’s rugged shoreline.

 

Totem poles in Ketchikan

Ketchikan – or Alaska’s First City, as it announces itself to visitors who’ve just cruised up from Canada – is a master of many things, rainy-day kayaking and boat trips through misty fiords among them. But, the city really excels in native totem poles. Totems are unique to the Pacific Northwest region, more specifically the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribes who have inhabited these lands for millennia. For the best introduction to the art, proceed to the Totem Heritage Center in town which explains totem history with fascinating displays of bygone poles. Next, head several miles south to Saxman Village where you can see native carvers in action and peruse an outdoor cluster of more unusual poles. Finally, wander in an atmosphere of quiet contemplation through waterside Totem Bight State Park. To visit all three locations, consider renting a bicycle from Southeast Exposure near the cruise dock.

Where to eat: Bar Harbor Restaurant
Coming to Alaska and not trying the fish is like going to Rome and eschewing the pizza. Start your pescetarian life on Ketchikan’s waterfront with inventive dishes involving salmon and halibut.

 

Ziplining in Juneau

If you’re intent on soaring like a bald eagle on a high-flying zipline, you might as well do it above the largest temperate rainforest in the world. Ziplines are a common lure for adventurous travelers these days, but few are as high, long or authentically wild as the nine cables and two suspension bridges that hang over the Eaglecrest Ski Area on Douglas Island close to Alaska’s diminutive capital, Juneau. Get lucky and you could be looking down on black bears or looking up at bald eagles as you glide faster than Usain Bolt through the misty green canopy. Alaska Zipline Adventures offers safe, family-appropriate excursions. Boat transport from Juneau’s cruise terminal over to the tall trees of Douglas Island is thrown in.