June 17, 2024

My Top 6 Experiences Exploring the Alaskan Wilderness with American Queen Tours

A small-ship cruise is perfect for exploring the wilderness of southeast Alaska. Small ships take you to places that larger ships cannot access. For 10 days, I enjoyed a trip on the American Queen Voyages: Victory Ocean.

From narrow passages with stunning cliffs, viewing cascading waterfalls, and visiting remote glaciers to exploring small remote villages and learning about Tlingit history and culture, here are my six favorite experiences exploring the southeast Alaska wilderness.

American Queen Tours hosting my trip. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Details on a totem pole at Saxman Totem Park

Photo credit: Jo-Anne Bowen

1. Saxman

Saxman a small historic fishing village located just south of Ketchikan. We anchored at Cuas an Wardabout 8 miles north of Ketchikan, and bus to Saxman Totem Park. The 5-acre open park features one of the world’s most extensive collections of totem poles, including 29 authentic hand-carved Tlingit and Haida totem poles. You can explore on your own or go on a guided tour. I recommend the guided tour, where many of the stories of the totem poles are explained. Included is a visit to the Carving House. We were hoping to meet one of the carvers, but as it was a beautiful sunny evening, we thought he had gone fishing.

Morning fog at Misty Fjords National Monument Wilderness

Morning fog at Misty Fjords National Monument Wilderness

Photo credit: Jo-Anne Bowen

2. Misty Fjords National Wilderness Monument

Misty Fjords National Monument Wilderness lived up to its name! The morning we arrived, there was a thick layer of fog around us as we anchored along the Behm’s canal. Luckily, within a few hours, the Sun came out.

Misty Fjord covers 3,600 square miles and is located east of Ketchikan. It is the largest desert area in the Tongais National Forest. Historically, the Tinglit people lived in this region, dating back more than 10,000 years ago.

The Behm Canal is incredibly beautiful, with rock walls up to 3,000 feet high, numerous waterfalls, and luscious verdant trees. We spent the day exploring the area in both kayaks and the zodiac. Among the wildlife we ​​saw was a bear, lots of sea otters swimming in the waters, and bald eagles.

Inside Chief Shakes Tribal House

Inside Chief Shakes Tribal House

Photo credit: Jo-Anne Bowen

3. Wrangel

The small city of Wrangel, located on Wrangell Island, can only be reached by boat or plane. Located along the Stikine River, the city claims the title of “Gateway to the Stikine.”

It was our first visit Chief Shakes Tribal House, a replica of the original Tlingit clan house. Located on Shakes Island in the middle of Wrangell Bay, it’s easy to get to. We were greeted by a Tlingit member who shared the history of the tribal home, the significance of the totems, and their native dress.

Just a short walk from downtown Wrangell, Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park it is one of Alaska’s hidden gems! The 40 petroglyphs are believed to have been carved by the early Tlingit Stikine around 1,000 years ago. There is an accessible boardwalk to the deck above the site. On deck, there are several replicas of the petroglyphs available for guests to rub. Wipes can only be done on these replicas, not the originals. Steps lead down to the beach, where the basics can be viewed. Best viewed at low tide.

Sons of Norway Hall

Sons of Norway Hall

Photo credit: Jo-Anne Bowen

4. Petersburg

St. Petersburg, known as “Alaska’s Little Norway,” is located on the north side of Mitkof Island, where Wrangell Sound meets Frederick Sound. Described as “the town that raised fish,” Petersburg is one of the most successful fishing communities in Alaska. A longtime resident of the Tlingit, near the beginning of the 20th century, a Norwegian – Peter Buschmann – fell in love with the area partly because it reminded him of Norway and also because of its proximity to the LeConte Glacier, which provides unlimited ice for a cannery.

Many residents of St. Petersburg trace their heritage to the original Norwegian group that followed Buschmann. The IS The Little Norwegian Festival, held every May, to celebrate this heritage. Visit the Sons of Norway Hall and enjoy traditional Norwegian baked goods. Walk along the marina to see the canneries and fishing fleet.

"Bit Bergy" at Tracy Army Fjord

“Bergy bits” by Tracy Arm Fjord

Photo credit: Jo-Anne Bowen

5. Tracy Army Fjord

Glacier Day had arrived! As we approached the fjord, we noticed a chunk of ice in the waters. The closer we got to the fjord, the bigger the chunks — some as big as houses. These are called “bergy bits”. There are two active glaciers in this area. Depending on ice conditions you can and where you will go.

We spent the day out in the waters South Sawyer Glacier at Tracy Fjord handlocated about 50 miles south of Juneau along the Stephens Passage Channel. Our ship, the Victory Oceanit has an ice-strengthened hull that’s perfect for exploring among the barracks.

Tracy Arm Fjord is a deep water inlet surrounded by high cliffs and waters up to 1,000 feet deep. Interesting to note that because of this depth, the vessel could not anchor and was “on the go all the time”. We spent the day enjoying kayaking and stargazing tours around the glacier. A calving event occurs when a large chunk of ice breaks off the glacier and becomes an iceberg. Keep an eye out for marine life as you travel on these huge chunks of ice. Also take time to enjoy watching all the tall cascading waterfalls on the trip.

Largest totem pole made from one tree in Cake

Largest totem pole made from one tree in Cake

Photo credit: Jo-Anne Bowen

6. You are

You are, a small community of 550, located on Kupreanof Island in the Alexander Archipelago and is the historic home of the Tlingits. More than 70 percent of its residents are of Tlingit heritage. Cake can only be reached by boat or plane. The community’s cultural ambassador gave us an overview of the history and stories of their lives and culture.

“I never realized how culturally rich Kake was until I left!” she said. She also emphasized the importance of the decoration on the back of their garments. “It tells who we are,” she said.

We were then invited to the community hall, where we enjoyed singing and dancing. Some of the residents had arts, crafts and clothing tables. We went there or went up the hill to see the Kake Totem Pole, at 132 feet high, the largest totem pole made from a single tree.

When the salmon run begins – often in mid-July – the local roads and surrounding areas are filled with bears looking for their next meal. From late July to early August, you can catch the Salmon Dog Festival. During the mid-summer months, Kake has the largest concentration of humpback whales in Alaska.

More about the Little Ship: Victory Ocean

My cruise was the A trip from Vancouver to Sitka on board the Victory Ocean by American Queen Voyages. The capacity of the small ship is 186 passengers and 100 crew members. There are 93 staterooms and suites, most with private balconies.

Victory Ocean It is a deck. Deck 8 has a large observation lounge with panoramic windows. Deck 5 is where the reception desk, main dining room, library, lounge and lecture hall are located. Deck 7 has a gym, outdoor seating area, and hot tub. Deck 4 has the Expedition Deck – a huge mudroom with life jackets and two over-water viewing platforms.

Explore activities include guided zodiac tours and kayaking. Each zodiac has a naturalist or marine biologist from California Polytechnic State University. In addition, these naturalists and marine biologists offer lectures and “Hands-on Science Demonstrations.”

The next time you’re thinking about an Alaskan cruise, consider an excursion cruise. A small ship cruise takes you to remote destinations along southeast Alaska and gives you a deeper understanding of the state.

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