Exploring Alaska’s Inside Passage

. . . aboard the National Geographic Venture

The National Geographic Venture

It was one of those rare white-knuckle experiences as our plane suddenly pulled up from what felt like a normal landing. It was our final approach into Sitka, Alaska where we were to embark on a “bucket list” adventure. Fog and cloud cover prevented a line-of-sight landing on our Captain’s first attempt, but he informed us he had fuel enough for a couple more tries. I can’t say that comforted my wife and me any or increased the blood flow in our knuckles as we held tight to our armrests. . . We also wondered if fog and cloud cover would follow us during our Alaska adventure over the course of next week.

Our pilots safely landed at Sitka airport on their second attempt with sunny skies shining through the plane’s windows. We quickly learned that in Southeast Alaska the weather might change on you in a few minutes. It turns out the sunny skies stayed with us as we explored Alaska’s Inside Passage on the National Geographic Venture. . . a 7-day cruise from Sitka to Juneau, Alaska. The cruise is operated in collaboration with Lindblad Expeditions who provide a very professional ship’s crew catering to our every need along the way. We selected the National Geographic expedition for our Alaska adventure because of the low guest count onboard the Venture, and the wide range of activities to choose from along the way. Of course, photography was on our priority list, and we were looking forward to the wilderness hiking, small zodiac explorations, kayaking, and fishing village photo walks planned in the itinerary.

We were certainly not disappointed in the mid-August weather and the adventures we experienced on the cruise. The ship’s crew and National Geographic educators leading our encounters with the Southeast Alaska wilderness made our journey one we will never forget. Here are highlights and photos of our journey.

Sitka Alaska

After our eventful airport arrival, we were first tested for Covid. A necessary evil when we travel these days. A negative test was required before we could board the ship. We then boarded buses to Sitka National Historic Park, where Tlingit and Haida totem poles tower over coastal trails. A short hike to the “Indian River” provided an up close and personal view of thousands of spawning salmon. Each variety “runs” upstream to spawn at a different time during the year. From mid-July to mid-August, it’s the pink and sockeye salmon’s turn. Of course, salmon runs also bring out the bears in many locations, so we kept an eye out while we admired one of natures wonders. Climbing back on our bus, our next stop was the Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal, where we were to board the National Geographic Venture.

Aboard our ship

The 100-Guest National Geographic Venture ship features 50 outside cabins all with windows or portholes, and private baths. We chose an “upper deck” cabin with a private balcony which we used many times to observe wildlife and fully experience the breathtaking views of Alaska’s Inside Passage. We are not big ship cruisers. The smaller ship not only provided a more private setting, but its shallow draft also allowed close access to many natural sights, and easy close-to-shore launches of zodiacs and kayaks from the dual loading platforms on the stern. Of course, the Venture’s comfortable lounge provides a common meeting area, and the fantastic meals are provided in a well-appointed dining room where we had the opportunity to meet our fellow passengers in an open seating area providing spectacular window views.

Southeast Alaska’s Islands, Bays, and Fjords

On our first morning onboard, we woke early to view beautiful sights of the Alaska landscape along Peril Strait. Soon after breakfast, our first zodiac excursion took us to the Lake Eva trailhead located on the Northeast coast of Baranof Island. We only hiked part of this Tongass National Forest trail, but we were struck by the beautiful old growth forest and the Lake Eva outlet stream. As with most trails we hiked on our journey, our rented waterproof boots came in handy on the wet and muddy trail. After our morning hike, it was back to the ship for lunch then an afternoon kayak adventure on Hanus Bay.

Glacier Bay National Park

Another beautiful sunrise view from our cabin balcony welcomed us to Glacier Bay. Our captain navigated the ship to the edge of two active glaciers, John Hopkins Glacier, and Margerie Glacier as he navigated the narrow Tarr Inlet. Cruising Tarr Inlet, Muir Inlet, and the rest of Glacier Bay provided many opportunities to view bears, sea otters, mountain goats, Steller sea lions, and puffins, and to take in this remote National Park few people can explore.

Icy Strait and the Inian Islands

Today we were treated to a guided zodiac expedition in the Inian islands after the captain anchored our ship near the end of Icy Strait. The islands, near an inlet to the Pacific Ocean, provide an abundance of wildlife viewing opportunities including Steller sea lions, sea otters, and whales. We saw all three up close during our zodiac tour. In the afternoon, we elected to go on a wilderness hike on Chichagof Island, just a short zodiac ride from the ship. Unlike our Lake Eva hike, we blazed our own trail through grass lands, streams, and forest.

Chatham Strait and Frederick Sound

This was a day packed with wildlife viewing. According to the NG brochure, these waters are prime areas for killer whales (Orcas) and humpback whales. . . and indeed we saw all sorts of whale behaviors including breaching, tail-slapping, and feeding while viewing both whale species. We found the unique humpback whale feeding method called “bubble netting” especially fascinating. Performed by individual whales, and small groups, humpbacks blow bubbles while they dive deep and circle schools of fish in smaller and smaller circles, netting the small fish in the bubbles, then from below they capture their prey while swimming swiftly to the surface, breaching out of the water with a full mouth of fish. In the afternoon, after a short zodiac boat ride to shore, we sat quietly on the edge of a small waterfall area called Tenakee Springs as we watched 8 bears feeding on spawning salmon.

Petersburg, Alaska

This quintessential Alaskan fishing town founded in 1897 on Mitkof Island offered a rich photo walk opportunity to capture the people and fishing lifestyle of this remote Alaskan village. After our morning photo walk, we explored the town and surrounding area by bike. With admiration to the hard-working fishermen of Petersburg, the ship’s kitchen provided a Dungeness Crab feast that evening that was enjoyed by everyone onboard.

Tracy Arm – Fords Terror Wilderness

On this day the captain navigated the spectacular fjord of Tracy Arm, offering views of cascading waterfalls and glacially carved walls. However, the highlight was exploring South Sawyer Glacier up close on a zodiac. Our small boat provided an unbeatable view of the glacier, sculpted icebergs, and harbor seals.

On our final morning aboard the NG Venture, our captain docked the ship in Juneau Alaska, the capital of Alaska. We were sorry our expedition was coming to an end, but we were very grateful for the great weather and wilderness experiences we enjoyed during our Inside Passage cruise. Although it was a little rainy as we disembarked in Juneau, we were especially thankful that the fog and rain did not follow us from Sitka during our cruise. The entire week turned out perfect, not at all like the untimely weather we experienced during our landing at the airport just 7 days ago.

If exploring Alaska’s Inside Passage is on your bucket list, then I suggest you select a comfortable small ship with expert guides and educational opportunities to fully experience this remarkable wilderness. A National Geographic Alaska expedition covers all those bases very well. You can certainly find less expensive ways to see Southeast Alaska, but National Geographic expeditions provide added value with the intimacy of a small but comfortable cruise ship. NG expert naturalists also offer spectacular opportunities for remarkable photography and understanding Alaska’s wilderness in all its splendor. Our trip is one we will never forget, and we will relive it through our photos for many years to come.

Whatever is on your bucket list, may your future travels be memorable and may only the remarkable experiences (and photos) be yours.

Chuck

9 thoughts on “Exploring Alaska’s Inside Passage

  1. Hey CHUCK! Wow that trip looks like a very fun time! I see you and Nancy are have a nice time retiring …. well you have been for sometime. Hope things continue to go well and best wishes. Keban Kietzmann

  2. Chuck your pictures and commentary are amazing. Rick Steves move over!
    This is certainly a diverse world we are living in and I enjoy your many journeys.

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