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If you’re a fan of adventure, natural beauty, and scenic sights, look no further than remote, still-wild Alaska. America’s most northern state has a bounty on offer for those who eschew cities for unbounded wilderness, snow-capped peaks, and glaciers — but it can take quite a bit of work when it comes to arranging an expedition into its gorgeous natural settings on your own. Taking a tour gets rid of the hassle: bBy having transport, equipment, and a guide provided for you, you can rely on professionals to get you where you need to be safely, so you can relax and enjoy your visit to some truly remote reaches.
But don’t think it’s all crampons and ice fields, though there’s plenty of that if you’d like it. Tour companies in Alaska also offer once-in-a-lifetime tours for whale-watching enthusiasts and those who want to be immersed in the scenic beauty of one of the state’s great fjords. There are also tours that head out from cities like Skagway and Juneau, so you’re not too far from a starting point. Dogsledding, kayaking, and helicopter fans also have plenty to choose from in this incredible state — read on for our top Alaska tour picks (many are friendly for cruisers, as well).
Best Helicopter Tour: Juneau Shore Excursion: Helicopter Tour & Icefield Walk
Cruisers and those in town alike can enjoy this tour, which is 2.5 hours of incredible views from helicopters and glaciers. You’ll first head to the heliport from the cruise terminal in Juneau, then hop on board the ‘copter to access remote landscapes that would otherwise require quite a bit of planning to reach. As you fly, you’ll take in icefalls and rock formations, and then touch down on Herbert Glacier’s surface to go on a walkabout — a truly unique experience.
Your pilot-guide will talk about the geology of the area as you explore the ice and snow and point out some local landmarks as you go. It’s a helicopter ride back to the heliport after that before hopping in the bus to head back to the cruise terminal. Cruisers will love knowing that there’s a worry-free guarantee on this tour: If for some reason, the ship is delayed, you’ll be refunded — or, if the tour is delayed getting back in a timely way, the company will handle all the arrangements to get you back on the ship at the next port of call so you don’t have to stress.
Best Yukon Tour: Skagway Shore Excursion: Full-Day Tour of the Yukon
You’ll be crossing the border for this 6.5-hour tour, but it’s worth the trek: The Yukon, Canada’s westernmost territory, is home to come of the most ruggedly scenic landscapes in the world — and this tour is the perfect way to take it all in. You’ll head from Skagway by mini-bus along the Klondike Highway, which runs parallel to the 1898 Gold Rush Trail, while looking out for wildlife like moose and caribou.
Once you cross the border, you’ll drive through a boreal forest, seeing Bove Island and two gorgeous lakes along the way before stopping at two more lakes (Emerald Lake included) followed by a Yukon-style lunch. You’ll then tour the regional museum of natural history before heading to a dog-sledding camp for some playtime with huskies (you can also upgrade to go on a dry-land run with them in a cart).
Those heading back to Skagway to catch a ship need not worry with this tour either: You’re guaranteed to get back — and in case of a ship delay on the way in, you’ll be refunded for the tour.
Best Dogsledding Tour: Juneau Shore Excursion: Helicopter & Dogsledding
Get picked up in Juneau port — handy for both land-based visitors and cruisers — and then head to the heliport for a 1.5-hour tour that passes over the spectacular glaciers that make up Juneau Icefield. You’ll learn about the geology and natural history of the area along the way, thanks to your expert pilot-guide. He or she will land the helicopter near a dog sledding camp at Herbert Glacier — and it’s the real thing: The owner of the tour company took second at the Iditarod and won a 1,000-mile sled dog race. You’ll be greeted by huskies after you land, and then embark on a dogsledding trek of your own, either from the runners or in the seat of the sled.
You’ll head back to camp afterward and hear about adventures on the Iditarod. You’ll then fly back to Juneau via the ‘copter, taking in last glimpses of the glacier as you prepare to end your incredible day.
Best Fjord Tour: Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise from Seward
Head out from Seward on this incredible six-hour cruise that takes you through Kenai Fjords National Park. You’ll board an almost 100-foot cruise vessel, decked out with plenty of seating in the warm cabin as well as a few observation decks spread out across the boat’s levels. Along the way, you’ll feel immersed in this stunning natural landscape, and get to see some pretty amazing sights along the way: humpback whales, calving glaciers, icy cliffs, as well as sea otters and diving puffins.
As you cruise — covering about 100 miles during your round trip — you’ll also learn about the geology of the area and take in the Alaskan Maritime Maritime Wildlife Refuge, which is home to some incredible bird species (you’ll catch about 18 during this trip). You’ll also be served a light but filling lunch while on board. There’s plenty of flexibility when it comes to departure times — several are available throughout the morning — so you have the freedom to choose what’s best for your schedule.
Best Fishing Expedition: Bering Sea Crab Fisherman’s Tour from Ketchikan
Fans of the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch show will love this tour because you’ll be hopping on board the 107-foot Aleutian Ballad, a boat made famous by the show when cameras caught it getting struck by a 60-foot swell. In fact, you’ll be spending three hours on it as the boat cruises down the Inside Passage on a fishing expedition.
If the weather’s chilly, you can hang out in the heated lower-deck amphitheater sipping hot chocolate — or brave the elements on the open-air upper deck. On your way to the fishing grounds, you’ll learn about the history of the boat and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife like sea lions and whales.
Once at the fishing spot, a crew will bait the lines (using salmon and squid), and haul up Bering Sea king crab, octopus, prawns, cod, Dungeness crab, and more in the 700-pound. pots. This tour is catch-and-release, but you’ll be able to take plenty of pictures as the marine life is briefly put in an onboard tank for a closer look.
Best Whale-Watching Tour: Whale Watch and Mendenhall Glacier Combo Tour
Combine an incredible whale-watching opportunity with a tour of Mendenhall Glacier on this incredible tour. It all starts at Mt. Roberts Tramway in Juneau, where you’ll meet your guide and head off on a tour of Juneau before reaching the boat harbor to board either a 24- or 49-passenger vessel perfectly equipped to spot some whales from. (It has a heated cabin for chilly days, too.)
The captain is great at spotting whales from his perch — and announces a sighting to passengers — while there’s a naturalist on board who can answer any questions you might have about whales or other unique Alaska wildlife. After the whale-watching tour, you’ll stop off at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, taking as long as you’d like to scope out the scenery and hike on the many trails in the area.
Departure time is flexible — a shuttle goes back to the tramway every 30 minutes — so it’s great for those either on very tight schedules or those who have time to spare and want to spend it in some incredibly gorgeous nature.
Best Kayaking Tour: Ketchikan Kayak Eco-Tour
During this four-hour small group tour (with about two and a quarter hours actually on the water), you’ll catch some of Alaska’s most spectacular wildlife from your kayak. After being picked up from your hotel or cruise ship, the tour begins with a wondrous sight: a wall of sea stars exposed by the tide and left precisely at eye level as you paddle by, glimpsing not just those creatures but urchins, limpets, and sea cucumbers — all of which are identified by your guide, who’s an expert on their behaviors and the interconnected ecosystem that binds them together.
You’ll then get to see majestic bald eagles up close as you paddle by a nest, and take in tide zones where the Alaskan rainforest borders the waters. You’ll then kayak through local fishing boats before tying up in the marina where the tour began. First-timers, don’t worry: You’ll get a briefing on basic paddling and safety before you set out on the water. The kayaks are also tandem so you can paddle with a partner — or request a sit-on-top one if you’d like.
Best Glacier Tour: Juneau Shore Excursion: Mendenhall Glacier Trek
This glacier tour is an incredible opportunity for thrillseekers to take in the best of Alaska’s famous Mendenhall Glacier from a first-hand viewpoint — courtesy of an eight-mile hike over eight hours. It’s great for visitors to Juneau or for cruisers who have been on the boat a bit too long and are looking for a challenging way to stretch their legs.
Although it’s suitable for most physical fitness levels and ages, keep in mind that you’ll be wearing a 10- to 15-pound backpack that’s carrying your gear, snacks, and any extra layers of clothing you’re bringing along. The hike begins on a rainforest trail — 3.5 miles and rocky — along the glacier’s lake before reaching the glacier itself. There, you’ll get decked out in the right gear for a trek across the icy landscape — crampons included (as well as pros who know how to fit them). Along the way, you’ll see crevasses, ice caves, and other uniquely glacial landscapes on this spectacular tour.