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Alaska’s Inside Passage extends for over 500 miles and weaves through over 1,000 small, mostly uninhabited islands. Southeastern Alaska is best enjoyed by water. Wildlife that can be seen on the shores of the islands include moose, bears, wolves, coyotes, foxes, Dahl sheep, and deer. Whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions are frequently spotted just a few feet away from oceangoing vessels.

Cruise Ship Alternatives

Although most visitors to Alaska’s Inside Passage choose to experience it via cruise ship, the Alaska Marine Highway system offers an alternative through several state-owned ferries. The larger ferries offer staterooms, and many of them go to areas that are off the routes of the cruise ships. For instance, Alaska ferries make routine trips to the communities of Hollis, Wrangell, and Metlakatla, while most commercial cruise ships stick to the larger port cities of Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway.

The ferry is an excellent choice for those who don’t mind going without a few of the luxuries offered by the major cruise lines. For instance, meals are available on the larger ferries in Alaska, and while the food is filling and appetizing, it isn’t the five-star cuisine that’s served in the dining rooms of well-appointed cruise ships, and the staterooms on ferries tend to be small and cramped. However, many travelers prefer the more casual atmosphere that they provide. Ferries also allow guests to bring their vehicles on board.

What to Wear

Whether enjoying Southeast Alaska by cruise ship or by ferry, the wardrobe necessary to remain comfortable is basically the same. The most important item of apparel to pack is a sturdy pair of waterproof, slip resistant footwear. Because Alaska’s Inside Passage is located right in the middle of the Tongass National Rain Forest, precipitation can and does occur during any and all months of the year. Even though cruise ship and ferry decks are made with materials designed to impede slipping, shore excursion walking surfaces can be rough and slippery. Skagway, for instance, has old-school boardwalks that date back to the Gold Rush days. Some of the smaller communities visited by the Alaska ferries have gravel instead of sidewalks.

Shirts, Jackets, and Pants

Some cruise ship dining rooms require formal or semi-formal attire, but other than that, visitors to Alaska should pack with comfort and protection from the elements in mind. The weather can change drastically during the course of the day in Southeast Alaska, so it’s important that clothing can be layered. A light rain jacket, sturdy cotton trousers, warm socks, and casual shirts should make up the majority of the average traveler’s Alaskan wardrobe, and the inclusion of a warm hat is always a good idea even in high summer. Although daytime temperatures are generally mild, nighttime breezes coming down through glacial canyons can cool the air significantly.

Most people who visit the Inside Passage for the first time end up returning many times over throughout the course of their lives.