Culture and Heritage
Although Alaska is a relatively young state, our history is long and colorful. Europeans arrived in Alaska about 260 years ago and a series of fur, timber, gold, fishing and oil booms and busts have marked Alaska's history and culture. Each boom brought different groups of people to the state that incorporated their own cultural influences.
Alaska visitors can experience the state's unique Native culture through many avenues including totem carving, Native dancing, the blanket toss, traditional music, crafts and festivals as well as cultural and historical museums, heritage centers and academics. But while Native culture, as a whole, may define much of Alaska's appearance, there are European influences as well. Petersburg, in the Inside Passage, has a strong Scandinavian heritage. Cordova and Valdez both bear names bestowed by a Spanish explorer; Cook Inlet is named for a British explorer; and Russians have left a legacy of unique architecture in the onion domed steeples of the Orthodox Churches throughout the state.
Ocean day cruises are available in many ports visited by the Alaska Marine Highway System. Some of the most spectacular destinations are found at Glacier Bay, Kenai Fjords and Prince William Sound. These trips offer a wonderful opportunity for up close viewing of coastal Alaska with its dramatic mountain scenery, tidewater glaciers and variety of wildlife. Whales, seals, sea lions, orcas, sea otters, mountain goats, brown and black bears, puffins, kittiwakes and murres are commonly seen during the summer months along the coast line.
Fishing in Alaska
Fishing in Alaska differs from fishing anywhere else in the world. Many of the small coastal communities on the Alaska Marine Highway route make much of their living from the sea, so fishing in Alaska is more than sport it's a way of life.
Alaska's summer waters teem with five kinds of wild Pacific salmon, plus halibut, hefty rainbow trout and delicate arctic grayling. Alaska offers some of the most spectacular fly-fishing, saltwater fishing, freshwater fishing and even ice fishing in the world. It can be as easy as spending a few hours at a roadside stream or planning a multi-day fly-in trip to a secluded lake.
Every region of the state offers accommodations that cater to the needs of the angler - ranging from luxurious to rustic. With over 3 million lakes, 3,000 rivers and countless fish-filled streams in Alaska the challenge isn't catching fish, but making a choice about what kind and where.
Alaska flightseeing -- or sightseeing from the air --gives visitors an extraordinary view of one of the world's most breathtaking landscapes. From one end of the state to the other, there's never a shortage of experienced pilots to take you for a bird's eye view of this great land.
Experience the sheer granite cliffs that plunge 3,500 feet in the Misty Fjords National Monument, an area that was carved by the glacial flow that moved through the area long ago, or circle North Americas' highest peak, majestic Mt. McKinley. Many flight operators offer specialized tours for bear and wildlife viewing or remote day-trip destinations. Helicopter tours are also available offering passengers the unique opportunity to land on a glacier and go exploring or the ability to access backcountry wilderness. Flying is a way of life in Alaska and a trip to Alaska would not be complete without a flightseeing excursion.
Getting On and Off The Ferry
Walk on passengers will usually find accommodating passenger space on departing ferries from most destinations even throughout the summer season. Traveling with an open itinerary on the Alaska Marine Highway is a great way to explore at will. Passengers are able to disembark in various ports and spend a few days while waiting for the next ferry to arrive, but please be advised that without reservations space is never guaranteed.
Traveling with a vehicle does require some prior planning and we urge you to reserve your trip in advance as you intend to travel. Car deck space and cabins sell out quickly and are rarely available without a prior reservation.
Additionally, because vessels make multiple stops along each route, vehicles are loaded on the car deck according to the port of disembarkation. So disembarking a vessel halfway through your planned itinerary may prove to be very difficult.
For more information about travelling with a vehicle or pet, see our amenities page.
Kayaking and Rafting
Alaska has the country's longest coastline and paddling a kayak is a great way to get in touch with the delicate eco-systems that thrive along Alaska's shores. Explore coves and islands that seem endless and provide refuge for many species of birds such as eagles, puffins, kittiwakes, murres and many species of aquatic life. The Alaska Marine Highway is a great way to travel if you are looking for a kayak adventure since almost every port we visit offers multiple scenic kayaking opportunities. See our community contacts for information on kayaking in your port of choice. Then visit our details page to see how easy it is to travel the Marine Highway with your kayak.
World-class rivers also abound in Alaska, in southeast the Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers have been noted as some of the most visually spectacular rivers in North America. The Tatshenshini River flows through the heart of the largest bio-preserve in the world. The Alsek is extraordinarily different and provides perhaps the most "Himalayan-like" topography on the continent. Although wildlife abounds on both routes as you travel through tall mountains, vast glaciers and past lakes dotted with icebergs. While further north in southcentral Alaska the Copper River will take you through one of the worlds most dramatic canyons through the Wrangell-St Elias National Park and eventually out into Prince William Sound. The Nizina and Kennicott Rivers all provide additional rafting adventures that are easy destinations from the Alaska Marine Highway ports of Valdez, or Cordova.
Motorcycling and Biking Alaska
Thousands of visitors to Alaska have already discovered what most avid cyclists only dream about, thousands of miles of open roadway, no traffic, no smog, and in many locations more wildlife than fellow travelers. Alaska is fast becoming more popular with the cycling community and the number of rallies, bike shows and local day and multi-day rides that are available for independent travelers are increasing every year.
But don't be fooled, Alaska is a big place and riding the 'land' highways can prove to be a much bigger adventure than many bargain for. So combining a cycling trip with passage on the Alaska Marine Highway is the perfect way to connect to the communities, scenic routes, and the variety of US Forest Service campgrounds located all along our marine route. Riding the ferry will help save you hundreds of road miles and make your cycling adventure in Alaska most enjoyable.
Traveling with a motorcycle or bike aboard the Alaska Marine Highway is easy. Motorcycles do require that car deck space be reserved in advance and applicable charges for both motorcycles and bikes can be found in our fare tables. Car-deck areas on AMHS vessels are equipped with tie-down fixtures but all cyclists are responsible for bringing their own tie-down materials to secure their bikes.
Most major towns in Alaska have hardware and auto parts stores and some of the larger cities have motorcycle dealerships which provide repairs.
RV's, Campgrounds and Cabins
RVing or camping in Alaska puts vacationers right in the middle of all the action, gorgeous scenery, great fishing, wildlife viewing and a wide variety of activities. Tent and RV campgrounds are found all along Alaska's highway system of paved and gravel roads, and in the coastal communities served by the Alaska Marine Highway.
Look for parkland campgrounds near the national and state parks and in many places in the Tongass and Chugach National Forests. Campgrounds are located a short walk from the downtown areas in Valdez, Homer, Skagway, Haines, Soldotna and Kenai. Federal and State campgrounds are available throughout Alaska. Many campgrounds have amenities such as stores and showers. A few even have electrical hookups and dumping stations. For fee information contact the Alaska Public Lands Information Center at (907) 271-2737. Private campgrounds are available throughout the state as well.
Winter in Alaska
Winter in Alaska is when all the fun begins. Contrary to popular belief average winter temperatures in Alaska average around 20°F so outdoor activities can continue right through the winter season. Typically, we receive 6-13 hours of daylight that’s surrounded by tons of twilight or endless dawns, and clear cold nights which present the perfect opportunity to catch one of the most spectacular displays Alaska has to offer, the northern lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis.
Alaska is truly a winter wonderland for the outdoor enthusiast. All varieties of skiing are available, snowshoeing, snowboarding, snow mobiles, and skating to name a few. Many communities also offer winter carnivals and festivals. One of the most popular, the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous which preludes the start of one of Alaska’s most exciting winter time events, the Iditarod Trail sled dog race in early March.
So come on board the Alaska Marine Highway. Bring your sports gear, fishing tackle, camping gear and your road toys. We’re your highway to adventure!