Thematically, this water-borne bonanza of coastal wildlife and glacial ice is as far as you’ll get from Arizona without leaving the West.
Known as America’s “last frontier,” Alaska might also represent your last, best shot for a heat-beating getaway – in the form of a late-summer cruise. Cruise lines fill Alaska’s ports of call throughout the summer and into September, including Celebrity Cruises (celebritycruises.com). The line’s seven-night “Alaska Dawes Glacier” cruise departs from Seattle and makes four stops.
Port of Call No. 1: Ketchikan
Surrounded by the Tongass National Forest – the largest U.S. National Forest at 16.7 million acres – Ketchikan is also known as “Alaska’s first city” because of its position at the tip of the state’s southern archipelago, known as the Inside Passage. It also boasts the world’s largest collection of standing totem poles.
Take a leisurely stroll through Tongass (fs.usda.gov/tongass) with a nature guide, who can explain things like what the green fuzz is covering all the trees (it’s lichen, which only grows in environments with pristine air) and why you should not eat the skunk cabbage plant (unless you’re into laxatives). Hemlock, Sitka spruce and Alaska yellow cedar trees create a kaleidoscopic canopy. Emerge from your rainforest hike at Totem Bight State Historical Park, a 33-acre park packed with totem poles carved by Native Alaskan peoples.
What to Eat/Drink
Since Ketchikan is known as “The Salmon Capital of the World,” you might want to check out local favorites Alaska Fish House (exclusivealaska.com/fish-house), which prides itself on its ginger salmon cakes, or Annabelle’s Famous Keg and Chowder House (annabellesketchikan.com), where the thyme-spiked smoked salmon chowder inspires rave reviews.
Port of Call No. 2: Juneau
Juneau is one of only two state capitals not connected to North America by road. (Can you guess the other? It rhymes with “Ponolulu.”) Because of the jagged and rough terrain that surrounds it, Juneau is not even connected to the rest of Alaska by road, making it accessible only by plane or boat.
In addition to wonderful whale-watching, Juneau offers explorations of Mendenhall Glacier, a 13-mile-long glacier featuring hiking trails, waterfalls, snow caves and a visitor’s center. Alaska Shore Excursions (alaskashoreexcursions.com/juneau) offers numerous adventures, including tours by canoe and helicopter and a hands-on dogsledding tour with exclusive access to a musher’s camp.
What to Eat/Drink
Craft beer is a big deal in this city of 32,000. Spruce brews rule the scene at Alaska Brewing Co. (alaskanbeer.com) with seven kinds of spruce hard seltzer, Barnaby Brewing Co. (barnabybrew.com) and its Goods from the Woods Spruce Tip Pale Ale and Forbidden Peak Brewery (forbiddenpeak.com) with its Red Spruce Ale. Devil’s Club Brewing Co. (devilsclubbrewing.com) opts for even more earthy favors, like lagers open-fermented in oak and tea-inspired milkshake IPAs.
Port of Call No. 3: Skagway
Skagway was an important port during the Klondike Gold Rush, and it has a history of drunken brawls and prospering brothels. Skagway’s population of roughly 1,200 doubles every summer in order to accommodate the more than 1 million tourists who visit the rustic town.
A popular attraction is the White Pass Scenic Railway (wpyr.com), which takes visitors high into the mountains, past Bennett, British Columbia, and into the Yukon before turning around. Back in town, historic brothel tours are also popular. The Ghosts & Goodtime Girls Walking Tour (skagway.com/listing/red-onion-tours/203) is a crowd-pleaser across cruise lines. Tour guides dress in lacy black and red dresses and use pseudonyms like “Betty Sheets” and “Enya Dreams.” The two-hour walking tour includes stops at several “houses of negotiable affection” from Skagway’s gold rush days and concludes at the historic Red Onion Saloon (redonion1898.com) with a Champagne toast.
What to Eat/Drink
For a small town, Skagway has a lot of eateries (more than two dozen). Several can be found along Broadway, offering everything from pizza at Skagway Pizza Parlor (skagwaypizzaparlor.com) to breakfast at Bites On Broadway (facebook.com/bitesonbroadway) and seafood at Skagway Fish Company (facebook.com/skagwayfishco).
Final Port of Call: Victoria, British Columbia
Victoria is known as “The Garden City,” and no stop here would be complete without a visit to The Butchart Gardens (butchartgardens.com), a 55-acre floral fantasia featuring seasonal displays. In the fall, look for Japanese maple trees, coneflower, dahlias and chrysanthemums. Then take a stroll through Beacon Hill Park (victoria.ca/EN/main/residents/parks/beacon-hill.html) to see an ecosystem of Garry oak trees, which shed their leaves in autumn, revealing labyrinthine branches covered in moss.
If you’re into architecture, take a shore excursion to Craigdarroch Castle (thecastle.ca). This four-story Romanesque mansion was constructed in 1890 for a coal baron and showcases luxury furniture from the period, intricate woodwork and 32 of the original stained-glass art windows.
What to Eat/Drink
Throw a slab of Canadian bacon, and you’re likely to hit a brunch place in Victoria, deemed “The Brunch Capital of Canada.” Hot nosh spots include Nourish Kitchen & Cafe (nourishkitchen.ca), Blue Fox Café (thebluefoxcafe.com) and Jam Café (jamcafes.com).
— Niki D’Andrea
Dawes Glacier Deets
Located in the Endicott Arm fjord 50 miles southeast of Juneau, Dawes Glacier’s face spans hundreds of feet high and provides a breeding ground for harbor seals. It’s named after Massachusetts politician Henry Laurens Dawes and makes for gourmet eye-candy.
Alaska Wildlife Roll call
Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary
Located 8 miles from Ketchikan in Herring Cove, this 40-acre rainforest sanctuary is home to black bears, owls, falcons, bald eagles and salmon, which spawn in the streams of Eagle Creek. kawanti.com
Alaska Galore Tours
Operating out of Juneau, Alaska Galore offers whale-watching tours on small boats that give passengers intimate glimpses of orcas, humpbacks and sea lions. alaska-galore-juneau-whale-watching.com
White Pass Scenic Railway
Take the 1898 White Pass & Yukon Route railroad on a 40-mile round-trip journey from Skagway into the Yukon for chances to see wolverines, mountain goats and otters. wpyr.com