Alaska’s pristine lakes, glacial icefields and temperate, rain forests are just some of the wonders that make the state America’s last great wilderness. An Alaska cruise takes you to ports where you can board small ships, helicopters and float planes to see these spectacular sights, many of which are located in roadless regions. In Skagway, take a train to see the canyons and mountains traversed by the gold rush hopefuls seeking their fortunes.
Ketchikan: Float Plane to Tongass National Forest
To see the Tongass National Forest and within it the Misty Fjords National Monument, 25 minutes away from Ketchikan, we climbed onto a float plane. The largest national forest in the US Tongass’ 17 million acres covers most of Southeast Alaska, including much of the Inside Passage. The Tongass is a temperate rain forest, a rare ecosystem that exists in only a few places on earth such as New Zealand, Patagonia, and western North America.
Our 10-seater buzzed us low over the Tongass, an expanse of islands, inlets, greenery, glacial channels and ice fields. Misty Fjords National Monument, one of the Tongass’ jewels, gave us an appreciation for the breadth of Alaska’s greenery. The protected wilderness of almost 2.3 million acres harbors spruce, hemlock, and cedar woods plus cascading waterfalls, rivers, fjords, and cliffs that rise 4,000 feet.
Upon our descent, the pilot instructed us to look for mountain goats and wolves as well as brown and black bears. We landed on a blue-gray lake surrounded by tall spruce trees, our red and white float plane the only unnatural element. As we stepped out onto the plane’s pontoons, the quietness and the pristine setting both humbled and awed us.
Skagway: Follow Alaska’s Gold Rush Route
In the Tlingit language, Skagway means “home of the north wind.” Situated at the northern end of the Inside Passage, the city surged as a boom town during the 1897-1898 gold rush days. Now the town’s residents cater to the curious.
Follow the arduous path of the Klondike fortune seekers in comfort by taking a daytrip on the White Pass and Yukon Railroad. This narrow gauge train takes you along one of America’s great history trails, climbing almost 3,000 feet in 20 miles. You pass canyons, gorges, waterfalls, rushing streams, mountains laced with clouds, gold rush graveyards, and Dead Horse Gulch, named for the 3,000 animals that died in the struggle over this pass. The narrow footpaths and difficult climb testify to the compulsion and steadfastness of those struck with gold fever.