Get a first-hand account of an adventure through Alaska. Tour guest Grant Adams has kindly shared his experience cruising, cycling, and sipping his way through Alaska's Inside Passage. From bonding with fellow adventurers to soaking up breathtaking views, Alaska clearly left its mark, as it does to all who venture through America's last frontier.
I had never been to Alaska before this trip, but I have heard a lot about it. My first impression was that it’s so much bigger than anything I have ever experienced. The vast open views and lush greenness was amazing. Coming from Colorado where the mountains are mighty and the plains are... well just plain, the Alaskan vistas are breathtaking. The sea and lakes nestle up to towering white-capped mountains and glaciers, and it all makes Colorado seem very small in comparison.
The best part about cycling Alaska
Cycling in Alaska was surprisingly comfortable because of the lack of major road traffic. I don’t know why, but I was expecting a lot more vehicles on the roads and that really wasn’t the case. There is so much to see, so I cannot imagine being confined to a car. Additionally, riding gave me the chance to connect with the group. Some days I was super energetic and felt like going fast, and other days I preferred to cruise with those further back and make sure no one fell behind.
Our group had such a wonderful time cycling together and I feel like I had the chance to ride with each person and get to know them better than if we had only chatted over meals. Our conversations ranged from the number of eagles we had seen that day to the destinations we had cycled, and most importantly, where we wanted to travel next.
Breathtaking views and wildlife around every corner
Other than the generous servings of scenic views and great camaraderie, there is a tremendous abundance of wildlife you can experience close up. Each day I enjoyed counting eagles and saw anywhere from 10-25 a day. Other than bald eagles, we saw bears with their cubs fishing for a meal, fish (avoiding being a meal), otters, and even a river dolphin. At first, most wildlife was pointed out by our amazing guides who went out of their way to showcase the nature Alaska has to offer, but after a while we were enthusiastically pointing it out to them!
The surprisingly diverse Alaskan food scene
It was early in the salmon spawning season and we saw first-hand the beginning, and end, of the salmon's life cycle. We could have eaten salmon every day! I even tried a sockeye salmon burger, which I highly recommend. Rest assured the seafood in Alaska is plentiful and tastes amazing.
If seafood is not your thing or you want to branch out, there is quite a bit of local dining to try. Keep in mind you should be a little flexible, because sometimes items may not be arriving on the ferry until later in the week. But honestly, that was never really an issue, because all of the food was delicious! You had choices from seafood, pizza, pasta, all the way to Thai food. I was never left hungry at the end of the day.
Get your drink on in Alaska: discovering Alaskan distillers and breweries
If you like to partake in an adult beverage, there are also plenty of options. One highlight was visiting a small local distillery in Haines and talking to the owner-distiller about his craft, which he was very passionate about. I recommend you try a “Svenson”, which is named after a local artist/adventurer who is larger than life; the drink is too!
The towns we visited had local breweries, so if you are more of a beer than a cocktail person there is always something new to try, and we made sure to visit some local bars to get a sense of each town's personality. All were within easy walking distance of our lodging, so there’s no need to worry about getting around after hours.
Boats, ferries & rafts: admiring Alaska from the water
During the day, when not riding, we were often traveling by boat. Again, coming from Colorado I don’t get a chance to ride around on many boats. The ferry from Juneau to Haines was outstanding and we saw humpback whales, glacier water mixing with ocean water, local birds (including more eagles), and dolphins. It was nice being able to get out on the deck in the fresh crisp air.
We took a second ferry from Haines to Skagway, which was a much shorter ride, but the ferry was reserved exclusively for our group. The captain made time to point out local landmarks, along with a great description of what we were looking at. I personally enjoyed all the waterfalls along the way.
Sea ferries were not the only boats we traveled on. Twice, we took a float downriver on a raft to enjoy the sights off-the-road. This was a surprisingly comfortable and extremely pleasant way to travel. The raft guides were informative and easy to talk to, in addition to being skilled with navigating along the river.
To close out the week we experienced one last waterborne adventure, kayaking to the Mendenhall Glacier. It’s impossible to fathom just how gigantic these glaciers are until you get close to them, and being on a small kayak makes the experience that much more humbling and intimate.
A few tips to keep in mind when cycling Alaska
A few tips for traveling to Alaska. I learned that flexibility is important. Things we take for granted are another order of difficulty there. Commerce has to travel by boat, plane, or truck and all of those are much smaller than in the lower 48.
Also, the weather can shift, so come prepared. We had rain on our trip, but it didn’t come down in abundance until the last day. I was glad I packed a lightweight raincoat and pants, these came out regularly. Between the slight chill in the mornings and the occasional shower, those kept me nice and comfortable.
The other thing I was glad to have was my phone. Not because of the “awesome 5G signal” everywhere, which was mainly a lack thereof, but because I was constantly taking pictures of all of the beauty. I strongly recommend keeping your phone on you constantly so you are always ready to capture ‘that shot’, but (top tip) keep it in a plastic bag to prevent it from getting wet.
The Alaska Inside Passage cycle tour took in the highlights of the southeast and has certainly left me wanting to come back and experience more of this giant state. By the end of the trip, all of us had become friends and vowed to keep in touch. I had a wonderful time and hope that everyone has the chance to experience some of Alaska’s beauty. I highly recommend cycling Alaska, which is truly an epic way to immerse yourself in its awesomeness!