Header Notice

Winter is here! Check out the winter wonderlands at these 5 amazing winter destinations in Montana

What Does Inside Passage Mean On Alaska Cruise


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Norrie Staab



Welcome to the breathtaking world of Alaska cruises, where you can embark on a remarkable journey through the natural wonders of the Inside Passage. This magnificent route serves as a gateway to experiencing the unparalleled beauty and rich history that Alaska has to offer. Whether you’re an adventure seeker, nature lover, or culture enthusiast, an Alaska cruise through the Inside Passage is sure to leave you awe-inspired.


An Alaska cruise is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore the pristine wilderness, witness iconic wildlife, and immerse yourself in the diverse cultures that thrive in this vast region. The Inside Passage is a crucial component of this expedition, as it weaves its way along the coast of Alaska, showcasing stunning landscapes, breathtaking fjords, and charming coastal communities.


But what exactly is the Inside Passage? Why is it such a significant part of an Alaska cruise? In this article, we will delve into the history, geography, and natural beauty of the Inside Passage, as well as highlight the popular ports and destinations along this captivating route. So, let’s embark on an unforgettable journey through the heart of Alaska’s wilderness.


Overview of Alaska Cruises

Alaska cruises have gained immense popularity over the years, attracting travelers from around the world who seek to explore the unspoiled wilderness and stunning landscapes that Alaska has to offer. These cruises take passengers on a remarkable journey through the Inside Passage, a scenic route that stretches over 1,000 miles along the coast of Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington State.


Embarking on an Alaska cruise offers a unique opportunity to witness the majesty of towering glaciers, dramatic fjords, and abundant wildlife. While aboard the cruise ship, passengers can enjoy luxurious accommodations, world-class cuisine, and a variety of onboard entertainment options. Additionally, the cruise itineraries often include stops at several ports and destinations along the Inside Passage, allowing passengers to explore the fascinating history, culture, and natural beauty of these coastal communities.


Alaska cruises offer a range of activities and excursions that cater to different interests and preferences. Adventurous souls can enjoy thrilling experiences such as wildlife spotting, kayaking through icy fjords, or even helicopter tours over glaciers. For those seeking a more relaxed experience, there are opportunities to soak in the tranquil beauty of the landscape, go fishing, or simply enjoy the onboard amenities and breathtaking views.


One of the main highlights of an Alaska cruise is the chance to witness the diverse and iconic wildlife that inhabits the region. From majestic humpback whales and playful orcas to bald eagles soaring overhead and grizzly bears foraging along the shoreline, the Inside Passage offers countless opportunities for wildlife enthusiasts to observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.


Whether you’re a nature lover, history buff, or simply looking to embark on a memorable adventure, an Alaska cruise through the Inside Passage promises to be an unforgettable experience. It brings together the best of Alaska’s natural beauty, cultural heritage, and outdoor activities, making it a dream destination for travelers seeking an unforgettable exploration of this breathtaking region.


What Is the Inside Passage?

The Inside Passage is a renowned coastal route that stretches along the western coast of North America, encompassing the southeastern coast of Alaska, British Columbia in Canada, and a portion of Washington State. This spectacular waterway offers stunning views of lush rainforests, towering mountains, and serene fjords.


The Inside Passage derives its name from its position between the mainland and a series of islands that provide a sheltered passage along the coast. This route was historically used by indigenous peoples, fur traders, and explorers as a means of navigating between the Pacific Ocean and the inland regions.


Today, the Inside Passage is a popular travel destination, particularly for those embarking on an Alaska cruise. The calm and protected waters provide an ideal environment for cruise ships and small boats, allowing travelers to experience the beauty and tranquility of the region.


The Inside Passage offers a diverse range of landscapes and ecosystems. Along its route, you can witness towering glaciers, majestic fjords, lush temperate rainforests, and picturesque coastal communities. The interplay of the land and sea creates a unique environment for both terrestrial and marine wildlife.


One of the remarkable features of the Inside Passage is its intricate maze of channels, bays, and straits, providing countless opportunities for exploration. Each turn reveals a new vista, with breathtaking scenery at every corner. From the stunning vistas of Tracy Arm Fjord to the picturesque town of Juneau, the Inside Passage never fails to captivate visitors with its natural beauty.


Whether you choose to explore by cruise ship, small boat, or even kayak, the Inside Passage promises a memorable journey with its stunning landscapes, rich wildlife, and fascinating cultural heritage. It’s a place where adventure meets tranquility, and where nature reigns supreme. So, prepare to immerse yourself in the wonders of the Inside Passage and discover the magic that awaits along this mesmerizing coastal route.


Historical Significance of the Inside Passage

The Inside Passage holds deep historical significance, serving as a vital transportation route for indigenous peoples, European explorers, and early settlers. Throughout history, this intricate coastal waterway played a crucial role in connecting communities, facilitating trade, and shaping the region’s cultural heritage.


For thousands of years, the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest, including the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian, have relied on the Inside Passage for transportation, trade, and sustenance. These coastal First Nations used the waterway’s calm channels and sheltered bays to travel between villages, access fishing grounds, and engage in cultural exchanges.


With the arrival of European explorers in the 18th century, the Inside Passage gained further importance as a route for fur trading. The Russian-American Company, based in Alaska, established trading posts along the coast and relied on the waterway to transport furs and goods to and from markets.


During the late 19th century, the discovery of gold in Alaska and the Klondike brought a surge of prospectors and fortune seekers to the region. The Inside Passage served as a crucial route for these gold rush pioneers, providing access to the gold fields in Alaska and the Yukon. Towns like Skagway and Juneau emerged as bustling hubs, facilitating the transportation of people and supplies to the gold fields.


As the Inside Passage became more accessible through improvements in navigation and infrastructure, the development of coastal communities grew. Trading posts turned into towns, and new industries such as fishing and logging emerged along the waterway.


Today, the Inside Passage continues to showcase remnants of its rich history. Visitors can explore historical landmarks, such as the Totem Poles in Ketchikan, which tell the stories and traditions of the indigenous peoples. Museums in towns like Sitka and Wrangell offer glimpses into the region’s past, displaying artifacts and exhibits that highlight the cultural and historical significance of the Inside Passage.


By embarking on an Alaska cruise through the Inside Passage, travelers have the opportunity to not only witness the region’s natural beauty but also to connect with its fascinating history. It’s a chance to appreciate the resilience and richness of the cultures that have thrived along these shores for centuries and to gain a deeper understanding of the historical significance that has shaped this remarkable coastal route.


Geographical Features of the Inside Passage

The Inside Passage is renowned for its breathtaking geographical features, which encompass a diverse range of landscapes and natural wonders. This remarkable coastal route stretches over 1,000 miles, offering stunning vistas of mountains, fjords, islands, and lush temperate rainforests.


One of the noteworthy features of the Inside Passage is its majestic mountains. Towering peaks, including the snow-capped Coast Mountains and the Boundary Ranges, provide a stunning backdrop to the scenic waterway. Glaciers carved these mountains over millions of years, leaving behind dramatic valleys, cascading waterfalls, and picturesque cliffs.


The presence of fjords is another hallmark of the Inside Passage’s geography. These deep, narrow inlets were formed by retreating glaciers and are lined with steep mountains on either side. Tracy Arm Fjord and Glacier Bay National Park are two iconic examples of these natural wonders, where visitors can witness massive tidewater glaciers calving and hear the thunderous sound of ice crashing into the water.


The Inside Passage is also characterized by its intricate network of coastal islands and channels. These islands, ranging from small rocky islets to larger forested landmasses, create a protected and sheltered passage for ships and wildlife, shielding them from the open ocean. Some notable islands along the route include Vancouver Island, Admiralty Island, and Prince of Wales Island.


The route is also home to vibrant temperate rainforests, which are among the rarest and most diverse ecosystems on earth. These lush forests, dominated by Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and red cedar trees, provide a haven for a variety of plant and animal species. Walking through these forests, visitors will encounter carpets of moss, towering old-growth trees, and the sweet scent of damp earth.


The Inside Passage offers an abundance of wildlife, thanks to its diverse habitats. Visitors may spot humpback whales breaching, orcas swimming alongside the ship, and seals sunbathing on rocky shores. Bald eagles soar overhead while brown bears forage for food along the shoreline. Marine life, such as sea lions, porpoises, and sea otters, also make their homes in these rich waters.


Exploring the geographical features of the Inside Passage on an Alaska cruise provides a captivating experience unlike any other. From the mesmerizing peaks to the tranquil fjords and thriving rainforests, each moment spent along this coastal route showcases the awe-inspiring beauty and diversity of nature.


Wildlife and Natural Beauty of the Inside Passage

The Inside Passage is renowned for its abundant and diverse wildlife, making it a paradise for nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers. From majestic marine mammals to elusive land-dwelling creatures, this coastal route offers ample opportunities to witness the incredible biodiversity that thrives in this pristine environment.


One of the most iconic species in the Inside Passage is the humpback whale. These graceful giants migrate to these rich waters each summer to feed on the abundant krill and small fish. Witnessing a humpback whale breach or slap its tail on the water’s surface is an awe-inspiring sight that will leave you speechless.


The region is also home to orcas, also known as killer whales. These intelligent and social creatures captivate onlookers as they swim alongside the cruise ship, gracefully diving in and out of the water. The Inside Passage offers a rare opportunity to observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.


Another fascinating species found in the Inside Passage is the Steller sea lion. These large marine mammals gather in colonies on rocky shores or haul-outs, where they bask in the sun and engage in boisterous displays. Their deep roars and playful interactions provide an unforgettable experience for observers.


When it comes to terrestrial wildlife, the Inside Passage boasts a range of species, including brown bears, black bears, and moose. Coastal areas provide ample opportunities to spot these majestic creatures as they forage along the shorelines or venture into rivers for fishing.


The coastal rainforests of the Inside Passage are also teeming with birdlife. Bald eagles, with their impressive wingspans, can be seen perched on tree branches or soaring overhead. Stellar’s jays, varied thrushes, and marbled murrelets are just a few of the other avian species that call this region home.


While exploring the Inside Passage, passengers can also witness the astounding natural beauty that surrounds them. Towering glaciers, such as the Sawyer Glacier or the Mendenhall Glacier, showcase the power of nature and provide a glimpse into the planet’s ancient history. The peaceful waters of tranquil fjords, like Tracy Arm or Glacier Bay, offer stunning reflections of the surrounding mountains, creating a picture-perfect setting.


The lush temperate rainforests that line the route not only provide shelter for wildlife but also create a serene and magical atmosphere. Walking through these ancient forests with towering trees, moss-covered rocks, and the gentle sound of birdsong is a rejuvenating experience that connects you to the rhythm of nature.


Embarking on an Alaska cruise through the Inside Passage not only allows you to witness the incredible wildlife but also provides an opportunity to appreciate the natural splendor and beauty that surrounds you. It’s a humbling reminder of the importance of conservation and our responsibility to preserve these habitats for future generations to enjoy.


Popular Ports and Destinations along the Inside Passage

The Inside Passage is dotted with a variety of charming ports and destinations that offer unique experiences and opportunities to explore the cultural heritage and natural beauty of the region. These coastal communities serve as gateways to the wonders of the Inside Passage and provide a glimpse into the rich history and traditions that have shaped this remarkable part of the world.


Juneau, the capital of Alaska, is a popular port of call along the Inside Passage. Nestled at the base of towering mountains and surrounded by the Tongass National Forest, Juneau offers a blend of outdoor adventures and cultural attractions. Visitors can explore the sprawling Mendenhall Glacier, hike to breathtaking viewpoints, or immerse themselves in the vibrant arts scene.


Climb aboard the historic White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad in Skagway, a town steeped in gold rush history. This narrow-gauge railway takes passengers on a scenic journey through mountains and deep valleys, providing glimpses of the rugged terrain that the prospectors of the late 19th century traversed in their quest for gold.


For a taste of Native Alaskan culture, a visit to Ketchikan is a must. This vibrant town is known as the “Salmon Capital of the World” and is home to the largest collection of totem poles in the world. Explore the Totem Heritage Center, watch traditional performances, and indulge in fresh seafood from local markets and restaurants.


Sitka, with its rich Russian and Tlingit history, offers a captivating blend of cultures. Explore the well-preserved Russian Orthodox St. Michael’s Cathedral, walk along the picturesque Sitka National Historical Park, or embark on a wildlife excursion in the surrounding waters to spot whales, sea otters, and seabirds.


Victoria, located on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, is another popular port for Inside Passage cruises. Immerse yourself in the charm of this British-inspired city, with its picturesque Inner Harbour, stunning Butchart Gardens, and historic attractions such as the iconic Empress Hotel.


These are just a few of the many ports and destinations along the Inside Passage that offer a unique blend of natural beauty, cultural heritage, and outdoor adventures. Each stop provides an opportunity to discover the stories and traditions of the region, while also savoring the breathtaking landscapes that surround them.


Whether you choose to explore the historical sites, enjoy outdoor activities, or simply immerse yourself in the local culture, each port along the Inside Passage promises a memorable experience that will leave you with lasting memories of your Alaska cruise.


Why Choose an Alaska Cruise through the Inside Passage?

Embarking on an Alaska cruise through the Inside Passage is a unique and unforgettable way to experience the wonders of this breathtaking region. Here are some compelling reasons why choosing this route for your cruise adventure is a decision you won’t regret.


First and foremost, the Inside Passage offers unparalleled natural beauty. The stunning landscapes, fjords, glaciers, and lush rainforests provide a constantly changing backdrop that will leave you in awe at every turn. Cruising through these scenic wonders allows you to witness the grandeur of Alaska up close and immerse yourself in its pristine wilderness.


Wildlife enthusiasts will be thrilled by the incredible biodiversity that the Inside Passage has to offer. From breaching humpback whales to majestic bald eagles soaring overhead, the opportunities for wildlife sightings are abundant. Brown bears, orcas, sea lions, and sea otters are just a few of the captivating species you may encounter along the journey, providing unforgettable moments for nature lovers.


The Inside Passage also boasts a rich cultural heritage. Indigenous communities have thrived in this region for thousands of years, and their traditions and history are deeply intertwined with the natural world. Exploring the cultural sites, attending traditional performances, and learning about the indigenous way of life offers a unique perspective and a chance to appreciate the deep connections between the land and its people.


Add to this the charm of the coastal communities that line the Inside Passage. From the colorful homes perched on the hillsides in Ketchikan to the historical buildings of Sitka, each port offers its own unique atmosphere and opportunities for exploration. Whether it’s sampling fresh seafood, browsing local shops, or strolling through vibrant streets, these communities provide a glimpse into the local way of life.


Moreover, an Alaska cruise allows for a worry-free and convenient way to explore a vast and remote region. The cruise ship serves as your floating hotel, providing a comfortable base as you venture into the wilderness. You can relax and indulge in luxurious amenities, exquisite dining, and engaging entertainment while enjoying ever-changing views outside your cabin.


Lastly, choosing an Alaska cruise through the Inside Passage provides a well-organized itinerary that maximizes your time and ensures you won’t miss any of the highlights. Cruise ships follow carefully planned routes, stopping at popular ports and scheduling activities and shore excursions that offer a variety of experiences, from thrilling adventures like dog sledding or glacier hiking to more relaxed options like scenic wildlife tours or cultural visits.


Embarking on an Alaska cruise through the Inside Passage guarantees an extraordinary adventure filled with natural wonders, wildlife encounters, cultural immersion, and relaxation. It’s a chance to marvel at the beauty of Alaska, connect with its rich heritage, and create memories that will last a lifetime.


Tips for Exploring the Inside Passage on an Alaska Cruise

Exploring the Inside Passage on an Alaska cruise is an adventure of a lifetime. To make the most of your experience, here are some tips to ensure a smooth and memorable journey:

  1. Research and plan: Before embarking on your Alaska cruise, take the time to research the ports and destinations along the Inside Passage. Familiarize yourself with the excursions offered and decide which activities and attractions align with your interests. This will help you make the most of your time ashore.
  2. Dress in layers: Alaska’s weather can be unpredictable, with temperature fluctuations throughout the day. Layering your clothing allows you to adjust to changing conditions and stay comfortable. Bring a waterproof jacket and sturdy footwear for outdoor adventures.
  3. Wear sunscreen and insect repellent: Even on overcast days, UV rays can be strong in Alaska. Protect your skin by wearing sunscreen with a high SPF. Additionally, some ports may have mosquitos, so it’s wise to bring insect repellent for added protection.
  4. Bring binoculars and a camera: The Inside Passage is teeming with wildlife and stunning vistas. Having binoculars will enhance your wildlife spotting experience, enabling you to observe animals from a distance. Don’t forget your camera or phone to capture the awe-inspiring scenery and memorable wildlife encounters.
  5. Engage with local culture: Take the opportunity to learn about the indigenous cultures and local customs of the communities you visit. Attend cultural performances, visit museums, and engage with local artisans to gain a deeper appreciation for Alaska’s rich heritage.
  6. Be flexible and open-minded: Nature can be unpredictable, and weather conditions may affect the itinerary. Be prepared for potential changes, and embrace the opportunity for new adventures that may arise as a result. Stay flexible and maintain a positive outlook to make the most of your time in this beautiful region.
  7. Respect the environment and wildlife: Remember that you are a guest in a pristine and fragile ecosystem. Follow all guidelines and instructions provided by your cruise ship and tour operators to ensure minimal impact. Respect wildlife by observing from a distance and avoiding any actions that may disturb their natural behavior.
  8. Try local cuisine: Alaska is known for its fresh seafood, so be sure to indulge in the local cuisine. Sample Alaskan salmon, halibut, crab, and other seafood delicacies. Visit local restaurants and markets to savor the flavors of the region.
  9. Take advantage of onboard activities and amenities: While the Inside Passage offers breathtaking beauty outside, don’t forget to explore the amenities and activities onboard your cruise ship. Attend lectures and presentations by naturalists, enjoy live performances, relax in the spa, or simply savor the panoramic views from the deck.
  10. Disconnect and embrace the experience: The Inside Passage is a place of tranquility and natural wonders. Take the opportunity to disconnect from technology and immerse yourself fully in the experience. Unplug, breathe in the fresh air, and embrace the magic that surrounds you.

By keeping these tips in mind, you can make the most of your Alaska cruise through the Inside Passage. Embrace the beauty, wildlife, and cultural experiences that await you, creating cherished memories that will last a lifetime.



Embarking on an Alaska cruise through the Inside Passage is a remarkable journey that offers a unique blend of natural beauty, cultural immersion, and unforgettable experiences. From the majestic peaks and glaciers to the abundant wildlife and charming coastal communities, every moment spent exploring this coastal route is filled with wonder and appreciation for the awe-inspiring surroundings.


The Inside Passage allows travelers to witness the grandeur of Alaska’s wilderness up close. The towering mountains, serene fjords, and lush rainforests create a stunning backdrop against which wildlife thrives and cultures thrive. From breaching humpback whales and soaring bald eagles to the vibrant traditions of indigenous communities, the Inside Passage offers an array of experiences that captivate the senses and deepen our connection with the natural world.


Whether you choose to kayak through icy fjords, hike through ancient forests, or simply bask in the tranquility of the coastline from the deck of a cruise ship, the Inside Passage provides endless opportunities for adventure and relaxation. Each port of call along the route offers a unique blend of history, culture, and natural wonders, creating a tapestry of experiences that showcase the best of the region.


As you embark on your Alaska cruise through the Inside Passage, remember to respect and appreciate the fragile ecosystem you are visiting. Take the time to engage with the local communities, learn about their traditions, and savor the flavors of the region. Disconnect from the fast-paced world and immerse yourself in the serenity of the surroundings, allowing the beauty and tranquility of the Inside Passage to rejuvenate your spirit.


An Alaska cruise through the Inside Passage is a journey that will leave indelible memories for a lifetime. It’s an opportunity to explore the wonders of nature, connect with diverse cultures, and create lasting bonds with fellow travelers. As you set sail, be prepared to be amazed, inspired, and touched by the unparalleled beauty and magic that awaits you along the breathtaking Inside Passage.