Alaska's 'panhandle', as the Inside Passage is commonly referred to, was carved by glaciers and is blanketed with forests of hemlock and spruce. Its pristine waters and majestic mountain views rival the most beautiful of landscapes. The area is the home of Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian Indians. Their rich heritage is reflected in hundreds of totem poles and other Native arts. Onion-domed churches gleaming with gold recall the legacy left by Russian settlers.
The history and culture of the area have only been enhanced by the prospectors, lumberjacks and fishermen who inhabited the area at various times throughout its history.
Some of the places you may visit on your cruise through the Inside Passage include Misty Fjords, Tracey Arm, Juneau, Haines, Skagway, Glacier Bay and more.
If you see a disturbance in the waters of the Inside Passage, it is more likely to be a splashing orca or sea lion than rough waters. For the most part, the waters in the Inside Passage are calm and tranquil. Orca sightings are common and, in fact, are expected. Migrating whales, dall porpoises, gray sided dolphins, sea lions and salmon are some of the other sea creatures you may encounter. Also, keep your eyes skyward as the magnificent, soaring bald eagles are plentiful. Cast your eyes towards shore and you might just catch a glimpse of deer, or other land animals such as moose or bears.
In 1741, Russians Vitus Bering and Aleksi Cherikov "discovered" Alaska and its fur trade potential. British Captain James Cook explored the Alaskan coast in 1778, seeking a Northwest Passage back to the Atlantic. The frustration and astonishment on the part of these 18th century explorers must have been something to see as they first encountered the confusing maze of islands and channels that make up the Inside Passage. Where these mysterious channels were leading the explorers was unknown. Encountering massive mountain ranges and virginal forests at the end of each and every fjord as the explorers followed them to the interior, they inevitably were stopped by a wall of ice as glaciers pushed their way to the sea.
From 1791 to 1795, British Captain George Vancouver also sought the Northwest Passage and failed after exhaustively exploring the Northwest Coast.
In 1799, Aleksander Baranov established a Russian trading base at Sitka, and in 1867, Secretary of State William Seward bought Alaska from Czarist Russia for a mere two cents an acre, a total of $7.2 million in cost. By that time, the fur resource had been completely depleted and the purchase of Alaska became widely known as "Seward's Folly". Naturalist John Muir canoed through Southeast Alaska and discovered Glacier Bay, which, 80 years earlier, when Captain George Vancouver passed through, was still covered in ice.
From 1896 to 1900, the discovery of gold on a Yukon River tributary sparked the Klondike Gold Rush, following quickly with thousands of miners flocking to the gold fields and Alaska, seeking their fortunes. The first Alaskan gold strike occurred along the Inside Passage. Even today, its communities retain that atomosphere of adventure and enterprise.