The last leg of our trip is on the Alaska Marine Highway doing the “Inside Passage”. Not as fancy as a cruise ship, but a whole lot cheaper, with the bonus of GR2 allowed on board.
We leave Haines at 5pm on the fast ferry (like the one out of Whittier) and speed for 5 hours to Juneau. On board we catch up with our Swiss friends & an Aussie couple travelling on their Harley trike. It is dark when we arrive so we simply find the nearest supermarket for the night. It is fine the next day so we head straight to Juneau’s main attraction, Mendenhall Glacier that looms over the town. To our shock the place is packed with tourists – there are a few cruise ships in town. It is a bit of a let-down to share the sites with so many others! After talking to Denise & Marcel (the Swiss couple travelling in a Fiat motorhome) we decide to change our ferry trip yet again to stop at a few more remote towns on the islands. So we must speed up our exploration of town as we have only a few days here now. We stop to visit a little chapel built on an island where there are eagles catching fish, then on past all the little beaches until we reach the end of the road. There are no roads out of Juneau – you must take the ferry or fly. We find a lovely spot to overnight with our Swiss friends. At about 11pm a Ute pulls in with music blaring. Then more vehicles. There is a loud thump as a huge pile of wood is dumped out of the Ute, then a whoosh as the bonfire is lit. More vehicles arrive. That is our cue to leave to spend the rest of the night at the boat ramp (The Swiss have a ferry to catch at 4am – check in at 2am!) we sleep well, not sure about the Swiss.
Wake to gray skies & drizzle. Head to Eagle Beach to watch the salmon running & dozens of eagles feasting. Head off for a walk, but rain makes us turn back. Then we retrace our steps to Juneau city, stopping beside a river to see millions more salmon spawning, with many already dead. Then the salmon hatchery with fish crammed into the fish ladder all trying desperately to reach the top. Here they are “milked” of their eggs & the salmon fry are raised – giving them a much higher chance of survival. There are some massive cruise ships in town so we explore the remaining roads, yet another gold museum, find water & waste station and a local restaurant for dinner before it really starts raining. Finally we head to the ferry wharf for the night.
It is an early start – check in at 4am for the 6am ferry. At least sleeping on the wharf gives us as much sleeping time as possible. The alarm goes off at 4am- John goes to check in & we have brekkie while we wait to be loaded. Again it is a 5hr cruise on a fast ferry to Sitka (One of the original Russian settlements, and it was here that the USA officially purchased Alaska from the Russians.) It is great cruising weather and we pass through a maze of narrow waterways – spectacular viewing. We head straight to town to explore. Sadly it is drizzling, but it is a truly lovely town to explore. A Russian Orthodox Church (a replica of the original) & some old Russian buildings. Then head to the northern end of the road to stop and visit the “Fortress of the Bear” – a place where orphaned bears are rescued – awesome being able to watch these guys close up. Because they are so used to being watched I am sure that they are they pose for me. There are 3 very playful baby black bears (all of 5ft tall) & 3 large Grizzlies & 2 huge Grizzlies (they stand at 8ft tall). We end the day at Whale Park. No whales in sight when we look. (Although we did see some when we were cruising yesterday)
Time to head off on a walk. The signs warning of recent bear activity in the area are a bit off putting – and here they are Grizzlies! Back to town, stopping at Sitka Nat Historical Park with lots of totem poles, before heading to see the Native dancing show at Sheet’Ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi – fortunately it was only 60mins.(It really is wasn’t too exciting, although the bright cloaks were great) Eventually head off along the southern road to stop near Starrigavan National Park. In the morning we do a few walks before heading to the Salvation Army church in town. We met the pastor the night before in the carpark & he had given us free tickets to the Raptor Centre – so after Church we head there to gawp at the Bald Eagles. The American’s are very proud of their national bird. We have also being told about a great drive up a mountain, so as the weather has cleared, we head up there. Finally we can see the volcano that looms over town (it has been hiding behind the clouds until now.) Time for one more walk (and yes there is another bear warning here too) before we return to the wharf for our next ferry, which leaves at 11.15pm.
This ferry is much bigger & much slower. It will be 9 hours to Petersburg, so we have a cabin – actually a great cabin right at the back of the ferry with large windows, so even sitting in our cabin is scenic. We watch the sunset as we cruise along. If you want an even cheaper option of travelling you do not have to get a cabin. If you get on board early enough you can sprint up to the solarium, grab a deck chair, lay out your sleeping bag & sleep there. Alternatively you can pitch your tent on the back deck!
Rain again the next day – so we watch the passing scenery from the comfort of our beds before heading out for brekkie & generally filling in time until we arrive. When we arrive we see our Swiss friends ready to leave – we will probably meet up with them in Ketchikan.
We explore town before the rain starts again. It is essentially a fishing town, and was originally a Norwegian settlement – so it has lots of attractive buildings, lots of which are on piles over the slough. It is raining by the time we leave town to explore the side roads. We even walk out to a lake in the rain – I have given up on my shoes & now wear gumboots or Petersburg sneakers as they are called here. At the lake there are dead King Salmon floating everywhere. Eventually we find a lovely picnic area with large shelters and BBQ’s, so we decide to stop here. There is a party happening. A group of Mexicans are having their first day off after 30 days in the Salmon packery. We join them for some yummy Mexican food. Finally we leave as it looks as if it will be a noisy night, & stop at Ohmer Creek Campground. It is no longer in official use, so it is free.
It is still drizzly when we wake. We explore most of the back roads here today, even seeing 3 black bears. We walk to a lake on a wooden boardwalk wearing huge yellow raincoats, but when I start slipping & sliding we give up. Back in town we head to the museum & then the library for Wifi. Fish & chips in town then back to the ferry for a few hours sleep before we have to check in at 2am!
Our ferry leaves at 4am in the dark. We find a seat at the front of the ferry. There are bodies sleeping everywhere – they even have airbeds on the floor. We try & snooze a bit before daylight. As the skies lighten we see we are passing through the Wrangell Narrows – magical scenery on each side. Perhaps some of the best on this section of the trip. The ferry stops at Wrangell for an hour. Dog owners get a chance to go downstairs & take their dogs out for a walk. Some vehicles & passengers leave & more board. Then we move on. Finally we arrive at Ketchikan at 1.30pm, but are the last vehicle off the ferry an hour later. Head to the town where there are 2 massive cruise ships tied up & people everywhere. We head on the road south as far as Sardine Bight where there is a Hatchery. Here we stop & wait for bears while chatting to our Swiss friends & a lovely local lady (plus more as they arrive to see bears). Finally our patience is rewarded by 2 bears & then a mother with her 2 cubs. Eventually we leave & find a camp spot beside the beach where we share a BBQ with our Swiss friends before they head to the ferry.
We have lots more to see the next day before our ferry at 1pm. We head off bright & early stopping briefly at Totem Park, then in town walk around the old red light district (amazingly there are plenty of tourists about already before 8am), before heading as far as we can on the northern road. Time for a walk to the waterfalls & a detour to Ward Lake before we head to the ferry. There will be no more stops until we reach our destination at Bellingham.
We meet some lovely people, including our friends Ernie & Barbara, so lots of time spent chatting & wandering around on deck. It is not until we near Vancouver Island that we have much close up scenery. Finally we land at 7am, say our goodbyes & head back downstairs to GR2. All our food is still frozen – which is great. We head straight to the border & on to Kev’s place. We have a long weekend with Kev in Mission. On the Monday we do a road trip to Whistler – it is a glorious hot day at 32deg. Then on Tuesday I pack my bag (actually John packs it – he is much better at packing.) & head home. John will return a week later as he wants to do some work on GR2. Then he can check if he needs to bring any parts back on our next trip.
Thank you for taking the time to read our blog. No plans as yet for our next adventure.
John & Lynda