Inside Passage is a popular Alaskan coastal cruise itinerary route for oceangoing ships. The shipping route extends from Southeast Alaska (AK USA) to Northwest Washington (WA USA) passing through Western British Columbia (BC Canada). Vessels using this shipping route are able to avoid open ocean's bad weather and visit some of the isolated Alaskan communities. Inside Passage is best known for the scenic coastal cruising through straits and passing by Alaskan islands, the largest of which are Chichagof, Baranof and Prince of Wales (see the map below).
Inside Passage is navigated by cruise liners, as well as tugboats, freighters (cargo ships), fishing boats and passenger ferries serving Alaska Marine Highway, Washington State Ferries and BC Ferries systems. The "Inside Passage" term is often used to refer to the islands and ocean round the passage itself. Sometimes the Inside Passage is mistakenly referred to as "Inland Passage", a reference to early quests of explorers to locate Northwest Passage between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.
It is generally accepted that Inside Passage starts in Washington's Puget Sound and extends north, first along the coast of British Columbia and the Alaska Panhandle. During the Klondike Gold Rush, it was one of the sea routes from California and Seattle WA carrying prospectors north.
The route's portion that belongs to BC Canada has coastline approx 40,000 km (25,000 mi). It includes the protected Strait of Georgia (between BC mainland and Vancouver Island), Johnstone Strait (between mainland and Vancouver Island), as well as a short stretch along Hecate Strait (close to Haida Gwaii Islands). Northwards from Fitz Hugh Sound, the route is sheltered through various large islands - like Pitt Island and Princess Royal Island.
The Alaskan portion of the Passage extends 800 km (500 mi) from north to south and 160 km (100 mi) from east to west. The region encompasses 1,000 islands, 24,000 km (15,000 mi) of shoreline and thousands of bays and coves. While Alexander Archipelago in Alaska offers some protection from the Pacific weather, much of the area suffers from strong semi-diurnal tides that can create extreme 9 m (30-foot) differences between high and low tide. Careful piloting is required in many places in order to not hit underwater obstructions.
The Inside Passage is a well-known destination for outdoor enthusiasts. The coastal mountain ranges and the islands make for great wildlife viewing and outdoor travel activities such as boating, kayaking, fishing, hiking, camping.
Alaska’s Inside Passage route is used by cruise liners leaving from homeports Seattle and Vancouver BC and usually operating on 7-day roundtrips. The "cruise coastline" has length approx 800 km (500 mi). Ship travel in the region offers unique opportunities for wildlife viewing (whales, sea lions, seals, brown bears, bald eagles) and enjoying the coastal scenery (glaciers, small settlements). All cruise companies offer as alternatives land tours (optional) to expand their customers' vacation. The list of Alaskan cruise ports along the Inside Passage route includes Ketchikan (Revillagigedo Island), Sitka (Baranof Island), Skagway, Juneau. Scenic destinations along the route include Glacier Bay NP, Misty Fjords (wilderness), Tongass Forest (USA's largest), Klondike Gold Rush Historical Park.
Inside Passage cruise terminal
The following map shows all ports of call, islands and destinations visited on traditional Alaska Inside Passage cruise itineraries.
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