We wind up our Alaska tour with wee ones in the southeastern section of the state. “Southeast,” as it is called by Alaskans, is that panhandle-shaped, rainforested area where most visitors capture their first images of the 49th state. Cruisers will certainly spend the majority of sailing time in this region, moving through the gorgeous Inside Passage, and Alaska Marine Highway System passengers have the benefit of time to explore this popular area of the Last Frontier.
Our first trip to southeast was indeed aboard a cruise ship, and AK Kid, at the tender age of four, was integral to the creation of this list. We hope you like it, and hope that this post, and our previous “Under Five” posts will spawn some additional discussion, either here, or on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.
Southeast Alaska fun, for kiddos five and under: Let the games begin!
1. Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, Ketchikan: If sailing north from either Seattle or Vancouver, this is the first port of call for most cruise ships. Gloriously green, serene, and incredibly wet, Ketchikan is a community full of old-time history. One of our favorite activities is this visitor center, housing all manner of interactive displays and very friendly staff. Grab a scavenger hunt packet and wander through the rainforest display, native fish camp, and incredibly fun natural resources exhibit, where the eye candy is deliciously attractive to young children. Learn about ecosystems though twirling displays, and take a minute to pick a prize out of the bucket for completing the scavenger hunt. Don’t be afraid to allow the crawlers and toddlers to move around; staff are very accommodating! This is a winner on a rainy day (Ketchikan gets 165 inches of rain annually, it probably will be wet when you visit). Open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. May through September. Winter hours are Thursday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is $5/adults, free for 15 and younger.
2. Petroglyph Beach State Historical Park, Wrangell: If you find time to stop in this delightful southeast Alaska town, it would be a shame to miss the petroglyphs. These mysterious designs scratched into ancient rocks are a treasure hunt waiting to happen, and when that gets old, there is a beach full of rocks to turn over and explore. A mile from the main part of town (we walked it pretty easily along the local road, but you might ask about a taxi ride), Petroglyph Beach offers an accessible boardwalk and set of interpretive signs to read, and replica rocks to rub with a crayon and paper (stop in at the Wrangell museum for supplies). We found ten amazing designs, and a host of barnacle-draped rocks, tiny crabs, and some jumping bugs. What could be more fun? Free.
3. Sitka National Historical Park, Sitka: I talk up the oldest National Park in Alaska like it was my family, and perhaps by now, it is. This is a comfortable, beautiful, and peaceful place to take kids of any age, but particularly the younger ones, who have room to roam on wide, accessible trails, with perfect green-leafed access to the beach for acres and acres of tidepooling. Junior Ranger badges are available for kids as young as three, and kids may enjoy watching a master carver at work, or guessing at the faces staring back at them from the totems. If staying downtown, walk the easy, paved path (great for strollers) right to the park, it’s lovely. Open daily May-September, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., with trails open from 6 a.m. (great for those early-rising kids). Winter hours are Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Free.
4. Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, Juneau. We love Mendenhall Glacier for its access to families, and their commitment to throwing a little learning into one’s daily walk. The Visitor Center is an interesting collection of glacier-themed maps, dioramas, and such. AK Kid liked seeing the topographical map with a full view of the glacier out the wide window, too, but our favorite activity was walking the meandering trails outside. Two trails are perfect for families with small children, and both offer great views of the glacier and awesome listening vantage points for rushing water, too. The Photo Point Trail is a mere .30 miles of pavement, with benches for resting and interpretive signs to read (parents). Great for strollers and toddlers. The longer, but manageable Trail of Time offers a bit more nature, and kids will enjoy the hunt for the next sign/clue. Grab a self-guided trail brochure at the visitor center and have at it. Open all year with varying hours, but daily May-September, 8 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Admission is $3/pp, but it’s free to hike the grounds.
5. Klondike Gold Rush National Park, Skagway.This is by far the best Junior Ranger program I’ve ever seen, with an entire building on 4th and Broadway just for kids. Try on period clothing, play games, complete the Junior Ranger kit, feel pelts, all under the tutelage of a seasonal educational/interpretive ranger. Our kid ate this up, hook, line, and sinker. Staff are incredibly attentive and helpful, too. Find the Junior Ranger building in historic downtown Skagway, up the street from the main Park Service HQ. Open daily during the summer, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.; and 1 -3 p.m. Plan to spend an hour or so exploring. Kids age three to five receive a coloring book, and kids five through eight receive the Junior Ranger kit. Love this town.