Spring Into a Southeast Alaska Vacation

AKontheGO publisher Erin Kirkland has a few ideas for exploring Southeast Alaska between March and May. 

Colorful kayaks await paddlers in Southeast Alaska. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

After 10 years of writing about traveling Alaska with children, I have a pretty good idea of what’s hot, or not, in the realm of family-friendly fun. So when January rolls around each year and my email inbox fills up with messages, or meetings are scheduled to discuss the newest experience that “kids will love,” I get pretty excited.

In 2018, a new movement is afoot to encourage exploration of the 49th state outside the usual boundaries of May through September. And why not? Alaska doesn’t close its doors once the final cruise ship sails south for the winter; many people just think it does. Those leading the charge want to change that, starting this spring.

Welcome to Alaska’s capital city, Juneau. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

The effort encouraging Lower 48 visitors and residents alike to spend their time and money on earlier-than-usual Alaska experiences is being met with a few furrowed brows. I get it. An idea like this will take time to settle and not every business is positioned to open in March. But for me, whose mission aims to show off the Last Frontier’s attributes to young visitors regardless of the calendar, I’m all in. So let’s talk about one of the most oft-forgot springtime destinations for families; Southeast Alaska.

A short flight from Anchorage, Southeast’s charm lies in its location, especially in the spring. Whereas Anchorage is still looking at the outdoor color palette of gray and beige, Southeast is a lush, green reminder that growing season is indeed beginning. Daffodils poke their heads from the warming soil, and alder leaves unfurl from narrow branches. The whole area seems to be yawning and stretching, shaking off another winter, and the atmosphere is positively alive. Yes, it might rain, and the possibility of a late-season snowstorm is real, but the trade-off is a new destination in a new season, with plenty of space for everybody. Here are a few ideas.

Hungry for learning about Alaska’s ocean ingredients? Juneau Food Tours, a fixture for knowledge about all things edible in the capital city, is launching a new tour on May 1 called “A Taste of Nature.” Utilizing the expertise of Above and Beyond Alaska guiding company, this foodie and kid-friendly tour will feature a hike, 2 1/2 hours of kayaking, lunch on a secluded beach, and a basket full of Alaska-grown and harvested items. Plus, kids will have the chance to see said ingredients in their natural habitat as they paddle around this scenic section of Alaska. I personally am looking forward to trying kelp salsa. $249/pp, minimum age of eight for the six-hour experience. 

Where should you stay in Juneau? The folks at Travel Juneau have a full lineup of hotels on their website, www.traveljuneau.com.

Hiking, berry-picking, and exploring together, what could be better? Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

The small town of Wrangell is a quiet retreat from a busy lifestyle at home, and a family can find even more solitude by utilizing one of the many public use cabins nearby. If you’d like to stay closer to a road system, rent a car  and stay at the Middle Ridge Cabin, a newer offering from the Tongass National Forest. Perfectly suited for families, it has plenty of space for hiking and exploring, but you will need to bring camping supplies. If packing kids and camping caboodle sounds like too much work, enlist the pros at Alaska Charters and Adventures, outfitters who can gear you up with everything you need for their preselected public use cabin trips, minus your food and personal items.

For those looking for more extravagant adventures this spring, Alaskan Dream Cruises is offering a five night/six day trip from Sitka to witness the run of herring returning to Sitka Sound to lay their eggs by the millions. With the return of these little silvery fish come wildlife as well, and passengers are likely to see humpback whales, sea lions, and seabirds all jostle for position with human fishermen and women. A fantastic way to introduce kids to this springtime ritual in one of the most beautiful areas of the state, Alaskan Dream Cruises provides an experience that includes meals, activities like kayaking and cultural experiences, and a smaller ship for a more intimate vacation. “Alaska’s Spring Wilderness and Wildlife Safari” sails mid-March through mid-April aboard the 10-passenger Misty Fjord.

Cloudy but cheerful, Ketchikan is a delightful southeast Alaska community. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Finally, if you haven’t yet visited “Alaska’s First City” of Ketchikan, springtime would be a great season to do so. Quiet and lacking the chaos that seven or more cruise ships can bring to this small community, a visit before May means ample room to move about and explore Revillagigedo Island, upon which Ketchikan is located. Whether you choose a walking tour of town to see historic buildings, artwork, and the expansive docks, or take a longer, more rugged hike through the Tongass National Forest, visitors are sure to stay busy.

Find accommodations through the Inn at Creek Street, a collective of historic homes and small hotels with lots of Ketchikan character. Other information about Ketchikan, including rental cars and restaurants, can be found via the visitor bureau’s website: www.visit-ketchikan.com.

Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Other resources:

Alaska Airlines: Get to and from Southeast Alaska using Mileage Plan miles or a Companion Fare ticket, saving a significant amount of money.

Alaska’s Rainforest Islands is a resource for all things Southeast Alaska, including a listing of communities, activities, and trip-planning assistance.

Alaska Marine Highway System ferries operate among all of the above communities and more, so if you have time to sail rather than fly, it’s a great way to see more of Southeast Alaska.

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