One of the most unique cruise port destinations is Icy Strait Point, Alaska. Unlike other locations, this is an authentic experience of the culture, wilderness and adventure that makes this state popular with travelers. It is recognized as one of the most natural ports in the state, surrounded by epic scenery where visitors can step into the Alaskan wilderness.
Icy Strait Point, Alaska: Things to Do
Located on Chichagof Island, Icy Strait Point is near the largest Tlingit village in Alaska, Hoonah. This natural port has two piers, Ocean Landing (or Adventure Landing) and Wilderness Landing. Both are mobility friendly and set up to welcome visitors to a true native Alaskan experience.
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This is the only cruise port in the state that is locally owned and operated. The Alaska Huna Totem Corporation built this destination to support the local economy.
So, when you come ashore in Icy Strait Point, you will be immersed in culture; taste delicious local cuisine; and, create special memories about your time on the island. Here are a few of our favorite things to do in Icy Strait Point:
Historic Cannery Museum
Living on the islands of southeast Alaska means that salmon are an integral part of life. Generations of Tlingit still fish the waters and Icy Strait Point was once an important location for the salmon processing industry. Today, you can visit the restored 1912 Hoonah Packing Company for a glimpse into the past of this Alaskan specialty.
Inside are displays showing the wide variety of salmon, informational exhibits about smoking and canning the fish and some of the actual machines used over 100 years ago. Nearby are a choice of restaurants offering authentic local cuisine and beverages. Insider tip: Try the crab legs! They are fresh from the sea.
Take the opportunity to purchase locally-made crafts, gifts and mementos at the shops. This entire area is close to port and easily walkable for all abilities.
Tribal Dance Theater
Located at the Heritage Center on the east side of the cruise ship area is the destination for the Tribal Dance and Cultural Legends live show. Local performers, dressed in traditional regalia, bring to life the history, culture and legends of the Tlingit through song, dance and storytelling. It is an impressive and entertaining way to learn about many of the human qualities that make this part of Alaska unique.
The performance is approximately one hour in length; and, out of respect, please do not take photos or videos during the show. (The actors are happy to pose with you after the celebration concludes.) The facility is mobility friendly and the outside of the structure offers an up-close look at the totem poles of the indigenous Native Alaskans.
One of the best wildlife experiences during a cruise to Icy Strait Point in Alaska is seeing whales. These magnificent creatures travel the waters in the southeastern part of the state. And, the good news is – the chances are high that you will see one (or more) while on the ship. However, a guided whale-watching tour at this destination is the best way to view them.
Grab your binoculars and board a small tour boat to reach the famous Port Adolphus waters. A naturalist guide will point out a number of animal species, including orcas, humpbacks, porpoises, harbor seals, sea lions, and marine life. Some of these tours offer a 100% guarantee of whale spotting.
During the summer, this area is a favorite location for humpbacks – or in local speak, “humpies.” You may see them “breach” – a magnificent show of leaping out of the water and landing with a splash. Or, get the camera ready for a dive that ends in a whale tail display above the water. Insider tip: listen for the whale song. While the frequencies are low (on the Hz scale), we can hear and FEEL part of their music!
As an added bonus, you might see a passing humpy from the waterfront restaurants at the Cannery.
More Wildlife Watching
Chichagof Island (and the Icy Strait Point area) is a mecca for birds – and the folks who like to watch for them! There are two excellent ways to spot the local and migratory feathered inhabitants here – self-guide walks or a small group tour.
For the first option, enjoy the cleared and level paths through old growth forests. Watch the canopy and the ground for various bird species. Then, take a walk along the beach for a chance to see seabirds.
For the second option, birdwatching excursions are available. These are guided tours conducted by local experts who know all the best places to see the birds. Bring your own binoculars or borrow a pair that will be included in your tour.
In addition to birds, there are a number of other land and water creatures who call Alaska their home. For example, you can sign up for a bear tour.
These guided excursions are about four hours in length, and a local resident will (safely) take you to locations to see these breathtaking creatures. Insider tip: There are between one and two bears per square mile on this island – greatly increasing your chances of seeing them in their native habitat.
Ride into the Sky
For a comfortable ride into the skies of Chichagof Island, take a seat on one of the two gondola routes – a new opportunity to see this destination from above.
There are multiple cars on each route; only eight passengers per gondola; everyone has a “window seat;” and, they are all wheelchair accessible. This is the perfect way to snap some photos of your ship docked far below at the pier.
The Transporter route is a complimentary ride used by visitors to travel between the two piers. The Skyglider route carries passengers up a 1,600-foot elevation to the top of Sky Peak. Once at the summit, spend some time just looking at the views; enjoy a hike to Hidden Lake; or, fly back down the mountain on the ZipRider.
Fly Like a Bird
For a heart-pounding “flight” above the trees, take a ride on the world’s largest zipline – the ZipRider. Hop on the bus at the port and ride through the wilderness to the top of Hoonah Mountain while enjoying stunning scenery from overlooks along the way. An onboard guide will narrate the short trip, pointing out wildlife and sharing stories from the long history of this island.
Once at the top, settle into the seat of one of the six 5,330-foot ziplines and race 1,330 feet back to port. With reported speeds of up to 60 miles per hour, this is a thrilling way to fly like a bird above the Alaskan wilderness. This is one of those onshore experiences that you just might want to do twice!
Adventures in the Trees
For those who want to stay a little closer to the ground, the Tree Top Adventure & Ropes Course is your destination. Test your skills on this unique obstacle course built amongst the forest. There are log bridges to cross, planks to climb, fishermen’s nets to navigate and other challenges along the way.
Learn about the environment and nature via posted signs and quizzes on this course that ranges from easy (for the kids) to difficult (for the more athletic folks). It is self-guided and safety equipment is provided.
Explore the Forest
There are two popular ways to get into the wilderness at Icy Strait Point: walking and riding. The first option includes a walk in the forest along a path between the Ocean and Wilderness Landings. It is rated as an easy trail – one-mile long, mostly flat with gentle slopes offering a quiet setting for exploring.
For a more strenuous hike, the surrounding area offers over 190 acres of trails. Some go through the woods and others provide beach access. Keep in mind that this island is home to bears – lots of them! We are merely visiting.
While they are used to seeing humans, Icy Strait Point strongly recommends that everyone “stay bear aware.” (Walk in groups. Make some noise. And, move slowly away – do not run – if you see a bear.)
The second option for exploration is to rent an ATV or Jeep and head into the backcountry. The ATV adventure begins with a bus tour of the nearby village of Hoonah.
From here, you will join a guide and drive around on the rugged roads. You will see valleys, mountains and the ocean and hear about the culture and history of the Tlingit people.
The Jeep tour is also guided along old logging roads where you may see eagles, bears and other wildlife along with scenic vistas. Both vehicle tours will take about 2.5 hours, so plan these according to your cruise ship schedule.
Yes, indeed! Find nice stretches of beach between and alongside both of Icy Strait Point’s cruise ship piers. They are perfect for walking (and a bit of swimming in summer) and beachcombing.
Look for ancient rocks, shells, small artistic pieces of driftwood and (insider tip) sea glass. The latter is possibly the prettiest piece of “litter” you will ever see! The saltwater, dehydration and tumbling abrasions of sand change bits of broken glass into butter-smooth pieces that look like frosted gemstones.
Be sure to watch the waters for whales and other sea animals; and, take your camera. Every way you turn is a stunning photo just waiting to be snapped! And, be sure to walk to the bend of the beach to see the wood chip fire; hear an elder speak about Tlingit traditions; and, toss your complimentary cedar wood chip into the flames.
Fish the Sea and Local Creeks
The bounty of the sea has been an integral part of the native cultures in this area for thousands of years. If fishing is one of your interests, trying your hand in the waters around and on Chichagof Island is a must. Guided fishing adventures are available that include casting your line in local favorite spots with all the gear and tackle included.
Salmon and halibut are abundant in the saltwater area, with the bonus of guided fishing expeditions to local streams. For the latter, there are three species of trout and up to three species of salmon found here. Departure times for these fishing expeditions are coordinated with the arrivals of cruise ships.
Port Frederick Bay Kayaking
Take a guided paddle in the calm waters of Port Frederick Bay. A tandem kayak awaits and all abilities are welcome (Single-person kayaks can be arranged ahead of time).
There will be a brief instruction and safety talk, and trips go rain or shine. To prepare, bring along a backpack with raingear, binoculars, camera (phone), snacks and water if you would like. There is a place to store them.
This on-the-water adventure offers the chance to see eagles, seals, sea lions, crab and maybe whales in the ocean and bears on the shoreline. The remoteness of this location, the peaceful gliding upon the water and the knowledge of your certified local guide make this a relaxing Alaskan experience.
Shuttle to the State’s Largest Tlingit Village
For a close-up experience in Tlingit culture, take a short shuttle ride to Hoonah, located about 1.5 miles from port. No glitz and glamour in this authentic Alaskan village, the largest town on Chichagof Island. Learn about the culture and day-to-day lives of the 800 residents. Shop at small stores and grab a bite of food at a local eatery.
Plan a visit to the Yaakw Kihidi Cultural Center and speak with knowledgeable guides to hear stories about the history of the town. And, then stop by the Carving Hut. This is the place to watch local artisans at work on the artistic expressions of the events in their lives.
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For example, carvings (and other crafts such as weaving) are used to tell stories, document births, struggles and death and reflect belief systems. Don’t be shy about asking the artists what they are working on – they are happy to share the stories of their creations.
Final Thoughts on Icy Strait Point in Alaska
We hope this guide on things to do in Icy Strait Point, Alaska helps you out the next time you visit during a cruise vacation. With the Alaska cruising season mainly running during the summer months, it’s also important to note that a lot of tours and experiences can be booked up quickly.
Cruise lines that visit Icy Strait Point include Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, and Holland America Line.
Always make sure you know what you want to do before you set sail on the cruise, and Cruise Hive has you covered with many other popular ports in Alaska right here.