From Vancouver, take a quick ferry over to Victoria, one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest. Evidence of the British era and role in the city’s founding is easily seen in its buildings, famous gardens and pedestrian amenities. Butchart Gardens offers a combination of history and gorgeous scenery in the century-old attraction featuring themed gardens like Sunken, Rose, Japanese, Italian, Mediterranean and Italian gardens.
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Start by ferrying over to Vancouver Island and enjoy a leisurely exploration of BC’s capital city, Victoria, and the charming seaside communities along the island’s eastern coast as you head north toward Port Hardy.
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Duncan is a great place to learn about the First Nations heritage of Vancouver Island. The community features the largest collection of outdoor totem poles in the world, and a totem tour is a great way to explore the downtown area. Be sure to visit the Quw’utsun’ Cultural Centre for more information on the culture and heritage of the area’s first people.
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Telegraph Cove is a charming, boardwalked community that seems like it fell out of history. The little cove offers fishing, kayaking, whale watching and many other outdoor activities. A now humming visitor attraction in the summer, the area also has plenty of shops and restaurants.
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Port Hardy is one of the primary port cities in the BC Ferries system and the place where you’ll begin your journey up the legendary Inside Passage region of British Columbia and Alaska.
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From Port Hardy on Vancouver Island, you’ll take BC Ferries to Prince Rupert, a quintessential Inside Passage town boasting of excellent fishing and bear viewing. Alaska Marine Highway System ferries connect Prince Rupert to the continuing ferry journey north up the Inside Passage.
Prince Rupert is situated at the southernmost tip of the Inside Passage, and its landscape is typical of the region – tall coastal mountains, islands, ocean, rainforest, a charming small boat harbor and a downtown built on pilings over the water. It’s a great place to take a bear-viewing tour; several local tour companies offer these excursions. In Khutzeymateen Provincial Park, a limited number of permits are available to visitors to view grizzly bears in their natural habitat.
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With the exception of the cities and towns themselves, the majority of Alaska’s Inside Passage is part of the Tongass National Forest. As your ferry journey takes you north along the coast, the towering spruce trees, waterfalls, mountains and creeks that flow into the ocean are all part of it. The Tongass, a temperate rainforest, is an important part of the survival and reproduction of salmon, which you will no doubt have plenty of opportunities to enjoy at each stop!
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Ketchikan is known as Alaska’s “First City” due to its status as the southernmost port of call for ferries and cruise ships headed north up the Inside Passage. A bustling downtown waterfront area and several excellent interpretive centers are your welcome to Alaska.
Among the must-sees in Ketchikan are Creek Street, a boardwalk pedestrian “street” situated on pilings above Ketchikan Creek; Totem Bight State Park, featuring 14 large totem poles and an intricately decorated Tlingit clan house; and Saxman Native Village, which offers visitors the opportunity to watch Tlingit artisans at work carving totem poles. In the mountains and along the coasts, hiking trails abound, and opportunities to fish for salmon and other species are also plentiful.
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One of the most popular options for visitors to Wrangell is to take a jet-boat ride up the Stikine River to Anan Wildlife Observatory, where black and brown bears can be seen together feasting on salmon in the streams. Tlingit heritage is also on display at Chief Shakes Island, which features a replica Tlingit clan house and several totem poles.
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On a standard northbound itinerary, your next stop will be Petersburg, Alaska’s “Little Norway.” Located on Mitkof Island and home to many commercial fishing families of Norwegian descent, you’ll see signs of the local culture all over town, with Norwegian flags hanging from light poles and the traditional Norwegian decorative painting, rosmaling, visible on signs.
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Juneau is Alaska’s capital city and a well-developed destination with tons of things to do, from outdoor adventures to museums and cultural facilities, restaurants, theater and shopping. Fishing guides, whale-watching excursions, kayak rentals and all manner of other tours can be arranged through vendors in the downtown area. No visit to Juneau is complete without a trip to Mendenhall Glacier, which is one of the most easily accessible glaciers in Alaska.
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The historic gold-rush town of Skagway marks the northern end of your ferry travel on this route. Before leaving town, be sure to visit the many restored historic buildings and museums that are all part of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
Skagway was a gold-rush boomtown – the place where prospectors bound for the Klondike disembarked and started the overland journey north. The entire downtown area is part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, and several museums and facilities offer historical insight through photos, films and artifacts. Take a ride on the narrow-gauge White Pass & Yukon Route railroad, built in 1898 and now designated as an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and be amazed by the route its builders carved out of the mountainside in their quest for gold.
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