Ketchikan: Misty Fjords Excursion

We returned to the heart of Ketchikan after our zip-line expedition, in order to catch our next bus. We had scheduled an afternoon tour of the Misty Fjords by floatplane. This became by far the most relaxing, awe inspiring, breathtaking part of the entire vacation for me. It can’t be explained accurately with words, or pictures even… it was a feeling that took me entirely.

de Haviland Beaver Float Plane at Taquan Air

de Haviland Beaver Float Plane at Taquan Air

Board an authentic Alaska seaplane and take off from Ketchikan’s bustling waterfront on a scenic flight over the Tongass National Forest. You are en route to the nation’s second-largest wilderness area, encompassing more than two million acres and, to fully appreciate the vastness of the Misty Fjords National Monument, you must see it from the air. Since its first identification by Captain George Vancouver in 1793, Misty Fjords has been called a scenic wonder not to be missed. You will see majestic fjords, waterfalls and lakes, and perhaps wildlife such as bears, mountain goats, deer, wolves and eagles. Individual headsets allow you to enjoy the lively narrative and inspirational music as you take in the dramatic beauty of a land slowly crafted by the hands of nature. See sheer granite cliffs, 1,000-foot waterfalls, crystalline lakes and low-hanging mists on your flight from Tongass Narrows over Revillagigedo Island to Misty Fjords. At the entrance of spectacular Rudyerd Bay, your introduction to the monument, watch for New Eddystone Rock–a striking remnant of early geological activity. Enjoy a brief lake landing in Misty Fjords, giving you the opportunity to experience the silence, serenity, and monumental beauty that surrounds you. Each guest is guaranteed a window seat.”

We bussed through Ketchikan to Taquan Air, located just outside of the edge of town. We were a small group and as with previous bus trips, we were given a narrative as we passed the historic structures along the road. Within fifteen minutes we arrived at our destination and were prepared for our flight.

The Misty Fjords National Monument, sometimes spelled Fiord, covers 2.3 million acres of the southeastern region of Alaska. Wikipedia calls it the “Yosemite of the North” due to the similar geology. You basically find yourself flying through a never-ending mountainous forest, carved throughout by glacial activity, full of streams, small lakes and waterfalls. A misty steam rising from the water softens all of the edges. Glacial snow melt, volcanic lava flow and mineral springs add to the unique terrain. Being at such an elevation allowed us to truly understand how glaciation works, the kettles and moraines left by the prehistoric sheets of ice were quite visible to us.

Panorama Misty Fiords Float Plane

Panorama Misty Fiords Float Plane - Click for Full Size

We flew with four others and a pilot into the monument, Enya was being played over our headsets and everyone was just silent. Soon we were flying low through steep rock lined U-shaped valleys, encouraged to look for sheep and bear. It felt at many times we could reach out and touch the soft pines we were flying past. Halfway through our trip, our pilot landed us on a lake, allowing us to really be encompassed by the exhilarating silence. A lone sailboat was asea at the other side of the lake, the water was like glass. We climbed out of the plane to stand on the floats in order to best take in the scenery.

Ketchikan Cape Fox Hill Tram/Funicular

Ketchikan Cape Fox Hill Tram/Funicular

I can’t speak enough as to how much impact this one excursion had on me, it is the one experience I insist you take during your trip to Alaska.

We returned to Ketchikan proper for an hour remaining of shore time. We would have definitely enjoyed having a longer visit in order to explore the village itself, its streets of wooden walkways and fishing museums, but we took in some of the local art instead and bought our first piece to take home. At my husbands dismay, I also insisted on purchasing the obligatory long sleeved tees at the largest tourist shop on the corner, but they did come in handy as essential layering pieces during the rest of our trip!

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Ryan was able to work on his portrait photography with a local bald eagle, this one being located at the street market, but we were very aware of the many flying overhead.

We ended our shore stint in Ketchikan with some fried fish from a shack located near the dock. Wow… albeit wrapped in newspaper and served with lemonade in a Styrofoam cup, it was an incredible meal.

Local and quaint is the way to go. I personally left the day fully satisfied, humbled and blessed.

Ketchikan Part One: Rainforest Zipline Excursion

Ketchikan is located on an island, approximately 540 nautical miles north of Vancouver. It was remarkable to think that we had already traversed so far at sea. As we docked, we could see much of the town from the ship as many of the residences and businesses are built into the sides of the cliffs that surround the town. The population of Ketchikan is only 14,500 and already appeared to be that perfect example of small town Alaska .

Arriving at the Ketchikan, Alaska Port

Arriving at the Ketchikan, Alaska Port

Factoid: Ketchikan is actually the location, or non-location as it is, of the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere”. The residents petitioned to have a bridge built to connect their island to the neighboring Gravina Island in order to have better access to the local airport. This expense and project was curbed by the government.

We had planned an early morning excursion through our cruise line so after departing the ship, we found the bus we were supposed to get on next. We were about to visit an Alaskan Rainforest, an oxymoron we thought for sure.

Live the thrill of gliding through the top of a rich rain forest canopy along a series of eight dual cable ziplines with three aerial bridges suspended between tall spruce, hemlock and cedar trees, bordering the magnificent Tongass National Forest. This major rain forest reserve embraces one of Alaska’s richest salmon spawning streams and a pristine inter-tidal estuary. Abundant wildlife habitat here includes a high concentration of bald eagles, black bear and a variety of other species.

Alaska Canopy Adventures Unimog

Alaska Canopy Adventures Unimog

At Herring Cove an all-terrain custom 4×4 Unimog will transport you up a steep rain forest hillside to the canopy chalet. Professionally trained guides will outfit you with state-of-the-art safety equipment and provide a detailed orientation before you mount the first platform. Your rain forest canopy challenge features a flight over eight ziplines–6,000 feet of high-tension cables and ground-based nature trails. Your guides will progressively ease you into the forest canopy along cables ranging from a short 100 feet to the 850-foot, pulse-pounding “Ben’s Revenge.” Guests often see eagles and bears from the tree platforms. Discover Eagle Creek falls, and cross three hanging bridges offering breathtaking views of the virgin forest below. You will be up to 135 feet above the forest floor. Throughout this adventure you will be surrounded by the sights and sounds of the rain forest wildlife reserve.

The final zipline emerges from the rain forest and transports you over lush grassy wetlands to a viewing tower, 55 feet above ground. Descend the stairs and gear down at the base camp. Upon completion of this amazing experience, enjoy a snack and hot beverage, view your photograph and shop in the General Store.
Alaska Canopy Tours

Amy and Ryan ready to go on the zip lines

Amy and Ryan ready to go on the zip lines

Neither of us had ever experienced anything like zip-lining through dense forest before but I have to say that my husband was equally as excited about getting on the Unimog (4×4 vehicle) that took us to the chalet. We were in a group of 10 people, joined by 4 staff to get us geared up, trained and to join us on our trip down. It was so exhilarating to release from the first platform, trying to take in the magnificent scenery at the same time keeping our bodies in the right direction so that we actually landed on the next platform without having to be caught by one of the staff, or reeled in by one of the staff if we braked too early.

Rope bridge over Eagle Creek

Rope bridge over Eagle Creek

After one run, we realized that we didn’t need to worry as much about our skill and were able to snap some pictures. The trees are so tall and lush, the sound of the animals was right there at our ear… the zip-line excursion was almost sensory overload. We ended with a short break in the gift shop, enjoying hot chocolate and popcorn. We were even given a little medal to commemorate our achievement. My two year old son loves it!

Zipping through the Tongass canopy

Zipping through the Tongass canopy

The First Day at Sea on Our Alaskan Cruise

The first day on an Alaskan cruise is quite often a full day “at Sea”. Although we were excited to get ashore and to begin exploring Alaska on foot, it was the just right beginning to our trip. The ship sails up the Inside passage on its way to Ketchikan so we had shoreline on both sides of the boat for the entire day.

View from ship's bow as we travel north up the Inside Passage

View from ship's bow as we travel north up the Inside Passage

We were staying in a large outside state Room, aka standard exterior suite, and had a great view of everything we were passing by. After a very restful night, we awoke to the most calming scenery and couldn’t wait to get out on the deck. Well we couldn’t wait to go grab a cup of coffee first, but the deck visit followed shortly thereafter.

I think packing correctly was key for this trip. Although we were visiting Alaska during its warmer season, we definitely needed the layers we had http://www.alaskacruises.com/what_to_pack.asp

We grabbed our coffees, windbreakers, cameras and spent most of the morning on the deck chairs.

We grabbed our coffees, windbreakers, cameras and spent most of the morning on the deck chairs.

Breakfast and lunch were both very easy as well. I expected long lines, being told what to eat and who to eat it with, but we chose to eat in the open seating ‘cafeteria’ of the ship for both meals anyway. The food, although not five-star by any means, was excellent. The staff was everywhere, helping us find seating, getting us refills and letting us know when we may see a whale out the window.

We really just spent the day enjoying the ship. We found ourselves in the Spa for 90 minute massages (followed by naps).

Our stateroom on the ms Veendam

Our stateroom on the ms Veendam

We became hooked on working on the large puzzles in the library, spent some time in the indoor pool (with open ceiling), sat in on one jewelry seminar in the theater (I’d pass on that next time) and enjoyed more time on the deck with our cameras.

After dinner, we returned to our room to find our bed turned down, our towels shaped like monkeys with little mints seated in them and it was quite easy to fall asleep to the easy rocking of the ship.