Skip to Content

Icy Strait Point, Alaska On Your Own: 12 Free Activities

Located on Chichagof Island in Alaska, Icy Strait Point was explicitly created as a cruise port. The Tlingit clan and the Norwegian Cruise Line developed an area close to the small town of Hoonah for cruise passengers.

Chichagof Island has an abundance of natural beauty, but the cruise-created port commands high prices to explore the area and seek out its wildlife. If you’re traveling to Alaska on a budget, don’t despair.

Icy Strait Point Cannery Museum
Icy Strait Point Cannery Museum

This guide covers all the things you can do in Icy Strait Point on a one-day visit, that are free or charge a small fee. 

About Icy Strait Point

Icy Strait Point welcomed the first cruise ship in 2004 and continues to develop. It now boasts two docks, Wilderness Landing and Ocean Landing, the latter near Adventure Center, where excursions begin. Icy Strait differs from Skagway because it’s relatively unpopulated.

On arrival, we found the path from the ship to the boardwalk covered in gravel and not wheelchair friendly. Hopefully, it will improve to accommodate accessibility needs.

Arriving at the port, you’re deep in the wilderness. Some people love it, and others, not so much. There’s no real town to explore, and passengers usually wander freely on a self-guided walk without an expensive port excursion.

However, here is my list of Icy Strait Point activities that are complimentary or nearly free.

1. See The Wyland Orca

Orca statue at Keet Plaza
Icy Strait Point Wyland Orca statue

Exiting the cruise ship and walking along the wooden boardwalk, you’ll find a spectacular bronze orca sculpture on Keet Plaza. In the Tlingit language, Keet means orca. 

In June 2021, Frank Del Rio, the president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, gifted the sculpture to the Huna Totem Corporation.

Robert Wyland, an American artist, made the life-sized sculpture. He focuses on marine life conservation and started a foundation in 1993 to protect oceans and marine life. His foundation supports his “whaling walls,” which are 100 murals worldwide.

This giant statue at Keet Plaza is number two of one hundred Wyland sculptures worldwide. The black and white orca makes for a great selfie!

Those who have cruised with Norwegian Cruise Lines might know his work from the Bliss. Wyland designed and painted the ship’s colorful hull.

Wyland hull design on the Norwegian Bliss
Wyland hull design on the Norwegian Bliss

 2. Hunt For Sea Stars

Icy Strait Point is a new Alaskan port surrounded by natural beauty. Near the docks, the lush Tongass National Forest begs for exploration. The beach, stretching from Wilderness Landing to the Cannery Dock, is rich with marine life.

At low tide, scour the beaches for sea stars. We discovered crabs, sea cucumbers, starfish, and kelp. The starfish vary in color and size. Close to the docks, accessible tide pools offer a fun, educational activity, especially for kids.

Under the cannery dock, thousands of barnacles cover the pilings, making it a great photo spot.

3. Ride The Transporter Gondola 

Icy Strait Point has two docks without a road between them, so passengers use a “green” gondola to travel. It takes four minutes to go between Wilderness and Ocean Landings. 

There’s also a red gondola for Hoonah Mountain, which isn’t free. Many ride the free green gondola for fun, without long waits, even with two ships docked. 

Icy Strait Point transporter gondola

Each gondola fits four people and offers private rides and wheelchair access. The ride offers excellent shade and views over Adventure Park in Tongass National Forest, but due to the crowds, don’t expect to see bears.

4. Whale Watching From The Beach

Chichagof Island’s waters are great for whale watching. If a whale watching tour at Icy Strait Point is too expensive, try spotting whales from the beach.

Grab a coffee, head to the beach, and look for waterspouts. Humpback whales are common in Port Frederick and near the docking area.

Use a pair of binoculars and have a camera ready. This spot is one of the best in southeast Alaska for whale sightings.

Seeing whales involves luck, but Icy Strait Point is home to a local humpback, “Freddy,” known to stay close to shore.

Humpback breaching near the beach in Icy Strait Point
A humpback whale we watched breaching near the beach

During our visit, we witnessed a humpback continually breach near the beach. Was it Freddy? We don’t know, but we enjoy the whale’s display of playfulness.

5. Browse The Cannery Museum

Inside the big red building in front of the Cannery Dock, travelers can browse shops and a cannery museum. The Hoonah Packing Company opened this cannery in 1912, and by 1914, it canned over two million salmon yearly.

More than forty years later, the cannery closed. In 1996, the Huna Totem Corporation purchased the property and later turned it into the retail space seen today.

Inside, browsing the old machinery once used in the processing and canning of salmon is informative. We saw the primitive equipment used to remove the heads and tails, the canning machine, and the retorts used to steam the salmon in the cans.

Cannery Museum slicing machine
Cannery Museum slicing machine

Plaques on the wall describe the different types of species, salmon life cycles, and types of fishing boats used to catch them. Outside, fishing nets, buoys, and traps enhance the fishing educational experience.

Part of the museum documents significant periods in Alaska’s history. We learned that the word Alaska comes from the word “Alyeska,” an Aleut word for “mainland” or “great land.”

Plaques also includes information about the flag, state seal, highest peaks, and how the gold rush started.

6. Explore Hoonah

Most of the locals reside in Hoonah, a Tlingit village. From the cannery museum, follow the road along the waterfront to the small town.

The 1.6-mile walk to town takes 30 minutes, showcasing untouched wilderness. Alternatively, a shuttle to Hoonah costs a USD 5 roundtrip.

Unlike typical Alaskan towns catering to cruise tourists, Hoonah lacks big stores and tourist spots but offers charming views.

Hoonah totem pole
Hoonah totem pole

We enjoyed the off the beaten path adventure to explore totem poles and Tlingit culture. The harbor’s fishing boats reflect the local livelihood, where we spotted a fisherman with his catch. Nearby, bald eagles wait patiently for scraps fishermen discard after cleaning the fish.

7. Watch A Totem Pole Carving

In Hoonah, visit the Yaakw Kahidi Cultural Center on Front Street. Outside, carvers and local artists demonstrate their craftsmanship on a totem pole.

The pole we saw had been started three months earlier, and they estimated it might take another three or more months to complete.

The elders describe how a pole is designed and the meaning of the figures chosen. Usually, poles are left natural with no paint added. Most of the time, poles are custom-carved when commissioned. The one we viewed didn’t have a buyer.

We met Gordon Greenwald, a master carver. He showed us his original totem pole drawing and explained the carving process. No power tools are used. Instead, the carvers use chisels and curved carving tools to remove parts of the cedar trunk.

A totem pole carving in progress
Gordon Greenwald telling us about the process of carving a totem pole

The process is slow and produces lots of cedar shavings. Under the carving hut, the smell of cedar was strong.

Totem poles have great meaning to local tribes. The figures on them can represent events, people or items relating to a family name.

Some are carved as a memorial of a loved ones passing. Throughout Icy Strait Point and Hoonah, there are many totem poles worth seeing. Take a stroll through the area and see how many you can spot.

8. Look For Bald Eagles

The cannery museum states that Alaska has over 30,000 bald eagles, which account for 40 to 50 percent of the North American eagle population.

These eagles mainly eat fish, notably salmon. In Icy Strait Point and Hoonah, spotting their white heads near water is common.

Hoonah bald eagle
Hoonah bald eagle

Approaching the dock, we saw many eagles around our ship. Are you traveling to Hoonah? Look for eagles atop trees and poles.

Try the Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour in Ketchikan for top eagle watching, where eagles flock for food. Witnessing eagles dive for herring was a highlight of our Cunard Alaska cruise.

9. Walk The Nature Trail

To enjoy the wilderness of Chichagof Island, walk the nature trail. It starts behind the cannery building and loops through the trees. On a nice day, the path to Wilderness Landing to explore the beach provides a great activity for families.

While most people use the free transporter to get from one port area to another, the trail lets walkers to escape the crowd and enjoy the scenery slowly.

The path is relatively flat, so it’s suitable for most ages and doesn’t require a certain fitness level.

10. Watch The ZipRiders

The Icy Strait Point ZipRider is the largest in the world, and it charges a hefty fee to ride. Participants travel from the top of Hoonah Mountain to the coastline at speeds of up to 65 mph.

Riders on the ZipRider
Watching guests reactions on the ZipRider

However, a viewing platform at the bottom lets observers watch the brave riders. Nearby, a television screen shows a live feed at the start of the zipline.

So, if a family member or friend is making the run, hang out at the bottom to watch the action. The covered area provides the perfect venue to watch.

The ZipRider has six lines for simultaneous rides. We enjoyed seeing riders’ reactions as they descend.

11. Savor Mini Donuts

While mini donuts aren’t free, purchasing a small bag won’t break the bank. Located on the far side of the red cannery building, the small booth selling mini donuts often attracts a crowd.

The donuts are tiny and come with two different flavors of powdered sugar to enhance their taste. There are over ten flavors, so the hard part is selecting just two. Who can resist blueberry, apple cinnamon, chocolate, or raspberry?

Icy Strait Point mini donuts
Icy Strait Point mini donuts

Be warned that those one dozen donuts for USD 6 won’t last long, so visitors often return for seconds or thirds.

12. Enjoy A Beer At The Duck Point Bar

Because of its minimal cost, having a beer in Icy Strait Point makes this list. With the money saved by skipping an expensive shore excursion, affording a brew or two is easy.

The Duck Point Smokehouse is located on the waterfront and serves handcrafted unique Alaskan beers. Choose from Cannery Red, made by the Baranof Island Brewing Co., or a selection of Icy Strait Brewing Company brews.

Could the location be any better with patio seating and a roaring firepit? Staying long enough might even provide an unexpected humpback whale sighting.

Stopping at this cruise port doesn’t necessitate a lot of money to appreciate the surroundings. Little ones will find joy in scouring the beaches for hidden treasures or riding the free transporter through the forest.

With a good pair of walking shoes, you can stroll to Hoonah and back. Remember to check the surroundings, as spotting sea otters, bald eagles, and humpback whales is possible.

Orca statue made by Wyland in Icy Strait Point. Alaska