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A Day In Icy Strait Point: Exploring Alaska’s Wilderness

Icy Strait Point is a unique, privately owned cruise destination located on Chichagof Island, just outside the charming village of Hoonah. It lies in the Alaskan panhandle and is part of the Alexander Archipelago.

As a popular port of call for Alaskan cruises, it offers visitors the opportunity to experience the vibrant culture of the indigenous people and learn about the area’s rich history. With so many things to do, narrowing down the options for a one-day visit can be challenging.

Icy Strait Point isn’t a town but a destination. When deciding between Skagway or Icy Strait, the former focuses on the history of the Gold Rush, while the latter offers a wilderness experience.

The Crab House in Icy Strait Point

It’s a place that suits those who want to spend time in the emerald rainforests, hit the aquamarine waters, or engage in an adventurous activity.

Getting To Icy Strait Point

Since Icy Strait Point (ISP) is on an island, it can be reached by boat or air. The closest major airport is in Juneau, about 100 miles away from the port. From there, a small plane or helicopter provides access to Chichagof Island.

Alternatively, the Alaska State Ferry gives access from the capital city and expect the journey to take 3-1/2 hours one way.

However, most visitors arrive by cruise ship as part of an Alaska cruise itinerary. Many major cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Carnival, and Norwegian, stop at the port.

Currently, the port can dock two large cruise ships simultaneously. If more than two are scheduled, some ships will need to tender. Ships dock at Wilderness Landing and Ocean Landing, with the latter being closer to the Adventure Center.

Norwegian vessels have priority docking access since Norwegian Cruise Lines developed the port in conjunction with the Huna Corporation.

Exploring Icy Strait Point And Hoonah

Icy Strait Point boardwalk
Icy Strait Point boardwalk

When visiting Icy Strait Point, there are a variety of activities to choose from within its vehicle-free zone. If you want to save money, enjoy the leisurely 1.5-mile walk to the small town of Hoonah, Alaska’s largest Tlingit village.

For adventure seekers, the exhilarating ZipRider lets six riders race down the mountain at high speeds while providing an aerial view of their cruise ship docked nearby.

With or without a planned tour, a visit to this island provides insight into the region’s history, culture, and natural wonders.

History And Tlingit Culture

One of the most fascinating aspects of Chichagof Island is its rich history and connection to the Tlingit people. Visit the nearby Native Heritage Center to discover traditional Tlingit art, learn about their way of life, and even watch a traditional costumed dance performance.

Another way to learn about the area’s history is to visit Hoonah village. Whether you walk or take the USD 5 shuttle, the village provides an overview of daily life.

Hoonah totem pole
Hoonah totem pole

An abundance of fishing boats indicates the primary source of industry, and at the harbor, bald eagles often sit waiting for an easy meal. We found many totem poles around the village, and in a carving hut, we watched a totem pole carving in progress.

Wildlife And Nature

Icy Strait Point and the surrounding areas are known for their natural beauty and incredible wildlife. Chichagof Island was featured on the first TV series of Outlast Alaska, where contestants battled the elements to “outlast” the other players.

The island is home to a large population of Coastal Brown Bears, which outnumber the people. At three bears per square mile, it has the densest population of bears globally.

For those interested in marine life instead, the Point Adolphus area is particularly known for its large population of humpback whales during the summer months.

Exploring the beach in Icy Strait Point
Exploring the beach in Icy Strait Point

For those who prefer to stay on land, there are a few walking routes to explore. The shoreline and beaches near the port provide a great place to beach comb. Sea stars of various colors, crab claws, and mussels are a few of the items found. 

Adventures And Activities

Icy Strait Point and Hoonah has something for everyone, even those who prefer to skip a paid tour. Choosing an activity depends on budget, interests, and sense of adventure.

Fishing Tours

If you’re an angler at heart, you’ll love Icy Strait Point’s fishing tours. The majority of tours last 3-1/2 to 4 hours, with the target catch being halibut or salmon. Some operators will even process and package your fish and send it home.

Participants must pre-purchase a license from the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game before boarding their fishing vessel. The small-group excursions (usually limited to six) are led by professional guides who know the best spots to fish, so you’re sure to have a great time.

Icy Strait Point Zipline Experience

Few experiences in ISP are talked about as much as its iconic zip line. The Icy Strait Point ZipRider Experience allows six friends or fellow cruise passengers to fly down Hoonah Mountain together.

Riders on the ZipRider
Riders on the ZipRider

With speeds up to 65 MPH, it’s not a race to the bottom but a competition to see which rider can scream the loudest.

The ninety-second ride isn’t cheap, but it does provide breathtaking views of the surrounding wilderness, if only for a minute and a half.

Kayaking Tours

For adventurers, exploring the calm waters of Port Frederick in kayaks provides a different perspective of the area. Sometimes, humpback whales pop in and accompany the excursion, adding to the unforgettable experience.

During less-than-perfect weather, some tour operators provide seat ponchos to keep kayakers dry during the paddle.

Whale Watching Tours

Icy Strait Point and Juneau are the best ports to take a whale watching tour when cruising to Alaska. During the summer months, humpback whales are a common sight in the waters, and visitors can even see them from the beachfront wooden boardwalk.

We were fortunate to see a humpback continually breach near the beach one time. We enjoyed the impromptu performance that surprised us one minute and was gone the next.

Whale breaching in Icy Strait Point
Whale breaching in Icy Strait Point

Like Juneau, guests on Icy Strait Point whale watching tours are guaranteed to see whales, usually humpbacks, but orcas are also seen. Keep your eyes on land, as coastal brown bears often forage along the coastline for food.

By taking an excursion, guests can get closer to these magnificent creatures and learn about their behavior from an experienced naturalist guide. One tour uses a drone to capture aerial views, and guests receive a copy of the photo and video files at the commencement of the tour.

Bear Spotting Excursions

If you’re interested in seeing Alaska’s wildlife up close, consider taking a bear spotting excursion. With three bears per square mile, you’ll have the chance to see brown bears in their natural terrain and learn about their behavior and habitat from a local guide.

Bears are more predictable during salmon runs, when they congregate around streams and rivers, as dinner comes to them. So, traveling in August and September when Coho are running, increases the chance of spotting bears.

Cannery Museum

Cannery Museum exhibit
Cannery Museum exhibit

One of the popular attractions in Icy Strait Point is the Cannery Museum. Housed in the restored Hoonah Packing Company building of 1912, the museum offers a glimpse into the salmon industry’s long-standing history in the area. 

Located in the center of the port district, the museum allows visitors to walk through it and learn about the industry’s evolution over the years. It’s one of the best complimentary activities in Icy Strait Point.

Amongst the museum, shops sell authentic Alaska souvenirs. Here, we found the best examples of handcrafted Ulu knives with antler bone handles.

Icy Strait Point Gondola

In addition to the Cannery Museum, visitors can also take a gondola ride. Near the cruise docks are two gondolas; one (green) is complimentary and runs between Wilderness and Ocean Landing.

The red gondola requires a fee and the option to ride all day. Guests can enjoy stunning views from a private cable car going up and down Hoonah Mountain. 

At the peak, a platform offers panoramic views of Port Frederick and the surrounding mountains. The Hidden Creek one-mile trail allows visitors to explore the area further, enhancing the outdoor adventure.

Brian on the Icy Strait Gondola
Brian on the Icy Strait Gondola

Walking Trails

While Icy Strait Point or Hoonah doesn’t have many accessible hiking trails like Juneau or Skagway, there are three easy walks to enjoy. Between Wilderness Landing and Ocean Landing, the half-mile walking trail links up with the nature loop trail.

The Hidden Creek Trail offers a one-mile loop on Hoonah Mountain with little elevation gain. While this one requires the purchase of a gondola ticket, be aware that when brown bears are spotted, the trail will be closed.

Alternatively, the coastal walk from the port to Hoonah offers solitude and a chance to see bald eagles, Sitka deer, and Blacktail deer. The wooden boardwalk from the port offers serene ocean views that may only be broken by the sound of a breaching whale.

Be sure to stop at Keet Plaza for a selfie with the bronze Orca statue made by conservationist Wyland. If you capture the angle right, it will look like the real deal!

Orca statue at Keet Plaza
Orca statue at Keet Plaza

Local Cuisine And Dining

Regarding local cuisine and dining, Icy Strait Point and Hoonah offer few options, compared with Juneau. However, there are places to sample the freshest seafood or enjoy an Alaskan beer.

At the Cannery Museum, the Crab House has Dungeness and snow crab, reindeer chili, and a must-try Alaska Crabby Bloody Mary.

The Fisherman’s Daughter in Hoonah is a popular spot for seafood lovers, offering a variety of fresh seafood dishes. They also have a great selection of cocktails and craft beers to pair with your meal.

Another seafood hotspot is Duck Point Smokehouse Restaurant, known for its delicious smoked salmon and seafood chowder. The venue also offers a variety of barbecue dishes, making it an excellent spot for meat lovers.

Duck Point Smokehouse Restaurant
Duck Point Smokehouse Restaurant

For those looking for a taste of traditional Alaskan cuisine, the Cookhouse Restaurant serves up traditional Alaskan dishes such as halibut and chips, reindeer burgers, and salmon chowder.

If you’re in the mood for something a little more casual, Hoonah’s Espresso and Snack Bar is a great spot for a quick bite. They offer coffee, other beverages, and some small grab-and-go snacks.

Outside the Cannery Museum, Lil’ Gen’s mini donuts sell delicious mini donuts. While it isn’t seafood, their bags of donuts are a huge hit with customers who prefer to dine on the cruise ship.

Wrap It Up

Spending a day in Icy Strait Point allows guests to do as little or as much as they want. From complimentary activities to bucket list adventures, a stop here can cost thousands of dollars or nothing.

Since most tours are under four hours, selecting a couple of adventures is possible if the budget allows. Those who have visited Icy Strait Point either love it or prefer another Alaska port. It’s not a one port suits all destination.