We arrived in Icy Strait Point amidst dense fog and slow, patient rain. On vacation, you always hope for sunshine, but this melancholy and drizzle felt utterly perfect for Alaska somehow and we didn’t mind.
Alaska breathes. It is a slow, patient behemoth of a land that waits with utmost patience and simply… is. I’m not sure how to describe it outside of abstractions. The land is largely untouched and even for someone like myself who hails from a deeply rural landscape, it is awe inspiring.
We arrived at Icy Strait Point in the afternoon. The rain persisted and so we donned our cozy light fall, warm, the-weather-is-unpredictable coats and set off into the cruise port.
Icy Strait Point is a little different than our typical cruise destinations. It is exclusively a cruise ship outpost on Chichagof Island, the fifth largest island in the United States. While the land was once used as a salmon cannery, it was purchased by the Huna Totem Corporation in 1996. In 2004, the area was officially opened as a cruise port and was christened by Royal Caribbean. As the port is own and built by the Huna Totem Corporation, the port supports the company’s shareholders under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act – 1350+ individuals who have Native ties to nearby Hoonah or Glacier Bay.
I normally wouldn’t go into this sort of thing, because who cares about shareholders anyway on this kind of blog? But I wanted to mention it because Icy Strait Point is a Native-owned port. There aren’t very many of these (are there others at all?) and as such, it was really exciting to be sailing somewhere that would support the actual people of the land and not just huge conglomerates.
Today, Icy Strait Point offers a few different activities focussed on the outdoors-minded individual. One of these activities is the self-proclaimed longest zipline in the world, running 5,330 feet. We try nearly went on this but ended up switching around our excursions shortly before the cruise and we’re glad we did. While the views must be absolutely incredible, it was cold and very rainy the day we visited Icy Strait Point, and it would not have been an enjoyable activity that day.
Whether or not you want to plan a specific excursion, Icy Strait Point is simply beautiful. From the totem poles and wooden walkways to the cheerful red buildings and friendly fire pit… it would be easy to while away the day in Icy Strait Point just enjoying the feel of the place. That said, the village of Hoonah is only a mile away from the cruise port and weather permitting, I would recommend taking a walk to visit the Tlingit village that sits so close to the port. Hoonah has a population of less than one thousand year-round residents, making it a very cozy little city.
Depending on what you’d like to do at Icy Strait Point, you could take it easy and enjoy freshly caught salmon or go for a beach hike or have you own wilderness trek. It’s a great place to really reconnect with nature and enjoy the quiet of the world. The island is flush with wildlife, and it was both strange and wonderful to casually walk by a bald eagle sitting up in a tree. We see bald eagles not entirely infrequently in my area (maybe once or twice a year) but I am still awed by their noble presence.
We started our day with a little bit of exploration, then we settled in for lunch at the Duck Point Smokehouse. It was quick and easy to pursue all the restaurants ad pick the best compromise (I don’t eat fish – all he wanted to eat was fish and other water dwellers… which is fair in Alaska). We settled on the Duck Point Smokehouse because of the menu, yes, but also because the aromas that wafted from the restaurant even through our masks were tantalizing.
The Smokehouse is just beside the communal fire pit… and really, I can’t emphasize enough how much we loved that fire pit. Everywhere should have one – the warmth of the fire cut through the rain and even made it pleasant to be outdoors. In addition to tempting cooking aromas, the Duck Point Smokehouse provided a great view of the water and even had an outdoor area with another excellent open fire warning everything up.
The food was simple but delicious – I’d recommend it, but don’t mistake it for a light lunch. It’s delicious, but it’s also heavy!
Once we satisfied ourselves with halibut and brisket, we headed to our planned adventure – a whale watch. Whale watches are a dime a dozen in New England and I’ll be honest – initially booking this excursion felt like a bit of a waste to me. But even entrenched in fog, the Alaskan islands and their landscape is beautiful. And it was fun.
While we saw a number of porpoises, otters, and birds… the real highlight was a group of three humpback whales who were feeding. They surfaced and dove multiple times and although I’m not the best photographer I was lucky enough to capture some shots of the tails. Despite my easy access, I’ve never actually been on a whale watch before and the excitement of seeing the whales surface was contagious. It also made me very grateful that I brought my 300mm lens with me, because folks do around the sides of the sides for instagram photos and selfies with the whale tales, and the crowds were a little overwhelming after a time, so I got a few decent shots and stepped back to enjoy a cup of complimentary hot chocolate.
Icy Strait Point is very close to Point Adolphus. It is a feeding ground for both humpback whales and orcas, among other sea mammals. I would have loved to see an orca whale (despite knowing they’re dangerous and sort of terrible) but I am still over the moon grateful we got to see not one but many humpback whales enjoying their dinner at Point Adolphus. Summer is the feeding season for humpbacks, and as winter comes they go south to a more equatorial climate to mate. Since breaching is a mating behavior, we didn’t see too much of each whale, but even the water spouts and their tails were an absolute treat. And there were so many of them! Captain Kirk et al should have gone to Point Adolphus in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home to find their humpback whale – it would have been easier than acquiring it from a museum release. Although not as entertaining, I suppose. ALSO fun fact – they needed the whale song and they captured a female humpback… but only male humpbacks sing like that.
So basically Earth was screwed and someone didn’t do their research. BUT I DIGRESS.
Another treat as part of the whale watch was the completely unexpected and overwhelmingly beautiful sunset. The naturalist on the boat with us came out to take his own pictures and he joked “you know it’s a good sunset when the locals come out to take pictures”. And it was absolutely astounding.
Even though it’s a smaller port, Icy Strait Point is positively beautiful and it’s seclusion makes it particularly special. In this port, you feel a bit like you’re all alone in the world. The air is crisp and clean and the landscape is striking, even in poor weather. I may even say especially in poor weather. It’s the type of nature I love the most – the endless forests and quiet waters and interspersed animals living alongside humans in quiet harmony.
This is one of the reasons folks come to Alaska and it’s easy to see why it is so well-loved a destination. It’ll take your breath away. And Icy Strait Point is a particularly intimate stop around the way.