Partner Content for Holland America Line
Holland America Logo

Go with the Experts: Nine Incredible Ways to Explore Alaska

Photograph courtesy Holland America Line
A grizzly bear, ursus arctos, searches for berries in the fall in Denali National Park.

Go deep into the wilds of Denali

Home to North America’s highest peak, 20,310-foot Denali, and spanning a mind-boggling six million acres, Denali National Park and Preserve deserves more than a passing glance. Get an in-depth look on a Tundra Wilderness Tour, a Denali tradition since 1923. The all-day road trip through the unspoiled backcountry is led by a certified driver-naturalist. Having an expert guide at the wheel increases the likelihood of spotting one or more of Alaska’s wildlife Big Five: caribou, Dall sheep, grizzly bears, moose, and wolves.

Holland America Line is the only cruise operator to offer the Tundra Wilderness Tour on all two- and three-night Denali Land+Sea Journeys. After the tour, Denali adventurers relax at Holland America Line’s McKinley Chalet Resort at Denali National Park, an Alaska-centric retail, dining, art, and entertainment space. To bask in views of the park from your own private balcony, book a Denali Suite in the resort’s new 99-room Ridge View addition, opened in 2019.

Photograph by Barrett Hedges
Seaplane flying above Hood Lake Alaska

Soar in a seaplane

As the old Alaskan bush pilot adage goes, “Where the road ends, the real Alaska begins.” The vast expanses of Alaskan wilderness makes travelling by air one of the easiest and most authentically Alaskan ways to get around. See Alaska like a local by taking to the skies in a seaplane (also known as a floatplane) or other small aircraft on a Holland America Line flightseeing excursion.

Among the cruise line’s high-flying options are a Denali National Park flightseeing tour, with an option to land on Denali; a fly-out fly fishing adventure in a classic floatplane; and the Arctic Circle Air Adventure, which includes landing north of the Arctic Circle and receiving an official Arctic Circle Adventure Certificate. On Holland America Line's Five Glacier Seaplane Exploration from Juneau, cross high over the 1,500-square-mile Juneau Ice Field. From this lofty perch, you’ll enjoy eagle’s-eye views of Norris, Hole-In-The-Wall, East and West Twin Glaciers, and five-mile-wide Taku, the ice field’s biggest named glacier.

Photograph by deebrowning, Getty
White Pass and Yukon Route Railway

Rumble and paddle through Gold Rush country

Immerse yourself in the breathtaking natural beauty of Alaska on a Holland America Line rail and kayak adventure. Combining history, scenery, water sports, and a border crossing into Canada (and back), the half-day excursion offers a wealth of unforgettable experiences. Begin the journey in the port of Skagway, where more than 20 late-1890s buildings are preserved as part of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.

In Skagway, climb aboard a vintage coach car for a 40-mile roundtrip ride on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway. The narrow gauge rail route traces the original Trail of ’98 scaled by prospectors during the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush. Cross through tunnels, across bridges, and past roaring Bridal Veil Falls on the climb up to 2,888-foot White Pass, the mountain pass linking Alaska and British Columbia. Once in Canada, trade the train for a kayak and paddle the shimmering flatwater of Lake Bernard. Rugged alpine wilderness surrounds the glacier-carved lake, which is backed in the distance by rocky and, regularly, snow-capped peaks.

Photograph courtesy Holland America Line
Get up-close views of the Hubbard Glacier in Alaska

Cruise up close to glaciers

Gaze in awe at a blue-ice glacier, which is a guaranteed sight on every Holland America Line Alaska cruise. Often referred to as “rivers of ice,” glaciers are gigantic masses of ice that move slowly over land. Depending on your itinerary, you could sail past multiple glacier destinations, such as Hubbard glacier, the Sawyer glaciers of Tracy Arm, the College Fjord glaciers, or the glaciers of Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve.

As an authorized concessioner of Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve, Holland America Line offers insider access to the park. Stand on the wraparound deck to hear the boom (called “white thunder” by the indigenous Tlingit people) of calving glaciers shedding ice into the sea. Park rangers join the cruise to answer glacier questions and members of the local Huna Totem tribe share Glacier Bay legends and history. For an even closer look at a glacier, glide into hard-to-reach waters on a Zodiac tour, exclusively available on the Holland America Maasdam.

Photograph by snipes213, Getty
River flowing in Skagway

Rock climb and rappel in Skagway

Scale new heights on the Adventure Park: Rock Climb & Rappel, available on any Holland America Alaska Land+Sea Journey that includes an overnight in Skagway. The adrenaline-pumping adventure can be tailored to fit beginner to expert rock climbers, giving a wide range of fitness levels access to an only-in-Alaska outdoor sports experience.

Equipped with expert climbing and safety instructions and a helmet, harness, and other climbing gear, you’ll scale a glacier-smoothed, granite rock face at White Pass. There are multiple routes up the cliffs and guides to offer climbing tips, directions, and encouragement . In addition to rush of completing the strenuous climb, reaching the top delivers jaw-dropping views of the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway and the Skagway River below. After taking in the vistas (and catching your breath), you can experience the thrill of rappelling 70 feet down the cliffs. Or, choose the less-strenuous (yet, still incredibly scenic) downhill hiking route.

Photograph by Ronnie Wiggin, Getty
USA Alaska Tongass National Forest Humpback Whale Megaptera novaengliae breaching in Frederick Sound

Spot whales on a marine wildlife safari

Witness the wonder of multiple humpback whales rising nose-to-tail out of the water and landing with a colossal splash in the nutrient-rich waters of Stephens Passage. Renowned for its wealth of wildlife—including humpbacks, orcas, Dall’s porpoises, sea lions, and seals—the deep-water passage (plunging over 1,000 feet in places) is the main cruising channel through Southeast Alaska.

Ply the waters of the passage in a custom-built safari vessel on Holland America Line’s Mendenhall Glacier-whale watching excursion. The two-part tour begins with time to explore forested moraines, glacial landscapes, and wildflower viewing areas at Mendenhall Glacier. The massive glacier flows into Mendenhall Lake in Tongass National Forest, the nation’s largest at approximately 17 million acres. From here, the expedition moves to the protected waters of Stephens Passage. Drift silently while observing whales in their natural habitat. Watch for wildlife along the shores as you pass Admiralty Island, home to an estimated 1,500 brown bears and the world’s highest concentration of bald eagles.

Photograph courtesy Holland America
fresh alaskan crab, corn, and potatoes

Feast on the wild bounty of Alaska

Savor the flavors of nature on culinary journeys celebrating Alaska’s fresh seafood, homegrown produce, and locally-crafted beer. Holland America Line offers a tantalizing menu of FOOD & WINE® shore excursions and other delectable experiences on all Alaska cruises and Land+Sea Journeys. Whether two-mile tasting walk through Kodiak or a wildlife kayaking trip topped off with an Alaska-sourced picnic on the beach, there’s a food-lover’s option to tempt every palate and interest.

For a traditional taste of Alaska, dig into the Salmon Bake, an all-you-can-eat feast featuring wild salmon barbecued over an open fire and hearty side dishes like baked beans with reindeer sausage. To experience the foodie scene in Alaska’s capital city, take the Juneau Culinary Walk, a Holland America Line exclusive tour in partnership with FOOD & WINE®. Among the guided tour’s featured stops is Tracy’s King Crab Shack where, except for coleslaw, rice, and rolls, everything on the menu is made with either Dungeness, Snow, or King crab caught wild in Alaskan waters.

Video Still courtesy Holland America
Picturesque views seen by passengers taking the Alaska Railway on the McKinley Explorer.

Take an epic rail trip aboard the McKinley Explorer

Journey north from Anchorage to near Denali National Park in style on Holland America Line’s McKinley Explorer train. Covering 223 magnificent miles in about eight hours, the luxury rail trip is a bucket list-worthy Alaskan experience: inside and out. The train itself evokes the golden age of rail travel with its bi-level, domed railcars; attentive, personal service; and exquisite interiors outfitted with museum-quality art, custom-designed Swiss fabrics, and comfortable, plush seats. Trips also include a sumptuous lunch or dinner featuring locally sourced menu items like reindeer chili and seared wild salmon.

While the railcars are undeniably first class, the views outside are even more spectacular. Watch a best-of-Alaska backdrop roll by from the upper glass-dome level, the open-air viewing platforms, and the roomy observation lounge, As the train travels through forests and along lakes and rivers, look for moose, eagles, and other wildlife; see the towering peak of Denali poke high through the clouds; and soak up the seemingly unending views of untouched Alaskan wilderness.

Photograph by Cannon Photography LLC, Alamy
Close Up Of A Gold Pan With Gold Nuggets, Alaska

Pan for gold at a historic mining camp

Channel your inner prospector at the Gold Dredge 8 National Historic Landmark in Fairbanks. The historic dredge (a long-necked, mechanical digger resembling a gigantic dinosaur) was used from 1928 to 1959 to scoop and separate gold flakes from the Alaskan permafrost. The tour is an entertaining journey back in time led by guides well-versed in the legends and history of Alaska’s Interior gold fields.

Ride a replica of the narrow gauge Tanana Valley Railroad to the Gold Dredge 8 site, where you’ll learn how the machine lumbered its way across the gold fields on stilt-like legs. Get up-close views of the dredge’s massive metal scoops before trying your hand at old-school gold prospecting using a traditional metal pan. While the bulk of the tour is steeped in gold rush history, there’s also an Instagram-worthy photo stop under an elevated section of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Stand underneath with arms stretched high to “hold up” the pipeline.

Photograph by Design pics inc