Island hopping via ferry – Skagway, Juneau and Hoonah – Southeast Alaska
We left Million Dollar Falls campground and headed back into Alaska. Alas, we had to go through another border crossing into America. For the first time, we were asked to pull over and step out of the motorhome after our passports were checked and we answered some questions. The lady officer checked Betsy, opening several cupboards/cabinets and the refrigerator. We were asked if we had any fur, feathers, wild animal souvenirs and so on. After 15 minutes of inspection we were cleared to go. Whew!
We set camp at Haines, which is the terminus of the Alaska Marine Highway, a state-run ferry system operating passenger and vehicle ferries between cities. Access to towns and cities in Southeast Alaska is either by float plane or via Alaska Marine Highway ferry for there are a few roads through this region. We booked our ferry rides for Skagway, Juneau and Hoonah as soon as we arrived.
We first took the 45-minute fast ferry to Skagway one rainy day for a day of exploring. When we arrived there four (4) cruise ships were already docked pouring hundreds of tourist into the little town. We took a stroll around town viewing false-fronted buildings of the gold rush-era, now converted into various stores. This town is known as the gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898 and its colorful history is still evident with the preserved buildings. Next we hiked 4 miles round trip to the historic Gold Rush Cemetery and Reid Falls. This is a famous cemetery where the infamous characters such as “Soapy Smith” from the gold rush days were buried.
The following day we took ourselves and the car on another ferry for a beautiful 4 1/2 hour ride to Juneau. As you probably know, the only capital in the US not accessible by road is Juneau and it claims to be America’s most scenic state capital. We agree with that claim as we have seen its beauty first hand. This city has a different feel compared to the other two big cities – Anchorage and Fairbanks. It has its own charm, and being an active port city with an inspiring wilderness setting it is also a port of call for cruise ships. There is a lot to do but we did what we could during our limited stay. It is here that we tasted the freshest and sweetest Alaskan King Crab ever! We took time to visit the Alaska State Museum which has excellent displays talking about the native Alaskan people and their culture. There is also a description of the political history of the state and the various claims of ownership. It was well done. Finally, we rode the Mt. Roberts Tram up to the 1800 ft, platform where we did some hiking and enjoyed the fantastic view of the airport and city.
The following day we caught yet another ferry for another 3 hr trip to Hoonah, which has a population of 868 and is also a cruise ship port. Aside from tourism, fishing and logging are the main industries there. We visited my high school classmate Wilma and her husband Randy. They are really Alaskans for they have lived here for 20 years! They are both commercial fishermen aside from teaching. In seven hours they fed us Wilma’s killer Halibut Chowder and grilled King Salmon, gave us a tour where we saw two whales near the harbor, two bears just a few minutes from their house and most exciting of all we went blueberry picking. One of the summer pastimes of Alaskans in August is berry picking and we picked blueberries from the roadside. In an hour we managed to picked two galloons of wild tart Alaskan blueberries. Steve and Randy watched for bears, since blueberries are one of their favorites and we didn’t want them to see us stealing their food!
After four days of city/town hopping we boarded our car and us via MV Malaspina back to Haines.