This plan takes you to the Southeast's highlights, with whales, glaciers, mountains, totem poles, and Russian-American history included. It's fast paced yet still covers less than half of this diverse and fascinating region. If you have more time, this plan would make a much more relaxing 10-day trip. Add a day each in Sitka, Juneau, and Gustavus. There's plenty to do in each town. You can extend this itinerary even more by beginning with a flight into Petersburg instead of Sitka. Spend a day or two there sea kayaking, hiking, fishing, or whale-watching before boarding an Alaska Marine Highway System ferry to Sitka and picking up on Day 1 of this plan.
Day 1: Arrive in Sitka
Fly on an Alaska Airlines jet to the historic island city of Sitka, once the capital of Russian America. The town layout you see from the air is little changed from historic photographs and paintings. After settling in, take a walk along winding Lincoln Street, taking in the views from Castle Hill, where the Russians handed over Alaska to the United States in 1867. Look into stately St. Michael's Cathedral, and visit the Russian Bishop's House, making sure to take a National Park Service tour of the extraordinary upstairs section.
Day 2: Tlingit History & Sitka Wildlife
Start the day at the Sitka National Historical Park to see an extraordinary collection of historic and contemporary totem poles, meet Tlingit artisans at work, and learn about their culture and history. Now walk through the lovely forested totem park and battlefield sites before continuing to the Alaska Raptor Center to see eagles being rehabilitated and learning to fly again after injuries. After lunch, join any one of the half-day wildlife cruises that go from the boat harbor to see otters, sea lions, and possibly whales; and, if conditions permit, the sea bird colony at St. Lazaria Island.
Day 3: Juneau by Ferry
After a final goodbye to Sitka, board a ferry of the Alaska Marine Highway System for a spectacular ride to Juneau that will take much of the day. When you arrive, get a cab from the ferry dock to the airport and rent a car there. If you have enough time left in the day, you can visit Mendenhall Glacier and drive out the road (that's the common local phrase for it) for a lovely and moving walk to the tiny island of the Shrine of St. Thérèse. Then settle into your lodgings.
Day 4: Juneau
In the morning, take a helicopter flight to the Juneau Icefield for a walk or even a dog-sled ride, to get a feel for the immensity of the place, and to touch glacier ice. If weather isn't promising for that, visit the Alaska State Museum or do the walking tour downtown. In the afternoon, take a hike on one of Juneau's beautiful rainforest or mountain trails. There are wonderful choices, such as the Perseverance Trail near downtown, but since you have a car, you can hike anywhere and get away from any cruise-ship crowds that may wreck the solitude on some of the paths.
Day 5: To Gustavus/Glacier Bay
Fly a prop from Juneau to Gustavus, the gateway to Glacier Bay National Park, to arrive early enough to orient yourself and take a walk on the trails around the park headquarters to enjoy the shoreline and mossy forest trails. Or go bicycling on the country roads or explore the long sandy beaches in Gustavus. If you're more ambitious, the waters off Gustavus are among Alaska's best for watching humpback whales, and you'll have time today for a half-day viewing trip. You have two lodging choices here. Check in at the Glacier Bay Lodge, or stay at a wilderness lodge or country inn in Gustavus (your host will pick you up).
Day 6: Glacier Bay Tour
The all-day boat tour ride leaves from Bartlett Cove and passes through humpback whale areas and other marine mammal grounds far up the bay to where two large glaciers stand like walls at the edge of the water. Be sure to bring binoculars and warm clothing, as the glaciers produce frigid downdrafting winds, even in the height of summer.
Day 7: Sea Kayaking in Gustavus
We've saved some of the best for last. Your Alaska Airlines jet doesn't leave Gustavus until the evening, so you have time today for a sea-kayaking outing in the lovely waters of Bartlett Cove, where whales frequently visit, or, if you are staying in Gustavus, kayak from there into an area where whales are virtually always seen in the summer. You can connect the flight from Gustavus through Juneau onward to home.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.