It’s May long weekend and we’re driving to Skagway, and it seems as though most of Whitehorse has decided to do the same with a queue of 20 vehicles at the U.S. border …
It was a warm evening, and we went to Starfire, in Skagway, to enjoy some Thai food before camping for the night. At 8 a.m. we arrived on the pier, at the Skagway Small Boat Harbor, to meet our charter, Alaska Fjordlines.
Our deckhand Alixanne greeted us, with a big endearing smile, for our three-hour charter. It was a perfect bluebird day (highly uncommon for the region) and made for an utterly breathtaking journey. As we pulled out from Skagway’s harbour, I got to see the town I spend a lot of my weekends in and saw the beautiful mountains that surround the fjord. We ferried to Haines, to pick up more people for the trip, and it was a full charter with Alixanne stating, “It’s almost all Canadians.”
“The Yukoners have been great for our business,” said Alison Jacobson, owner-operator of Alaska Fjordlines. “We offer the Canada-cash-at-par Yukoner Special during our early season, before it gets busy with the influx of highway traffic. May and early June is a great time to see wildlife in Lynn Canal, and the Yukoners take advantage of the special and come down in droves.
“This, in turn, has provided us a lot of Whitehorse people who are familiar with the trip, an army of people who recommend it to the tourists passing through, and to their friends and relatives visiting the area. It has been a great thing for us, and [for] everyone who takes the trip.”
We headed off along the blue-green sea as our Captain, Mark, gave us an overhead commentary of the history, geography and wildlife that surrounds the fjords. The snow-capped mountains encapsulated every turn, and we rode close to shore and saw incredible waterfalls gushing from glaciers directly into the sea.
We purposefully headed towards the wildlife around and in the water; first, heading to where there were hundreds of sea lions bathing in the sunlight. Their guttural burping calls and putrid smell were definitely an interesting experience. We also witnessed humpback whales, as they played in the sea, and spotted bursts of spray as everyone held their breath and waited for that “perfect shot” of whale tails as they dove for their feed. Hundreds of bald eagles nested along the high treetops and it was almost like a “Where’s Waldo” game to play on the ferry of “Spot the Eagle.”
Our journey was smooth sailing on a pristine bluebird spring day, and we arrived to our free downtown Juneau bus at the harbour. My friends, Nicole and Brandon, and I decided to camp at the Mendenhall Glacier, so we took the public bus from the airport drop-off instead. We were hiking to the campground, which was set on the beautiful Mendenhall Lake overlooking the Mendenhall Glacier.
We hiked the glacier, camped and awoke to rain. For 275 days a year, it rains in Juneau … so we were pretty lucky with our first day being warm and sunny. Our tent and bags were wet, so we walked out of the Tongass National Forest to catch our bus to downtown Juneau.
There are three large cruise ships in the harbour, yet it doesn’t feel like Skagway when the ships descend, because Juneau is quite large and open. We hobbled around, looking like the hobo backpackers we were, while admiring First Nations artwork and craftsmanship.
We eventually decided to get some food and went to Hangar On The Wharf, a busy restaurant overlooking the pier. When in Alaska and by a port, what better place to eat local marine wildlife, so we ordered the giant crab legs. These spiky crustaceans were delicious and well worth the price. The drizzling rain outside continued and we wandered until our bus came to collect us.
Back on the Alaska Fjordlines ferry we saw more wildlife, but this time the water was extremely choppy, which made for a rather bumpy ride. It was much colder with the rain and wind, so many stayed inside and enjoyed the view out of the large windows. Most of the mountains were covered with clouds. Fortunately, Alixanne, our deckhand, had prepared a tasty, light dinner—salmon chowder and sourdough bread. It was delicious and a welcome, warm treat.
Glen and Alison Jacobson started the Haines-Skagway Water Taxi in 1990 and started operating Alaska Fjordlines, running the Fjord Express to Juneau, in 2001. “We started the Haines-Skagway Water Taxi in 1990, said Jacobson. “We did two round trips each day between Haines and Skagway, with a 40-passenger boat, and then built an 80-passenger boat after the third year, due to the demand. This was the first service between Haines and Skagway where you could spend the day in either town. Then, in 2000, we expanded the service to Juneau so you could go there as a day trip.”
Although Haines and Skagway were quite close, there weren’t any services to help you just visit another area for the day. “We came up with the idea to start the water taxi and fjord express from just knowing there was a lack of transportation in Lynn Canal between Haines, Skagway and Juneau,” explained Jacobson. “We wanted people to base in one town and go visit the other for the day, and get back to their home, car, RV or hotel for the night. It just so happens that Lynn Canal also offers world-class scenery, glaciers, waterfalls and wildlife viewing, as well. It is also filled with gold-rush, maritime and Native history.”
Alaska Fjordlines offers Yukoners a special deal in May and June, each year, with Canadian cash at par. Ferries depart from Skagway or Haines, and you can customise how many nights you want to stay while enjoying incredible views and great customer service. Visit their website for more information and bookings at https://alaskafjordlines.com.