Figuring out what to do in each port is part of the fun of an Alaska cruise. As longtime year round residents of Ketchikan, we at Southeast Sea Kayaks are happy to help you make the best of your time in port. Here are our suggestions for tours, shore excursions and activities during a cruise stop our lovely town.Read More
Southeast Alaska is home to the world’s largest temperate rainforest which means there's a good chance that it will rain at some point on your Inside Passage Cruise. Here in Ketchikan we average 160 inches (or approximately 13.5 feet) of rain a year. As you might imagine, locals never let the weather get them down - we just dress for it. There are quite a few Alaska vacation packing lists available, but most of them include outfits that are way more stylish than we could put together and many seemed geared more towards the arctic than rainy, temperate Southeast Alaska. So, while you're on your own for formal night, here’s our Alaska Cruise packing list for the adventurous traveler who wants to be prepared for outdoor activities.
What to Pack
Layers. There are times on your Alaskan cruise when it’s going to be cold! Especially if you plan to visit a glacier or spend time on the cruise ship deck when the ship is moving. Southeast Alaska is known to have sudden changes in weather - sometimes we go from sunny to cloudy to rainy and back again all within the same hour! With temperatures reaching nearly 80 degrees in some regions and dropping as low as 50 degrees in others, layers are a must when venturing into the rainforest. Pack at least three layers, including a warm base layer (like you might use for skiing), a fleece or sweatshirt, and a jacket. If all you have is cotton you’ll be set for most excursions but, as with any outdoor activity, non-cotton or quick-dry synthetic blend clothing is ideal for keeping you comfortable and dry. Yes, it's sometimes sunny and 75 degrees but for chilly, damp days a baselayer and lightweight fleece paired with a rain jacket to keep the rain off you (or to double as a windbreaker) will usually do the trick. Recommended brands: Smart Wool base layers are durable and popular. REI has cheaper store-brand layers on both kids and adult sizes.
Raincoat & Rain Pants. Don’t be a poncho person! Poncho people don't plan for the weather. When it begins to rain they are forced run to the nearest trinket store and buy a poncho that is both ineffective and kind of silly-looking. If you want to be able to get outdoors no matter the weather, pack a raincoat and a pair of rain pants (or plan to buy a pair if your visit turns out to be rainy). It’s typical to see locals geared up in raincoats and rain pants, so you’ll fit right in! Umbrellas are not very effective if it's breezy and raining so getting the proper outer layers right will be much more useful. Recommended brands: Marmot, Mountain Hardware, and North Face make some of the guides’ most-loved rain jackets. If you're looking for kayaking outerwear, Kokatat is the only way to go. Their USA made paddling specific jackets and drysuits are the best gear for kayaking in our rainy climate.
Gloves. A pair of gloves will keep your hands toasty warm when hiking, or out on the cruise ship deck.
Wool Beanie & Baseball Cap. A nice, warm beanie will keep all that heat from escaping through your crown, and is great for tucking under the waterproof hood of your rain jacket for that extra layer. We also recommend bringing a good baseball cap - they’re great for keeping hoods from flopping in your face and, believe it or not, we really can get sunny days! With the glare from the water when the sun is bright, that baseball cap will keep your eyes and face shaded.
Sunglasses. Sunglasses are a much needed accessory for sunny days. If you experience one of those days where the weather changes from rainy to overcast to sunny in under an hour, you’ll quickly find yourself squinty as your eyes try to adjust to that bright light shining off the water. When the sun does come out, it is often startlingly bright and you’ll want that extra eye protection.
If You Only Pack One Thing for Your Alaska Cruise, Bring…
Waterproof Shoes. No one enjoys soggy sneakers and the chances are good that if you get off the ship during your cruise your sneakers are going to get soggy at some point. Depending on what you plan to do, you might pack one or more of these options:
Waterproof Sneakers. We love our water resistant sneakers! They’re great for walking around town, light hiking, kayaking and trail running,
Hiking Boots. A good pair of hiking boots is a great investment, and are ideal if you plan to hike, glacier climb, or even for walking around town. Many hiking boots come with exterior Goretex for waterproofing, which is highly recommended for time spent in rainy climates. Just remember it’s important to purchase most hiking boots in advance, as they usually require some breaking in. No one likes the blisters that come from a brand new, stiff pair of hiking boots used for the first time on that steep, slippery mountain trail. Recommended brands: Merrel, Keen, and Asolo all make comfortable, high-quality hiking boots.
Rubber Boots. You can plan on picking up the local’s favorite, XtraTuffs, at the nearest Alaskan sports store or bring a pair of your own rain boots.
But Don’t Worry: If You Come Paddling, We’ll Gear You Up!
When kayaking with Southeast Sea Kayaks, we make sure all of our guests have the proper gear to make for a fun, comfortable excursion. The experienced staff outfits each guest with our NRS paddle jackets and rain pants, PFDs, and spray skirts, all of which are available in a variety of sizes. All paddlers are additionally provided with a dry bag to store cameras, phones, binoculars, and any other items you may wish to take with you on the water.
What to Wear for Outdoor Adventures Infographic
Snow and ice are the first things many people think of when they hear the word "Alaska," but snow is a rare treat in Ketchikan because we are located in Southeast Alaska's temperate rainforest. It's been a long time since the kids of Ketchikan got a real snow day, but when 4 inches of snow fell on the first day of winter break, we had to get out and capture the moment before the rain washed it all away.
Most visitors come to Alaska hoping to see the wildlife big three: eagles, whales and bears. Sure, the big three are majestic, but can any of them eject their own intestines? Not a chance. Some of Alaska’s most interesting creatures are the marine invertebrates of the inter-tidal zones; these seemingly sedentary animals have adaptations and abilities that would make Spiderman envious.
Whelks: Drilling Power
Most sea snails are gentle herbivores but whelks are carnivorous and they can drill holes with their tongues! Whelks use acidic secretions and a specialized radula (an anatomical structure often compared to a tongue) to drill holes in the shells of unsuspecting mussels, barnacles and clams. Once through the shell, the whelk’s digestive enzymes liquefy their prey for an easy meal.
Whelks were eaten by the wheel barrow-full in Victorian England and have been making a comeback on modern menus. However, whelks should not be eaten during the summer months in Southeast Alaska. Their diet of mussels and clams means that whelks can accumulate the toxins that cause paralytic shellfish poisoning.
The Armored Chitons
Chitons (also called sea cradles) armored up long before Ironman. Chitons are mollusks with long flat bodies, amazing adhesive powers and incredible armor. They travel (slowly) over rocks using a muscular "foot" and are protected by shells with eight overlapping plates. Their strong adhesive foot helps chitons hang onto the rocks in the splash zone while their armor fends off predators.
There are forty-three known species of chiton in Southeast Alaska. One of the treasures of the low tide is the giant Pacific chiton or, gumboot. Gumboots can grow to thirteen inches in length, live for over twenty years, and Alaskans love to eat them sauteed in garlic and butter.
Leather Stars: Stink Power
Leather stars are lovely to look at with their shiny red and tan patterned discs but their smell is a different story. Leather stars are also known as garlic stars because they have a distinct (some may say foul) odor of rotting garlic. Apparently the stink is a good defense; leather stars are rarely eaten by the giant sun stars or sunflower stars that prey on other sea star species
The Extraordinary Stomachs of Ochre Stars
You might think that opening up mussels and barnacles would be difficult without opposable thumbs or a drilling radula but ochre stars have got their prey covered, literally. Ochre stars can extrude their entire stomach. Once their stomach is outside their body ochre stars need just a millimeter wide opening to suck out the insides of their favorite bivalves. The soft insides of the mussels or clams are then pulled back inside the ochre star for a tasty meal.
Anemones: Cloning Power and Immortality
Anemones are seriously amazing creatures. Not only can many species reproduce by cloning themselves, they also engage in clone wars. One set of clones will fight an encroaching set of clones until a “neutral zone” is established; this is likely the cause of the clear delineation between anemones of different colors in the picture below. If that’s not exciting enough for you, anemones may also hold the key to eternal life. As far as scientists know, some species of anemones do not die. They have been documented to be over 100 years old and are believed to be immortal.
Sea Cucumbers: Disemboweling Defense and Regeneration
Sea cucumbers are are not a vegetable at all. They are echinoderms just like sea stars. Some sea cucumbers can eviscerate as a defense mechanism: they eject their own internal organs to confuse a predator and slide away. It takes about a month for the sea cucumber to re-grow the organs which, in itself, is a pretty handy super power.
Sea cucumbers are a delicacy in many Asian countries. During the fall months in Ketchikan there is a commercial sea cucumber dive fishery. Dry suit divers scour the bottom for sea cucumbers which are pulled to the surface in mesh bags and sold to fish processors. Think you’ve never eaten sea cucumber? If you’ve ever eaten a seafood flavor ramen noodle, chances are good that there was dried sea cucumber in the seasoning.
How Can You See these Fascinating Super Friends?
The tidal range in Ketchikan, Alaska is over 20 feet which makes for an incredibly diverse intertidal zone. Sea kayaking is one of the best ways to explore the fragile intertidal ecosystem; we can see and touch these amazing creatures from our kayaks without damaging their unique habitat. We have wonderful intertidal zones to explore on both the Ketchikan Kayaking and Orcas Cove Sea Kayaking tours. Large tidal swings mean that low tide is the best time to paddle if you would like to meet these super creatures. You can learn more about Ketchikan’s tides here. If you’re planning a trip with us, please call or email: we will be happy to check the tides on the day of your tour.
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