Icy Strait Point on Chichagof Island is unlike all other developed Alaska cruise ports. In conjunction with the Norwegian Cruise Line, the Tlingit community has developed the land specifically as a cruise port, similar to Labadee, Haiti.
The pristine area oozes natural beauty and contains lots of wildlife. A relatively new Alaskan port, the tourism-based area welcomes more cruise ships each year.
Their dock can accommodate two cruise ships a day. As you pull into the port, look high at the nearby trees because bald eagles often grace the treetops.
One word of caution, Icy Strait Point isn’t particularly wheelchair or scooter friendly. As we disembarked the cruise ship, there were large areas of gravel to cross before we could reach the wooden boardwalk that followed the waterfront.
Depending on your budget, there are many options for things to do in Icy Strait Point. If you’re trying to save money on your Alaska cruise, here are some things to do for free or nearly free.
Quick tips on visiting Icy Strait Point
Top tours and excursions:
Whale watching – With pick up and drop off at the cruise dock excursion hub.
Chichagof Island Brown Bear Tour – Explore the wilderness to see Coastal brown bears.
Kayak Tour – Explore Hoonah by kayak; you may even see humpback whales.
1. Ride The Transporter Gondola
There are two gondolas in Icy Strait Point. The free transporter has green gondola cars and takes guests from Wilderness landing to Adventure Landing.
So, regardless of where your cruise ship docks, you can access the other area without walking.
The installation of the transporter has made the Wilderness Landing zone a vehicle-free area. Each transporter car carries up to eight guests and is wheelchair and scooter friendly.
During the high-speed 5-minute ride, you’ll enjoy views of the pristine rainforest. Alternatively, you can walk the ½-mile trail along the waterfront.
2. Get An Orca Selfie
Located on Keet Plaza (Keet means Orca in the Tlingit language), a bronze Orca statue graces the boardwalk. The monumental effigy is the work of conservationist and artist Wyland.
Wyland is a world-renowned artist best known for his whale art. Cruise passengers might also see his artwork on the hull of the Norwegian Bliss.
A nearby sign says the bronze Orca leans toward Brown Bear Bay to welcome home fishermen and new travelers to Hoonah, Alaska. The Orca is number 2 of 100 public art sculptures worldwide.
NCLH president Frank Del Rio commissioned the sculpture. After its completion, “Orca Dream” was dedicated to the Huna Totem Corporation on June 22, 2022.
Since you can’t miss the statue on the wooden boardwalk, it’s a great place to stop for an orca selfie.
3. Scour The Beaches
If you’re traveling with children, scouring the beach for sea life is fun. We walked along the peddled beach below the boardwalk and were amazed at what we found.
It was starfish heaven, with lots of sizes and colors. We also found crabs, large crab claws, sea cucumbers, and kelp bulbs under the pier. The waterfront is especially plentiful at low tide.
Under the pier, the barnacle-clad pilings are a photographer’s paradise and make for beautiful pictures.
4. Explore The Cannery Museum
A large red warehouse was once a thriving fish cannery along the waterfront. The Hoonah Canning Company opened its business in 1912.
Today, the cannery is gone, and the cavernous building contains mostly shops selling locally-made merchandise and mass-produced items. Here, you can purchase gifts, handmade by Alaskan artists.
But within the shops, the remnants of old cannery equipment remain. Inside, plaques tell the story of how each piece of machinery worked.
There’s a machine to cut and clean the fish. Its invention revolutionized the worldwide canning industry.
Further down the production line, a large retort shows where fish was steamed to complete the canning process.
Other informational boards explain a salmon life cycle, types of fishing vessels, and interesting Alaska facts.
5. Visit Hoonah
From the other side of the cannery building, you can walk to Hoonah, a Tlingit village with about 900 residents. The 1.5-mile walk takes about 30+ minutes along the scenic waterfront.
However, if you prefer to take the easy option, it costs USD 5 roundtrip to catch the Hoonah shuttle. Hoonah, Alaska, is a quiet village with beautiful scenery.
Judging from the boats in the harbor, it relies heavily on fishing to support the village. Travelers will find Hoonah far less touristy than Icy Strait Point.
There are few shops and a handful of restaurants, but the town has some spectacular totem poles and an abundance of bald eagles.
6. Watch A Totem Pole Carving
Our bus driver pointed out the convenience store, a local gas station, and a carving hut on route to Hoonah. Eager to see a totem pole carving in progress, we walked to the outdoor shelter on Front Street.
There, we met master carver Gordon Greenwald and another Tlingit local working on a cedar carving. It was three months in the working, and they estimated it would take another three to complete.
Mr. Greenwald showed us a drawing that inspired the designs for the totem pole. We learned that traditional poles were rarely painted and usually were carved after they had been commissioned.
Icy Strait Point has excursions for every budget if you want to explore more of the area and have the money to do it.
7. Tree Top Adventure Park
If you’re traveling with children, the Tree Top Adventure Park provides fun for both kids and adults. Located under the transporter gondola, you’ll have fun traversing an obstacle course through the forest.
The adventure park offers four levels of difficulty. Ages seven and up will enjoy the easier level one and two courses. Level three provides a slightly more challenging path.
The top-level course has a minimum age of 12. It features six zip lines and 18 obstacles to keep you entertained. Bring your camera, so you can capture photos of your family balancing on bridges, walking on logs, and flying through the trees n a zip line.
8. Ride The World’s Largest Ziprider
For thrill-seekers, the Ziprider provides a 1320-foot drop from the top of Hoonah Mountain to sea level. Rated as the world’s longest zip line, six riders can simultaneously glide down the mountain.
The Icy Strait Point Ziprider once required a 45-minute journey to the top by bus. Since the gondola opened in 2022, riders reach the top much quicker, and your ziplining ticket includes the gondola ride.
The 90-second ride has riders reaching speeds of up to 65 mph. At USD 1.72 PER second, it’s not exactly a cheap shore excursion, so the cost may favor into your decision to book this crazy ride.
There are cameras on the launching platforms. So, if you prefer to watch a family or friend, you can wait at the bottom and see them prepare for their run on a nearby screen.
9. Watch A Native Tlingit Show
Near the cannery museum, a tribal hall allows visitors to enjoy a tribal dance. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the Tlingit culture and learn about life in Alaska.
High school students perform a moving dance that an elder describes. The show includes a question-and-answer period. It’s an opportunity to dig deep into their everyday lives.
You’ll learn about the different tribes, hear their stories, and the area’s history during the show. Part of the performance is done in English, and part in their native tongue.
Of course, the highlight of the show is the dance. Done in ceremonial costumes, to the sounds of a beating drum, travelers are moved by their presentation.
10. Ride The Gondola To Hoonah Mountain
A road used to take zipline riders to the top of Hoonah Mountain. However, in 2022, Icy Strait Point opened a gondola. The cars look like the green transporter ones, except they are red.
The tickets weren’t cheap at USD 49.95, and the staff marketed the ride as an all-day one. At the peak, the dense forest prevents views of the ocean below, except for one small viewing point.
If you’re riding for the views, the outlook is much better on the gondola than at the top. You can see the cruise ships in port and beyond from the gondola cars.
At the peak, there are hiking trails. However, if there is bear activity, the trails will be closed. If the area is closed, you’ll only be able to ride up and down the gondola and not go anywhere.
The staff selling tickets won’t tell you the trails are closed, only that they “could be” closed. So, imagine our disappointment after paying USD 107 for two tickets, only to ride up and down again.
While the ride was nice, it wasn’t worth over USD 100.
11. Have A Brew At Icy Strait Brewing
If you love to try craft beer when you travel, then stop by Icy Strait Brewing. You can sample red, blonde, and IPA on the corner of Hill and Front Streets in Hoonah.
The small business sells Alaskan classics such as Alaska Reindeer Chili, salmon cakes, and fish chowder along with your brew. The menu changes often, but the food always represents the Last Frontier.
Microbreweries are big businesses in Alaska. No matter where the cruise ship stops, there’s a brewery ready to welcome you. Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, and Skagway all have small breweries.
Of course, the majority of beer makers are found in Anchorage.
12. Rent A Kayak
Explore the sheltered waters of Port Frederick in a two-person kayak. With a wilderness guide to show you the way, the three-hour tour doesn’t require any prior experience.
As you enjoy the serene waters along the coast, wildlife sightings can include bald eagles, humpback whales, sea lions, and even a coastal brown bear.
I watched a whale breach close to the coastline during my visit to Icy Strait Point. Moments later, a group of kayakers appeared close to where the whales surfaced.
13. Enjoy Alaska’s Wildest Kitchen
A hands-on experience cooking in Alaska’s Widest Kitchen is ideal for the foodies. During the tour, you’ll learn about the seafood caught in Alaska.
A local Tlingit woman will talk about how fish are preserved, including canning, smoking, and pickling. You’ll watch a filleting demonstration using the freshest fish.
The best part is you get to grill the local catch over a smoking alder fire. A tasting session with a sample beer or wine completes the excursion. The cooking item may vary by what is caught. In most cases, it’s halibut or salmon.
Afterward, you’ll travel home with a recipe card so that you can replicate the cooking technique.
14. Take A Bear Wilderness Tour
Many travelers to Alaska want to see a bear. While you can see orphaned coastal brown bears at Sitka’s Fortress of the Bear, it’s not in the wild.
The ABC Islands (Admiralty, Baranof, and Chichagof) are home to many bears. Since Icy Strait Point is on Chichagof Island, it’s an ideal place to take a Wilderness Bear Tour.
There’s a misconception that bears are aggressive. However, they prefer to stay clear of humans and only venture to populated areas to find food.
During a bear-watching tour, guests travel to the Spasski River Valley and walk a wooden boardwalk in hopes of spotting bears. The chance of seeing them increases when the salmon are running. Since bears are wild, there’s no guarantee of seeing any.
However, if you see a bear, its immense size will blow you away. You could also see Sitka deer, otters, and bald eagles along the way.
15. Go Halibut Fishing
Many Alaskan ports offer fishing excursions, and Icy Strait Point is no different. So, book a charter, and purchase a license because there are plenty of fish in the sea! All that’s missing is the “gone fishing” sign on the stateroom door.
Halibut season is from mid-May to mid-September which happens to be Alaska cruise season. The waters around Icy Strait are prolific with fish.
Tour providers work with fish processors to process your catch and ship it home if you catch the big one.
16. Go Whale Watching
On an Alaskan cruise, you can take a tour to see whales in Juneau or one in Icy Strait Point. If you’re docked at Adventure Landing, the whale-watching boat often departs at the dock.
All other whale-watching tours depart from a dock in front of the Cannery Museum or from Hoonah. Due to its marine-rich waters, Icy Strait Point is a fantastic place to go whale watching on the west coast.
Humpback whales are prolific in the area, and most tours guarantee you’ll see whales. During the tour, you could witness the phenomenon of bubble net feeding. You may see Orca, sea lions, and porpoises too.
If you opt not to take an Icy Strait Point whale-watching tour, it’s not unusual to see a pod swim by the dock. In fact, during our port day, we saw humpbacks breach close to the beach.
17. Take The Hoonah Mountain 360 Tram Tour
Like a hop-on hop-off bus, the 360 Tram Tour allows guests to enjoy the scenery from an open-air tram. Guests start the tram tour from the top of Hoonah Mountain.
During the 90-minute tour, the tram travels around the scenic mountaintop and makes multiple stops. If bears aren’t present, you can hop off for photo opportunities and hike a short distance.
It’s not unusual to see coastal brown bears during the tour since they are prevalent on Chichagof Island. You can purchase tickets for this excursion at the same location where you bought the gondola tickets.
18. Take A Helicopter Tour
Icy Strait Aviation offers helicopter tours in Anchorage and Hoonah. Travelers can choose from three excursions depending on their level of adventure. For a leisurely and cultural experience, pick the Alaskan picnic by helicopter.
On the 2-hour tour, you’ll learn about the Tlingit’s history before arriving at a remote beach. Here, a native will teach you the method of preserving food. Afterward, you’ll sample some local cuisine before the return flight.
The 2.5-hour Pilot’s Choice flight will allow the pilot to decide where to fly based on weather and animal sightings. Part of the flight could include panoramic landscapes of Glacier Bay National Park nearby.
The Heli-Bike excursion combines a helicopter ride and a bike ride for the ultimate adventure. You’ll be dropped off at a secluded mountain for a wilderness bike ride down to sea level. Heli-biking is a thrilling experience, and Icy Strait Aviation offers the only Heli-Bike tour in southeast Alaska.
19. Enjoy The Area In A Tlingit Canoe
Immerse yourself in the Tlingit culture by paddling in a dug-out canoe. The ancestral 40-foot canoes are created by hand and are usually reserved for the locals. However, you can participate in this unique experience at Icy Strait Point.
The tour includes a tour of “Yaakw Kahidi,” or the canoe shed. You’ll learn some words from the Tlingit native language, hear stories of their culture, and listen to their drumming.
20. Take An ATV Expedition
ATVs provide an exciting way to see Icy Strait Point. After a short bus ride to Hoonah, you’ll board a rugged ATV for a mountain top adventure. With a minimum age of 6 years, it’s the perfect excursion for adventurous families.
The 2.5 hr tour drives along dirt trails through the canopied forest. With ocean and valley views, and narration on the area, you’ll immerse yourself in the beauty of the isle and come away knowing part of its history.
For the adventurous, consider combining your ATV Expedition with the Icy Strait Zipline for the ultimate thrilling port day.
Icy Strait Point is all about the outdoors. Travelers are often captivated by the natural beauty of Chichagof Island. If you find Icy Strait Point too commercialized, head to the village of Hoonah to see authentic Alaska.