Before the tourists come, take the kids to Southeast Alaska

  • Author: Erin Kirkland
  • Updated: January 22, 2018
  • Published January 22, 2018

After 10 years of writing about traveling Alaska with children, I have a pretty good idea of what's hot, or not, in the realm of family-friendly fun.

So when January rolls around and my email inbox fills up with messages or meetings are scheduled to discuss the newest experience that "kids will love," I get pretty excited.

In 2018, a new movement is afoot to encourage exploration of the 49th state outside the usual boundaries of May through September. And why not? Alaska doesn't close its doors once the final cruise ship sails south for the winter; many people just think it does. Those leading the charge want to change that, starting this spring.

The effort encouraging Lower 48 visitors and residents to spend their time and money on earlier-than-usual Alaska experiences is being met with a few furrowed brows. I get it. An idea like this will take time to settle and not every business is positioned to open in March.

But for me, whose mission aims to show off the Last Frontier's attributes to young visitors regardless of the calendar, I'm all in. So let's talk about one of the most oft-forgot springtime destinations for families — Southeast Alaska.

A short flight from Anchorage, Southeast's charm lies in its location, especially in the spring. Whereas Anchorage is still looking at the outdoor color palette of gray and beige, Southeast is a lush, green reminder that growing season is indeed beginning.

Daffodils poke their heads from the warming soil, and alder leaves unfurl from narrow branches. The whole area seems to be yawning and stretching, shaking off another winter, and the atmosphere is positively alive.

Yes, it might rain, and the possibility of a late-season snowstorm is real. But the trade-off is a new destination in a new season, with plenty of space for everybody. Here are a few ideas.

A taste of nature in Juneau

Hungry for learning about Alaska's ocean ingredients? Juneau Food Tours, a fixture for knowledge about all things edible in the capital city, is launching a new tour on May 1 called "A Taste of Nature."

Utilizing the expertise of Above and Beyond Alaska guiding company, this foodie and kid-friendly tour will feature a hike, 2.5 hours of kayaking, lunch on a secluded beach and a basket full of Alaska-grown and harvested items. Plus, kids will get to see said ingredients in their natural habitat as they paddle around this scenic section of Alaska. I personally am looking forward to trying kelp salsa.

$249 per person for a six-hour experience; minimum age is 8. For lodging options, check with Travel Juneau.

Retreat to Wrangell

The small town of Wrangell is a quiet retreat, and a family can find even more solitude at one of the many public-use cabins nearby.

If you'd like to stay closer to a road system, rent a car and stay at the Middle Ridge Cabin, a newer offering from the Tongass National Forest. Perfectly suited for families, it has plenty of space for hiking and exploring, but you will need to bring camping supplies.

If camping sounds like too much work, enlist the pros at Alaska Charters and Adventures, who can provide everything you need for their preselected public-use cabin trips, minus your food and personal items. For other lodging choices, check wrangell.com.

Sitka Sound splurge

For those looking for more extravagant adventures, Alaskan Dream Cruises offers a five-night, six-day trip from Sitka to witness the run of herring returning to Sitka Sound to lay their eggs by the millions.

With the return of these little silvery fish comes wildlife as well, and passengers are likely to see humpback whales, sea lions and seabirds jostle for position with human fishermen and women. A fantastic way to introduce kids to this springtime ritual in one of the most beautiful areas of the state, the cruise includes meals, activities like kayaking and cultural experiences.

$3,290 per person, sails mid-March through mid-April aboard the 10-passenger Misty Fjord.

Quiet time in Ketchikan

Finally, if you haven't yet visited "Alaska's First City" of Ketchikan, springtime is a great season to do so.

Quiet and lacking the chaos that seven or more cruise ships can bring to this small community, a visit before May means ample room to move about and explore Revillagigedo Island, upon which Ketchikan is located.

Whether you choose a walking tour of town to see historic buildings, artwork and the expansive docks, or take a longer, more rugged hike through the Tongass National Forest, you're sure to stay busy. You can find a wide range of accommodations, and learn about restaurants and car rentals, at Visit Ketchikan.

If you go:

Alaska's Rainforest Islands is a resource for all things Southeast Alaska, including a listing of communities activities, and trip-planning assistance. (www.alaskarainforestislands.org)

Alaska Marine Highway System ferries operate among all of the above communities and more, so if you have time to sail rather than fly, it's a great way to see more of Southeast Alaska. (www.ferryalaska.com)

Erin Kirkland is author of the Alaska On the Go guidebook series and publisher of AKontheGO.com, a family travel resource.