Misty Fjords, Alaska

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Photo © Adam Sawyer

by Adam Sawyer

In a part of the country that could be described as the Northwest on steroids, Southeast Alaska’s Misty Fjords National Monument somehow manages to be a standout attraction. It’s tucked into the bottom portion of the Tongass National Forest, the nation’s largest. Thanks in large part to the glacier-carved landscape, legendary naturalist John Muir compared the Misty Fjords to his favorite inspirational wilderness, Yosemite. An understandable comparison, if only Yosemite were surrounded by ocean and studded with lakes and canals spread out over two million acres.

Just over 20 miles east of Ketchikan, the Misty Fjords might as well be worlds away. The cloud-shrouded rainforest area earns its name most of the year, but there are also periods during summer when the fjords are showcased by bluebird skies. There’s no wrong way to explore the fjords, but perhaps the best way to really take it in is via floatplane and catamaran with Misty Fjords Cruise & Fly.

The floatplane leaves from Ketchikan and immediately ascends to an elevation that provides an endless panorama of Alaskan wilderness. Entering the Fjords, the landscape becomes exponentially more dramatic—deep, u-shaped fjords, crystal blue lakes and 3,000-foot cliff faces that launch from the sea dominate the horizon. The plane skirts imposing walls of granite and buzzes over majestic alpine waterfalls before banking over a ridgeline and descending into a pristine canal guarded on all sides by untouched scenery.

The aircraft makes an easy water landing and steers over to a floating dock where the catamaran awaits. Now at sea level, the fjords take on a different tenor. The cliffs more immediate, the ancient trees more stalwart, and the remoteness more palpable. The guided boat tour visits coves that are home to hidden waterfalls and ancient native pictographs. The flora and fauna are detailed and displayed expertly as the boat navigates the waterways back toward Ketchikan.

As a last hurrah, the boat rounds New Eddystone Rock as it leaves the Fjords. The iconic basalt pillar stands guard like a scenic sentry at the entrance of the Misty Fjords National Monument. The fun isn’t over, however, as the landscape during the boat ride back into Ketchikan could hardly be described as uninteresting.

The Misty Fjords are home to an inspirational wilderness that’s about as good as it gets. It’s remote yet accessible and pins the meter on the scenery scale. In other words, quintessential Northwest.

To plan a stay in Ketchikan, go to visit-ketchikan.com.

To book your Misty Fjords tour, visit mistyfjordscruisefly.com.