Best Things to do in Alaska Cruise Ports on your own

Planning a cruise to Alaska but don’t like organized tours? Great news! There are plenty of wonderful things you can do completely on your own, and many of them are free or very affordable.

I’ve worked in the Alaska cruise industry since the late 90s and have lived in two Alaska cruise ports. I have spent lots of time in all the ports, both exploring on my own and on tours. I’m skeptical of organized tours myself, despite or perhaps because of, being a guide for so long.

There are many wonderful tours available on Alaska cruises and I would encourage you to consider doing one, since there are so many experiences you just can’t get on your own.

This article is about the things you can do completely on your own, without organized tours. All of them are incredibly fun and will give you an unforgettable experience on your Alaska adventure!

Hiking and Walks

A log fence with green meadows and trees and a view of the water and islands below
View from the Rainbird Trail in Ketchikan

Every Alaska cruise port has plenty of hikes you can do straight from the cruise ship dock! If you’re a hiker, check out my full guide to hiking in Alaska cruise ports.

Even if you’re not a hiker, there are plenty of opportunities for mellow hikes and walks that get you outside of the bustling cruise port and out into the forests, beaches and trails of Alaska in just a few minutes, completely for free!

A few favorite mellow walks of mine are:

  • Ketchikan – Along Tongass Highway (there’s a separated path along the road) towards Saxman Native Village – a beautiful walk along the water that leads in a couple of flat miles to Saxman.
  • Juneau – The Seawalk with many gorgeous totem poles along the water to the beautiful whale sculpture. If you take the city bus over to Douglas there is also a wonderful flat trail from Sandy Beach.
  • Skagway – The Gold Rush Cemetery and Lower Reid Falls – about 2.5 flat miles from the dock, a fascinating cemetery and beautiful waterfall
  • Icy Strait Point – There are a collection of trails at the dock in Icy Strait Point, or you can walk about a mile and a half along the water to the village of Hoonah.
  • Haines – make sure to walk around the grounds of old Fort Seward, a large grassy area with historic buildings all around it
  • Sitka – Do not miss the walk around Sitka National Historical Park through a rainforest of towering trees with totem poles from across Alaska along the way. You can walk up to a couple of flat miles on well maintained (though not paved) trails in the park.
A totem pole with red, green and black paint in front of a mountain with lingering snow
One of the many totem poles along the Seawalk in Juneau with Mt Juneau in the background

Things to do on your own in Juneau

In addition to hikes and walks to, here are a few other ideas for things to do on your own in Juneau. One thing that people often want to do on their own that is really challenging to make work is visiting Mendenhall Glacier. It’s definitely easiest to get there on a tour or shuttle.

Explore Juneau’s amazing food scene

Juneau is an amazing food town and foodies should definitely spend some time eating and drinking their way around Juneau. I know this article is about exploring on your own, but if you’re into food and hyper local experiences, definitely consider Juneau Food Tours Tour with Taste. They have tiny groups with all local guides and it’s a really wonderful experience. You can book it here (your ship may offer it also, if so book early as there are only a few spots).

Alaska State Museum

Juneau is Alaska’s state capitol, so it’s no surprise there will be an excellent museum here! You can walk to the museum as well as the State capitol building and the Governor’s mansion from the dock. This combines well with a walk on the Juneau Seawalk, taking in views of mountains, Gastineau Channel and lots of beautiful totem poles.

Rent a car and drive “out the road”

If you’re up for dealing with a rental car, you can drive Juneau’s entire road system in a couple of hours. This is a great way to get out of town and see some beautiful rocky beaches and coves as well as the rainforest.

Take the bus to Sandy Beach

Ride the city bus across to Douglas Island and join the locals at Sandy Beach. In addition to a big and, well, sandy beach, you can also explore the trail system around an old mine, or grab a delicious and creative pizza at the Island Pub.

A sandy beach on an overcast day with forested hills in the background
Sandy Beach on Douglas Island

Take the Mt Roberts Tram

You can book the Mt Roberts tram through your ship, but you don’t really need to in order to check it out. If you can see the top of the tram from the bottom, then the view will be worth it!

In addition to a great view, you can quickly leave the crowds behind by hitting the trail for even better views.

View from the top of Mt Roberts in Juneau on an overcast day. There are forested hillsides in the foreground and higher mountains with lingering snow in the background
View from Mt Roberts

Things to do on your own in Ketchikan

Spend part of a day in Ketchikan exploring the shops of historic creek street. Several brightly colored historic wooden buildings are built on wooden piers above the water. The water is calm and the buildings are reflected in it. There are evergreen trees behind the buildings on the hill
Creek Street in Ketchikan

Ketchikan has lots of things to do close to the the cruise ship docks on your own. This is another port with some excellent hiking, such as the Rainbird Trail for a mellow rainforest walk, and Deer Mountain for a tough and steep climb.

Alaska Public Lands Information Center

This free museum is an excellent introduction to Alaska, and especially if Ketchikan is your first port on your cruise, this is a wonderful stop. You’ll learn all about Alaska’s vast public lands and they have tons of literature and maps too.

Totem Heritage Center and Ketchikan Salmon Walk

The Totem Heritage Center is a short walk or shuttle ride from the cruise ship docks and charges a small admission fee. Here you can learn about Native Alaska culture as well as see many totem poles that Southeast Alaska is known for both inside and outside in the park.

Visit the local shops on Creek Street

Creek Street is a historic strip up on stilts above the creek (often full of salmon in mid to late summer). There are lots of locally owned shops here and it’s a great place to find gifts as well as see some beautiful historic buildings.

Things to do on your own in Skagway

A giant rhubarb plant with a person standing next to it for scale
If you’re wandering around Skagway, do not miss the giant rhubarb plant!

Skagway is the smallest town on this list and the hardest on to escape cruise ship crowds. The hikes available from downtown Skagway right by the docks are absolutely fantastic and you can quickly get away from crowds. If you’re a hiker, there are so many amazing options here. For a mellower hike that still gets your heart rate up, try Lower Dewey Lake. For a longer hike, try Sturgill’s landing. For a tough climb to amazing views, AB mountain is amazing. It’s super challenging though so do you research and be prepared for a very hard hike.

For those looking for something more mellow, try these ideas.

Gold Rush Cemetery

The Gold Rush Cemetery is just over two flat, paved miles from the dock, though the cemetery itself is not paved. A fascinating look back in history at the time of Skagway’s founding and many colorful gold rush era characters buried here.

National Park Service Visitor Center and Historical walking tour

The park service offers a free walking tour of the downtown Skagway area, where nearly all the buildings are owned by the park service. You can also go to the visitor center and get the lay of the land for a self guided tour of the historic buildings of downtown Skagway.

Look for Salmon in Pullen Creek

During July and August, look for pink salmon spawning in Pullen Creek. Just head out like you’re going to hike the Lower Dewey Lake Trail and you’ll cross a creek over a footbridge. Look down for fish!

Really anywhere along the creek is good for looking for them, but this is a good spot that’s easy to get to.

Things to do on your own in Sitka

A few rocks in the water in the foreground and in the background the port of Sitka. In the distance is a snow covered volcano
Sitka from the waterfront trail between downtown and Sitka National Historic Park

Sitka is a wonderful Alaska cruise port to explore on your own. The cruise ship dock is quite far from downtown, but there’s a free shuttle to take you there and back.

Sitka National Historical Park

If you only do one thing in Sitka, make it this. About a mile and a half of smooth, wide, flat trails through the rainforest take you to a large collection of Totem Poles from all over Southeast Alaska. You also get to the riverbank and the beach and it’s a great place to see eagles.

You can walk there from downtown, going past the Sitka Sound Science Center (pop in to learn about sea life) and Ludwig’s Chowder Cart.

A totem pole in the forest at Sitka National Historical park
One of the many totem poles in Sitka National Historical Park

Visit St Michael’s Cathedral

For a small donation, you can visit St Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral. It’s a small, but beautiful church with a ton of history going back to when Sitka was the capital of Russian America.

Check out the view from Baranoff Castle State Historic Site

This site on top of a small hill has a great view and was the location where Alaska was formally handed off from Russia to the United States in 1867. It is also the first place in the US where the US flag with 49 stars was raised after Alaska became a state in 1959.

Explore the shops and restaurants

Sitka is another fantastic Alaska food town. Make sure to go to Ashmo’s fish food truck, Ludwig’s Chowder Cart (by the Sitka Sound Science Center) and the backdoor cafe behind the wonderful bookstore.

There are lots of wonderful local shops downtown including an art co-op and several outfitters for buying Alaska gear.

Ashmo's food truck in Sitka
Ashmo’s has amazing fish tacos and smoked salmon mac and cheese!

Things to do on your own in Icy Strait Point/Hoonah

When you dock at Icy Strait Point, you’re about a mile and a half from the village of Hoonah. The main services for visitors (tours, activities and food) are right at the dock at Icy Strait Point.

You can explore the trails, food and activities at the Icy Strait Point dock, all of which are Native Alaskan owned. If you want to get further away on your own, your best option is to walk along the road toward the village of Hoonah.

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Jennie Flaming
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite. I lived in Alaska for many years and I still spend lots of time there every year visiting friends and working as a tour director. I've been a guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington, am a field editor for the Milepost and host the Alaska Uncovered Podcast about Alaska Travel as well as the Washington State Hiking Podcast. I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you here!