Inside Passage small ship cruise
Cruising the inside passage by sail

The Inside Passage: Along the Alaska and BC Coast


Inside Passage mapThe Inside Passage, also called the Inland Passage or the Inner Passage, is a stretch of protected ocean approx. 1,500 km long, that runs from Puget Sound in Washington State, USA, along the British Columbia, Canada coastline, to Skagway, Alaska, USA. It is a popular cruising area and marine transportation route, due to its absence of open ocean swells and its relatively flat and calm waters.

CONTENTS: What Is the Inside Passage?| Tour the Inside Passage: Alaska's Inside Passage or Canada's Inside Passage | Brief History of the Inside Passage | Inside Passage Today | Cruising the Inside Passage

  • TIP: On Inside Passage cruises with Maple Leaf, you'll sail on a 92-foot, classic schooner with just 8 guests to explore the wildlife and spectacular natural world. You'll have exceptional experiences of the area's whales, bears, seabirds, rainforest, and other wildlife, with our expert, local naturalists and guides. Read more about these small ship cruises here.

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What Is the Inside Passage?

The Inside Passage is one of earth's best cruising routes. It is formed where the spectacular mountainous coasts of Alaska, British Columbia and Washington State meet the Pacific Ocean.

sailing the inside passageA thousand-mile chain of island archipelagos lie west of the continent's edge. Open ocean swells of the Pacific break against the islands' western shores and their energy is released. Thus the ocean inside these islands -- the Inside Passage -- is calm and protected. This means virtually anyone can cruise here without getting sick.

The combination of the thousands of islands and the upwelling at the continent's edge also creates a rich marine environment.

The Inside Passage teems with marine life: from humbpack whales, fin whales, killer whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea lions, salmon sharks and other large animals to millions upon millions of fish, seabirds and invertebrates. On shore, the coastal rainforest provides habitat for grizzly/brown bears, black bears including the rare spirit bear, wolves, and many other mammals. An emerging expedition cruise or small ship cruise industry, mostly operated by local Canadian and American companies, lets visitors experience the wonder of this natural world by becoming part of it. These are the Inside Passage small ship cruises that we offer at Maple Leaf Adventures.

viewing humpback whales, inside passage bcMuch of the Inside Passage is still in its ancient and pristine natural condition. There are some cities and towns along it, including Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver, Campbell River, Prince Rupert, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Juneau, and Skagway.

Tour the Inside Passage

This incredible stretch of coastline (about 50,000 km when you count the coasts of every island and fjord!) has several distinct areas. Each is worth a separate tour, which is why we have divided it up this way.

Alaska's Inside Passage

Alaska's Inside Passage- Southeast Alaska is home to the coast's only remaining tidewater glaciers - glaciers that calve into the sea.

up close with glaciers on an alaska cruise tourHighlights of our southeast Alaska cruise include glaciers,rainforest, sea otters, brown bears, humpback whales, hot springs and historic towns such as Ketchikan, Petersburg and Sitka. We take just a small group of guests per trip, which gives you a very personalized experience of this spectacular natural world!

Canada's Inside Passage - British Columbia's Inside Passage is divided into several areas:

  • The Great Bear Rainforest (north part of Canada's Inside Passage) - Highlights are spectacular fjords, incredible bear viewing of grizzly bears and the rare white spirit bear, rainforests, hot springs and rich First Nations cultural history. This area contains the largest intact temperate rainforest on the planet. Large ships do not visit this area and travelling here is one of the most astonishing experiences in nature.
  • Vancouver Island's Inside Passage (southern Inside Passage) - Highlights are killer whales and dolphins, island-hopping, rainforests, beaches, warmer weather, and remote coastal communities.
  • Gulf Islands National Park Reserve (southern Inside Passage) - Highlights are the dry rainforest, island-hopping and great sailing, warmer weather, marine mammals such as sea lions and porpoises, great hiking, superb local agriculture, and its wild and natural state that is yet close to metropolitan areas of Victoria, Vancouver and Seattle.

Also related:Haida Gwaii / The Queen Charlotte Islands- just west of the inside passage, directly along the continental shelf, lies the archipelago of Haida Gwaii. Known also as the "Canadian Galapagos", these approx. 140 islands teem with whales, seabirds, intertidal life and rainforests.

SGang Gwaay / Haida GwaiiThey are also home to the Haida culture, where guests can visit traditional Haida village sites on islands in the archipelago. This little-known but incredible place is on many Canadians' "bucket list". Contains UN World Heritage Site SGang Gwaay.

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Brief History of the Inside Passage

Much of the Inside Passage was covered in ice during the last ice age. Advancing glaciers carved massive fjords into the coastline, which are now navigable and which our small ship cruises explore.

People have been living along the Inside Passage for a very long time. Due to the fluctuations in sea level over the millenia, likely much record of human habitation is under water. The coastal First Nations have travelled the Inside Passage in spectacular seagoing canoes for millenia. In Europe's age of exploration, Russians, Spanish and English explorers sailed into the area and began charting it. From 1791-95, England's Capt. George Vancouver did extensive charts of the entire Inside Passage and he and his crew are responsible for many of the non-First Nations names on the map today.

bear viewing in the inside passageWhen the United States purchased Alaska, in 1867, Americans began travelling north to see this new part of their country. Not long after, the first expeditio- type cruises to Alaska started. Cruising Alaska has been popular ever since.

The Inside Passage Today

Today, this body of water is best known for inside passage cruises (or inner passage cruises, as some people call them). It is also a marine transportation route for goods travelling between Seattle and Alaska (and points in between), as well as for passenger ferries. It's a popular boating route for private boaters as well as commercial cruise companies.

Recently, as people started to demand high-quality, experiential trips, the diversity of cruise ships has increased.

Now, in addition to the large 2,000-passenger ships traditionally associated with Inside Passage cruise tours, you can enjoy active, small ship cruises like those that we offer at Maple Leaf Adventures.

The Inside Passage is also a popular area to live, with people moving to the communities in the southern portion from other parts of the US and Canada. And while much of the area is in its natural state, citizens are working hard to protect it by law from destruction - protecting the rainforests, the marine life, the bears and whales and remote beaches.

Cruising the Inside Passage

What's your style? Compare Alaskan and Inside Passage cruises here:

  • inside passage cruise shipsExpedition Cruises by Small Ship- These are the trips that we at Maple Leaf Adventures have offered for over 25 years. On these inside passage cruises, you are part of a group of just 8 or 9 guests who experience the wonder of the coastline, its wildlife, its rainforests, beaches and cultures. Our trips include: Alaska Adventures (Alaska Inside Passage), Great Bear Rainforest (Canada's Inside Passsage - north), Gulf Islands National Park and Vancouver Island area (Canada's Inside Passage - south). Also we visit Haida Gwaii / Queen Charlotte Islands, just west of the Inside Passage (the Canadian Galapagos). You'll go ashore frequently to experience the coastal world, as well as sailing the inside passage .These are all-inclusive cruises.View these Inside Passage expedition cruises.
  • Inside Passage Ferry - Both the Alaskan and British Columbian government ferry systems operate a transport network between coastal towns. Some people who wish to see the landscape but not spend time exploring it also choose to travel the inside passage this way.
  • Big Ship Cruises - These are the cruises most people think of when they hear the the words "Alaska cruise tour". The ships are about 950 feet long and carry about 2,000 passengers. Unlike small Alaskan cruise ships, these big ships stop only at port towns. The experience is completely different from expedition cruises by sailing ship and are for people who don't wish to experience the nature of Alaska as their top priority.

View Maple Leaf's inside passage Sailing Cruises Listing.

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