Column: Visiting Icy Strait Point


In our continuing tour of Alaska, we stop at Icy Strait Point, about 30 miles west of Juneau, which provides a great experience and is a wonderful economic and cultural success story.

Icy Strait Point is a privately owned tourist destination on Chichagof Island, the fifth-largest island in the United States, which reportedly contains more bears per square mile that any other place in the world. In 1996, the Huna Totem Corp., owned by 1,300 indigenous Alaskans, purchased the 23,000-acre site using proceeds received under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. They named the area, which includes a beach front and a temperate rain forest, after Icy Strait, which separates Chichagof Island from the Alaskan mainland, and began trying to convince cruise lines going to Juneau to stop there. In 2004, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship did stop, opening the way for other lines to make Icy Strait Point a regular destination on their Alaska cruises.

Today, more than 100 cruise ships dock at Icy Strait Point each summer, providing an enormous economic boost to nearby Noonah, a town of about 900, most of them indigenous Tlingit people.

Visitors to Icy Strait Point have a variety of things to do. A building on the site that once housed the Hoonah Canning Co., now includes a museum, a restaurant, shops and some original fish-canning equipment. Whale watching trips leaving from Icy Strait Point guarantee that passengers will see whales. A $30 million gondola transporter, completed in 2022, takes visitors to the top of Hoonah Mountain, where they can explore the rain forest or ride a mile-long zip line dropping more than 1,300 feet, considered one of the longest and highest in the world. Visitors can also take a 30-minute walk to Hoonah, where they can see authentic totem poles and experience the Tlingit culture.