Whale Watching Alaska - Everything You Need To Know

Hoonah Whale Watching

Going on a whale-watching adventure is an exciting thing to do on an Alaska cruise itinerary. For many people, seeing these beautiful, gentle giants playing in their natural habitat is at the top of their travel wish list. Start your preparations long before embarking on your cruise to have the best whale-watching experience.

When Is The Best Time Of Year For Whale Watching In Alaska?

Alaska whale-watching cruises happen in the summer. Migrating whales, like people, prefer to spend their winters in the warm waters of Hawaii, Central America, and Mexico. In May, the nutrient-rich waters of Point Adolphus, Glacier Bay, and Icy Strait attract large numbers of humpback whales.

For the warmest weather in Alaska, travelers should visit from June through August when average temperatures are in the sixties. However, that is also the busiest tourist season. Warmer weather brings loads of visitors sailing on large cruise ships. A small town like Hoonah, AK, has a year-round population of only 800 residents. However, on busy summer days, as many as ten thousand cruise ship passengers will disembark in Hoonah.

The shoulder season for Glacier Bay National Park and Chichagof Island is in May and September. For travelers who want to see the whales with fewer tourists, that is the best time to visit. Typically the humpbacks will arrive first, followed by orcas. 

What To Pack For An Alaska Whale-Watching Cruise

Summer weather in Alaska can be unpredictable. You’ll want to dress in layers and bring a sweatshirt. Temperatures will generally be in the fifties and sixties, but it can also be 70 degrees and sunny. Be sure to check the forecast online the day before your whale-watching trip. Whale-watching Alaska tours head out rain or shine, so be prepared. Pack a lightweight rain jacket.

Bring your binoculars if you have them. You may not need them to see a giant 50-Ton humpback whale breaching, but they will come in handy to spot bald eagles, puffins, or brown bears on the coastline. It’s better to bring them just in case.

Depending on what time of day you will be out on the water, you might also want to bring snacks or drinks in your day pack. Most whale-watching tours will be on the water for two to three hours.

What Wildlife Can You Potentially See On A Hoonah Whale-Watching Cruise?

Most visitors to Alaska will come for three things. Fishing, whale watching, and seeing the incredible wildlife. If you are an animal enthusiast, then you will love Hoonah, AK.

Chichagof Island and Glacier Bay National Park is a top spot to see marine mammals like:

  • Humpback whales

  • Sea lions

  • Sea otters

  • Harbor seals

  • Dall’s porpoise

There are also loads of birds like cormorants, puffins, and bald eagles. Watch closely along the coastline, and you might even see a brown bear! Hoonah is home to the largest concentration of Alaskan brown bears anywhere in the world.

What Whales Are In Alaska During The Summer?

  • Blue whales are found in the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska

  • California gray whales migrate from Baja California and head to Alaska

  • Fin whales are often found in the Bering Sea and Kenai Fjords National Park

  • Orca or killer whales spend their summer around Glacier Bay, Icy Strait Point, the Chukchi, and Beaufort seas

  • Alaska minke whales are commonly found in the Bering Sea, Kenai Fjords National Park, and around Southeast Alaska

What Are The Best Boats For Whale Watching Alaska?

The best whale-watching boats will have a large outdoor viewing deck and big windows to allow for the best sighting inside and out. The boat should also be low on the water for the best viewing experience.

Smaller boats, under 40 passengers, allow for an intimate experience. Even during the warmer summer months, the temperature on the water can be cool, and having an indoor area to stay warm and dry provides a better overall experience.

What’s The Best Way To Be Sure I Will See Wildlife On An Alaska Whale-Watching Excursion?

Alaska cruises have a limited amount of time in each port. Make the most of your time in Hoonah by taking an excursion with a local guide who knows the best places to go for whale watching and wilderness tours.

Hoonah Travel Adventures is the premier whale-watching tour operator near Icy Strait Point. Instead of being elbow to elbow on a big boat shore excursion, you can have an intimate experience on a small boat that’s custom-built for an Alaska whale-watching cruise.

The local guides with Hoonah Travel Adventures are so confident in their ability to find whales that they offer a whale-watching guarantee. If no whale is sighted on your tour, you will receive a $100 credit. Plus, you’ll be in a safe, comfortable boat with a large viewing deck and heated cabins.

Hoonah Travel Adventures is a veteran-owned small business committed to providing guests with the best whale-watching experience. Book your next great whale-watching adventure!

3 hours
Group Size
Up to 30

Guaranteed Whale Watching in the Icy Strait Point, Alaska Area - LEO, Military, Teacher Discount!

Our Hoonah whale watching tour begins when we pick you up at the Icy Strait Point Excursions Hub. We drive along Shaman Point to the Hoonah City Harbor where our charter boat is waiting. Along the way, you may spot some of our local wildlife, including bald eagles, blacktail deer, and more. Hoonah is home to the largest concentration of Alaskan brown bears in the world, so keep your eyes open!

We then board the boat and leave Hoonah Harbor. While traveling along the shorelines, sightings of bears, deer, coastal ducks and geese, blue heron, puffin, terns, cormorants, and more are common. In the water, you may get a chance to spot humpbacks, orca, sea otters, sea lions, porpoises, and seals.

Large numbers of humpback whales come to Hoonah to feed in the nutrient-rich waters of Point Adolphus, Glacier Bay and Icy Strait every summer before migrating south again in the winter. The whale population begins to arrive in Hoonah in May and stays through September. Humpback whales are large baleen whales that can reach over 50 feet in length and weigh as much as 50 tons. They are most famous for their whale songs, thought to be used by males as a mating call. Humpbacks are amazingly active and typical whale sightings include diving, blows, and flukes (tails). Lucky whale watchers may get to see breaching or bubble-net feeding, a cooperative feeding method where a pod forms a circle and dives under the water. They blow air to create a wall of bubbles that force krill and plankton to the surface where the whales can eat them. Observing humpbacks practice bubble-net feeding is a real treat and a truly thrilling experience. We have a $100 whale sighting guarantee! If a whale is not sighted on your tour your will be credited $100.

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3 hours
Group Size
Up to 10

Wilderness Tour and Brown Bear Search - LEO, Military, Teacher Discount!

Chichagof Island, or Shee Kaax, is an island in the Alexander Archipelago of the Alaska Panhandle. At 75 miles long and 50 miles wide, it has a land area of 2,048.61 square miles, making it the fifth largest island in the United States. Chichagof Island has the highest population of bears per square mile of any place on Earth and its dense rain forests are some of the last grizzly strongholds!

The community of Hoonah, with a year-round population of approximately 750, is located in the northern part of Chichagof Island. The vast majority of the island is made up of pure, uninhabited Alaskan wilderness teeming with wildlife! The Ursus arctos, or brown bear, is the king of the forest, but Sitka black-tail deer, bald eagles, minks, martens, beavers, ducks, and seabirds thrive on the island and are sometimes spotted on this tour.

This Alaskan wilderness and bear search tour is only offered May through September because those are the months that afford the highest probability of bear sightings. In late April and May, the bears are coming out of hibernation and looking for food. In June, the bears are mating and eating grasses on the tidal flats. Older males fight each other for dominance and mating rights with the females, who at times are not receptive and force the male to give chase.

In July, the salmon start their migration from the ocean up the rivers and we find the bears feeding in coastal rivers and streams. In August and September, the salmon have made it further up the rivers to shallow streams where the bears chase them.

Depending on the month and the weather, the wildlife can be found in different locations throughout the island. Your guide spends a lot of time in the forest and knows where to look.

Join us as we search for these amazing creatures!

This tour is located on the Tongass National Forest under special use permit from the Forest Service, USDA.
Hoonah Travel Adventures LLC is an equal opportunity provider.

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3 hours
Group Size
Up to 6

Icy Strait Fishing Adventure

Fishermen come from around the world to cast their lines in the waters of Southeast Alaska in search of halibut and salmon. Join the ranks of these traveling fisherman and book a trip with us today!

3 hours
Group Size
Up to 12

Icy Strait Kayak Adventure

The reasons to Kayak with us are endless! A few reasons might be to experience unspoiled nature and stunning scenery amid a mountainous back drop! Or simply the serenity and peace that speaks to ones soul while gliding silently across the water in this majestic, remote location.

3 hours 30 minutes
Group Size
2 to 10

Chichagof Island Birding & Nature Adventure

In the lush vegetation of Chichagof Island, near Hoonah, Alaska, where Brown Bears outnumber humans, birding is an adventure! Your expert bird guide is also a naturalist, and you will learn about the natural and human history of the area, the plants, animals, fish, forests, and rivers. Pigeon Guillemots, Bald Eagles, Varied Thrushes, Steller’s Jays, Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Red-breasted Sapsuckers are some of the favorites, but this is so much more than just another birding tour. Come experience the vibrant ecological web created here, in Hoonah, Alaska, near Icy Strait Point where the towering temperate forests of Chichagof Island tangle with the rich marine life of Icy Strait.