Hiking Wrangell’s Rainbow Falls

Today, I hiked Wrangell’s Rainbow Falls as part of Seabourn’s active Ventures by Seabourn shore excursion program. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Friday, June 30, 2017

At first blush, this is the kind of place you wouldn’t think to come to: a small village nestled into a hillside in the middle of nowhere. There are no big-name tourist shops. Diamonds International and the like have never had foothold here. And when Norwegian Cruise Line tried to turn this into a major port of call back in 2004-06, it didn’t take.

It might be precisely for those reasons that I love Wrangell, Alaska. I first came here back in 2005, aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Sun. And while Wrangell may not have suited guests on that 1,948-guest ship, it is the perfect fit for Seabourns 450-guest Seabourn Sojourn.

Seabourn Sojourn, docked in Wrangell, Alaska. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Today, only small-ship luxury vessels call on Wrangell. Just 24 calls will be made this year, and that’s up substantially from years’ past. But keeping things on the small-ship luxury level allows this gem of a town to stay that way, and the low passenger counts of ships like Seabourn Sojourn means that the town’s guests don’t overrun the place.

Situated at the north end of Wrangell Island just up the Clarence Strait from Ketchikan, the town of Wrangell has a population of approximately 2,300. If you’ve taken other cruises to Alaska before, you’re probably sailed right on past it and never knew: Wrangells is located about halfway between Ketchikan and Juneau.

Wrangell: an authentic Alaskan town with plenty of charm. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Wrangell’s greatest strength is its authenticity. A real, working-class village, Wrangell is graced with two grocery stores; a number of cute little shops and cafes; a hotel; and one of the roughest-looking bars (the Totem Bar) in Alaska. Its residents are hugely friendly, and seem to appreciate the small ships that call here. They’re more blunt about Norwegian Cruise Line’s efforts a decade ago. “Those sonsabitches wanted us to sell our stores to ‘em”, one local told me this morning.

Wrangell’s local museum is well-worth a visit…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and the town is amazingly easy to get around. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

If you’re here, there’s plenty to do. Wander along Front Street from the cruise ship dock. If you hang a right on Stikine Avenue (which turns into Evergreen Street), you can walk to one of my favorite spots: Petroglyph Beach. It’s about 1.5 miles away from the pier, and you can reach it in an easy 30-minute’s walk. Here, ancient carvings are still visible etched into the stones on the beach.

Follow Front Street around town and you’ll end up on Shakes Street. This serves as the entrance to Chief Shakes Tribal House, a recreated Tlingit tribal house located on Shakes Island that’s well worth the visit.

Wrangell’s Petroglyph Beach is seen in this photograph taken in May, 2005. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Back on Front Street wandering from the ship, hang a right on Campbell Street. You’ll pass behind Bob’s IGA grocery store and end up at the Wrangell Museum. The museum itself is quite fascinating, but the really noteworthy thing is the museum’s great gift shop, which boasts a fantastic selection of local interest books and handcrafted souvenirs. Outside the museum is a great vantage point with beautiful views of your ship.

You should also be sure to pick up a copy of the Wrangell Sentinel. For $1, you can catch up on all the latest happenings in Wrangell. I like the quaintness of the paper, which prints a list of who’s celebrating a birthday or an anniversary in town. It also includes a fascinating police blotter of various disturbances and incidents in Wrangell over the past week.

Our local guides accompanied our Ventures staff for our active hike on the Rainbow Falls trail near Wrangell. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Local transportation is used in Wrangell. In this case, a school bus. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

After walking around town, I departed from my usual routine of heading for Petroglyph Beach and instead joined one of Seabourn’s Ventures by Seabourn shore excursions.

Seabourn offers a total of 12 excursions in Wrangell, three of which are part of its exclusive  Ventures lineup. The three Ventures by Seabourn tours for Wrangell are:

  • Rainbow Falls Adventure Hike: 5 hours, $179 per person.
  • Rainbow Falls Adventure Hike – Up & Over: 7 hours, $229 per person.
  • Anan Creek: Exclusive Bear Viewing & Photography: 7 hours, $699 per person.

I chose the first option – the 3.5-hour Rainbow Falls Adventure Hike. The longer seven-hour hike was more strenuous and sounded amazing, but I wanted to have some free time to explore Wrangell.

Seabourn guests on the approach to…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…Rainbow Falls. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Seabourn does a great job of preparing you, in their written pre-cruise documentation and on-line, what to expect from each tour. I found the description of my hike through Rainbow Falls, about five miles outside the city, was perfectly accurate.

After a short drive onboard a local schoolbus, we entered into the Rainbow Falls trailhead. The trail is highly accessible, with wooden boardwalks topped with mesh metal grating throughout. While we covered less than a mile in distance, we made up for that with our elevation gain: about 500 feet spread out over 200 steps scattered along the trail.

A hiker’s paradise, the Rainbow Falls trail has been here for decades…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and is easily walkable by guests of various activity levels. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

There’s nothing like being in the heart of the forest…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…with no huge crowds from the larger cruise ships that never call on Wrangell. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

You should be reasonably fit for this hike. Though it’s not strenuous, there are numerous sections with stairs. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Rainbow Falls is a mixture of new and old-growth forest. It’s lush, quiet and serene. After hiking up at a comfortable pace for an hour, we reached a scenic lookout where our local guides distributed chocolate bars as a little energy boost. Our Seabourn Ventures expedition specialists were also there, accompanying our local guides, and adding to their advanced knowledge.

I also learned later that this particular hike was so popular that it was waitlisted by 17 people. Most cruise lines would say, “gee, we’re sorry, but the tour is full.” Seabourn added another departure entirely, which ended up being the one I was ticketed on. Talk about luxury!

Getting to Know You

Returning to Seabourn Sojourn…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…just in time to set sail. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Back onboard, Seabourn Sojourn let go her lines and we slipped away from our berth in Wrangell just after 4pm. Captain Tim came over the public address to inform us of the weather conditions on our overnight run up to Glacier Bay National Park, which will take us into the open Pacific. Summarized: rain, wind, and some swells.

There are plenty of things to enjoy about a Seabourn cruise, as I’m discovering. I’ve been floored to have received dinner invitations each and every night – a common thing on Seabourn for guests travelling solo, and even as couples. Each dinner has been a spectacular event, with great hosts and compelling guests filled with amazing stories. It’s been a hugely pleasant surprise.

Tonight, Seabourn’s Block Party encouraged guests to step out of their suites and mingle with their neighbours. Of course, cocktails and canapes were served, too! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Today, another Seabourn first: at 6:00pm, guests were invited to step into the corridor and stand outside their stateroom doors to get to know their neighbour. It’s a great idea, one that the line calls its Seabourn Block Party. I must admit, though, my suite’s location is a bit problematic for this, as it’s adjacent to the card room and the machinery room for the swimming pool. I can only see my neighbour across the way.

Evenings onboard Seabourn Sojourn are relaxing and uncomplicated. Live music takes place in several venues around the ship, and one production show or entertainment event is offered nightly in the Grand Salon on Deck 6.

Sailing north, towards Glacier Bay National Park. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Happening tonight onboard Seabourn Sojourn, from the Seabourn Herald:

  • 5:00p: A Conversation with John Fonseca, “Gold Rush Ports”. Grand Salon, Deck 6
  • 6:00p: Seabourn Block Party. Corridors.
  • 6:30 – 8:00p: The Club Trio featuring Danielle on Vocals. The Club, Deck 5
  • 6:30 – 8:00p: Panoramic Piano Moods with Bruno. Observation Bar, Deck 10
  • 9:00 – 9:45p: The Club Trio featuring Danielle on Vocals. The Club, Deck 5
  • 9:30 – 12:00mn: Smooth Piano and Vocals with Bruno. Observation Bar, Deck 10
  • 9:45p: Showtime – Seabourn Sessions. Grand Salon, Deck 6
  • 10:45p – late: The Club Trio featuring Danielle on Vocals. The Club, Deck 5

How do you choose what to do? Just know this – you can’t make a wrong choice aboard Seabourn Sojourn.

You can never go wrong with a nightcap in the Observation Bar on Deck 10. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report from Seabourn Sojourn’s Ultimate Alaska voyage continues tomorrow as we spend the day cruising Glacier Bay National Park. Follow along with our latest cruise adventures on Twitter: @deckchairblog.

Seabourn Sojourn - Ultimate Alaskan Sojourn

Monday, June 26, 2017Vancouver, British ColumbiaEmbark Seabourn Sojourn1700
Tuesday, June 27Cruise the Inside Passage; Seymour Narrows; Queen Charlotte Sound
Wednesday, June 28Ketchikan, Alaska08002300
Thursday, June 29Scenic cruising Misty Fjords
Friday, June 30Wrangell, Alaska07001600
Saturday, July 1Scenic cruising Glacier Bay National Park10002000
Sunday, July 2Cruising Tracy Arm and/or Endicott Arm
Monday, July 3Haines, Alaska07002000
Tuesday, July 4Juneau, Alaska08001700
Wednesday, July 5Sitka, Alaska10001900
Thursday, July 6At Sea
Friday, July 7, 2017Seward (Anchorage), Alaska0700Disembark

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