Friday, 6 July 2012 6:48 AM
Alaska is a region with a surprising variety of landscapes; it's all too easy to assume it's just ice and snow up there! One part of the state that's well worth a visit is Misty Fiords National Monument, thanks to its spectacular views and array of activities and sights.
The area is made up of two waterways carved out of the land by glacial activity that took place thousands of years ago. The biggest of these is Behm Canal, which is 117 miles long, while Portland Canal is 72 miles in length.
A vast expanse of forest lies on the land between the two fiords, bringing the total area of the monument to an impressive 2.3 million acres. It makes up most of the Tongass National Forest, which is itself 3.2 million acres in size.
Unusually for an attraction of this scale, visitors can only get to Misty Fiords by sea or air. Those opting for the former option can do so via a boat from Ketchikan or an Alaskan touring cruise that will explore the other sights of the US state's coast.
There are several points of interest that holidaymakers should make an effort to see. One of these is the intriguing native rock paintings - or pictographs - created by indigenous people on cliff walls and in areas such as New Eddystone Rock and Punchbowl Cove.
More generally, you are likely to see plenty of wildlife as you explore the monument, whether it's by boat or on foot. All five kinds of Pacific salmon can be found here, along with sea lions, river otters, killer whales, porpoises and harbour seals.
Stay on land and you might see birds such as bald eagles and hummingbirds, or animals ranging from brown and black bears to wolves, mountain goats, moose and wolverines.
Active pursuits are especially popular for visitors to Misty Fiords. Various types of fishing can be indulged in here, including freshwater spin and fly fishing for steelhead, trout and salmon, and saltwater fishing for ling cod, rockfish and halibut.
If you prefer to get out on the water, kayaking is probably the most common pursuit at the monument. Many people flock to the inlets and coves scattered along the two waterways for this purpose, with some spending a few hours or a full day kayaking, and others using the US Forest Service's cabins and shelters to stay for a longer period of time.
The best way to get to the inlets for kayaking is by booking a boat trip from nearby Ketchikan; passage can also be arranged for the journey back if you are staying in the city or want to do some sightseeing there. This offers the benefit of having all your gear transported with you, so you don't necessarily have to kayak all the way to Misty Fiords from Ketchikan!
Hiking is another option for those keen to explore the forested parts of the monument. One great way to see as much as possible of the region is by booking a flightseeing plane trip that lands on the water and lets you get off to spend a few hours trekking through the forest.
Alternatively, you can book a combined boat and floatplane trip to see Misty Fiords from both the water and the air; the experience of sailing through Behm Canal and Rudeyard Canal before taking off to drink in the spectacular view of the monument from high up is an unforgettable one.
Once you've had your fill of Misty Fiords, it's well worth heading to Ketchikan to take in its various attractions. If you want to find out more about the culture of the indigenous peoples, the Totem Heritage Center offers a fantastic collection of 19th-century totem poles for viewing, while the Saxman Native Village just out of town gives some background on the Tlingit people.
You can also get to grips with local wildlife by paying a visit to the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery and Eagle Center, find out more about the Tongass National Forest by heading to the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center or learn about the timber sector and its effect on the environment here at the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary.