Alaska the superlatives describing our 49th state always begin with biggest, it is the biggest state in the Union, one-fifth the size of the entire lower 48, and has the tallest mountain in all of North America, Mount McKinley at 20,320 feet high plus is home to the biggest state park in the U. S., Wood-Tikchik State Park, which boasts some 1.6 million acres of wilderness. The list of biggies goes on to include being the biggest producer of zinc luring in the biggest king salmon at 97 pounds four ounces and the worlds largest concentration of glaciers covering some 29,000 square miles. It is no wonder that Alaska is one of the most popular cruise travel destinations in the world.One of the key features of cruising is to be able to get to know more about the destinations being visited. Cruise lines have expanded their shore excursion options and offer a variety of packages and kinds of experiences for travelers to choose from. Here are some examples of what is being offered.WrangellThis is one of the most popular and one of the newest ports of call. It is the third oldest community in Alaska and the only city in the state to be ruled by four nations and under three flags: Tlingit, Russia, England and the United States. Fur trading was prominent under the first three “rulers,” but by 1861 gold had been discovered on the Stikine River. Until Skagway came into existence, Wrangell was the trade center for all gold rushers as the Stikine River was the principal access to the Klondike fields. It is been reported at one point some 10,000 persons were held in Wrangell while waiting for supplies and transportation to the gold fields. The current population of Wrangell is 2,600. Shore excursions offered range from a one and one-half hour city highlight tour to a five-hour Petersburg “Little Norway” adventure. A myriad of more active outdoor experiences are also featured.On the city tour, you will learn not only the colorful history of the community but also the significance of the Stikine River and its influence on the citys development. Of special interest is a visit to Petroglyph Beach, recently designated a State Historic Park, which has the highest concentration of rock carvings in southeast Alaska, dating some 8,000 years before the Tlingit tribes. A petroglyph rubbing demonstration and a visit to the Wrangell Museum are also included. A selection of Stikine River jet boat adventures, island jeep and sea excursions, kayaking, hiking in the footsteps of John Muir and experiencing the magic of a rainforest are available to the more adventurous travelers. Contact: 800-367-9745,SitkaSome 90 miles west is the historic capital of Russian-America, Sitka. It was once referred to as the “Paris of the Pacific” for its cosmopolitan atmosphere and sociability in welcoming trading ships that traveled the coast of North America en-route to Russia and the Orient. It is the ancestral home of the Tlingit Indians, was captured by the Russians and eventually sold to the Americans. The Tlingit and Russian heritage is evident throughout the community of 9,000 residents that continues to be rich in beauty, charm and hospitality.There are 19 structures here that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, seven of which have been designated National Historic Landmarks. There are tours to visit these structures, which include the Anb Hall and the Alaska Native Brotherhood building that was constructed in 1914 in the heart of the Tlingit Village. Russian heritage tours include stops at the Log Cache building 29, a structure remaining from the Russian era, the Russian Cemetery a replica of the Russian Block House Saint Michaels Cathedral, the first Russian Orthodox Cathedral in America and Castle Hill, site of the transfer of Alaska to the United States.A tour to the Sitka National Historical Park where the 1804 Battle of Alaska was fought between the Russians and Tlingits is also available. The 107-acre park hosts a collection of Haida and Tlingit totem poles as well as an exhibit of Russian and Tlingit artifacts.Another shore excursion highlight is to visit the Alaska Raptor Center, a pioneering wildlife project dedicated to the preservation of these birds of prey. For the adventurer, there are several options for sea excursions that explore the eel grass beds and kelp forests and underwater explorations of jellyfish, anemones, crab, starfish and a variety of aquatic plants. Contact: 907-747-5940,SkagwayLocated northeast of Juneau, Skagway is home of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. Here visitors can retrace the steps of the Klondike Gold Rush miners either by climbing the Chilkoot Trail or taking the famous White Pass and Yukon Railroad. The rail trip follows the Dead Horse Trail, which was followed by over 30,000 prospectors who spent three months crossing the mountain range en route to the gold fields. The rail trip does cross into Canada and passengers need to present international identification to complete this crossing.This article is sponsored by:

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