The term "Inside Passage" is also often used to refer to the ocean and islands around the passage itself. The Inside Passage is also sometimes referred to as the "Inland Passage" which is in turn a reference to early explorers' quests to locate the Northwest Passage between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean.
It is generally accepted that the Inside Passage starts in Puget Sound in Washington and then extends north, first along the British Columbia Coast and then the Alaska Panhandle. In use during the Klondike Gold Rush the passage was one of the sea routes from Seattle and California carrying prospectors north.
British Columbia's portion of the route has up to 25,000 miles (40,000 km) of coastline. It includes the narrow, protected Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland, the Johnstone Strait between Vancouver Island and the mainland, as well as a short stretch along the wider and more exposed Hecate Strait near the Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands). From Fitz Hugh Sound northwards, the route is sheltered from Pacific winds and waves by the various large islands in the area such as Princess Royal Island (Princess Royal Channel and Tolmie Channel) and Pitt Island (Grenville Channel).
The Alaskan portion of the Inside Passage extends 500 miles (800 km) from north to south and 100 miles (160 km) from east to west. The area encompasses 1,000 islands, 15,000 miles (24,000 km) of shoreline and thousands of coves and bays. While the Alexander Archipelago in Alaska provides some protection from the Pacific Ocean weather, much of the area experiences strong semi-diurnal tides which can create extreme 30-foot (9 m) differences between high and low tide, so careful piloting is necessary in many places in order to not collide with underwater obstructions.
The Inside Passage is a popular tourism destination. The coastal mountain ranges and islands offer wildlife viewing and opportunities for boating, fishing, kayaking, camping and hiking. Wildlife viewing in the region ranges from birding to whale watching and bear viewing. Designated bear viewing is available at Anan Creek near Wrangell and at Pack Creek Bear Sanctuary on Admiralty Island near Juneau.
British author Jonathan Raban described his journey by boat through the Inside Passage from Seattle to Juneau in his 1999 travelogue Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings.