Whale Pass is on the northeast side of Prince of Wales Island, north of Coffman Cove. The town sits on a bay in Whale Passage, named by a Navy commander in the 1880s. Orcas and humpback whales are commonly seen in the pass, a nearly 10-mile-long strait between Thorne Island and Prince of Wales Island. The area has been the site of logging camps since 1964. In the early 1980s, the last camp moved out and the area was permanently settled through land disposal sales. The road system reached town in the early 1980s.
Recreational options are numerous. Neck Lake offers beautiful vistas. The shore road is a scenic wonder. Cavern Lake near town drains into a cave and reappears hundreds of feet away in stairstep waterfalls. Twin Island Lake provides a handsome mountain setting and good trout fishing. Exchange Cove offers beach camping. Beaver Falls Karst Trail is handicap accessible and offers a wonderful overview of karst systems. The U.S. Forest Service provides summertime tours of nearby El Capitan Cave for the more adventurous visitors (CLOSED until further notice).
Ancient Alaska Native fish traps and petroglyphs are seen at nearby salmon streams. Coho salmon fishing is enhanced by hatchery stocks released at Neck Lake, which drains in a series of dramatic falls. Visitor services include overnight lodging with meals; cabin rentals; a laundromat; guided stream fishing; and fishing and glacier charters on the scenic Inside Passage. A grocery store offers basic foodstuffs and fishing tackle, as well as products made by local artisans. Take-out food is available during the summer. A gas station opens on limited hours (diesel is not available). A vendor sells fishing and hunting licenses.
Construction and contracting services are available in Whale Pass. A postal drop offers twice-weekly service for outgoing and incoming mail. Whale Pass Bible Church holds regular services at 11 a.m. Sundays. Whale Pass Community Association operates a state-owned seaplane base, a dock, boat slips and a launch ramp. Medical/EMS
and fire department services are available.
Thorne Bay is on the eastern shore of Prince of Wales Island. It rests on gentle hills overlooking its namesake bay, where Alaska Natives hunted and fished for centuries.
Ketchikan Pulp Co. brought their floating logging camp to shore here from Hollis in 1961, when timber was still the leading sector of the island’s economy. The “new economy” boasts a number of visitor services, as indicated by the icons shown here. K through 12 schools provide education while a U.S. Forest Service ranger district office and the field office for Southeast Road Builders provide employment for families in the area. Thorne Bay is linked to the rest of the Island by the state Scenic Byways. Thorne Bay can also be accessed via several floatplane services and private boats.
Visitors entering on the main road find a unique welcome sign plaza housed in “The Claw”—the world’s largest log-handling grapple. Thorne Bay was home for the world’s largest logging camps in the 1960s. In 1982, a State of Alaska land sale program gave residents the opportunity to incorporate their city. Fishing, beachcombing, clamming and hiking are close by in the bay and up the Thorne River. Thorne Bay is also the access point for the popular USFS-maintained Eagles Nest Campground as well as the Balls Lake and Sandy Beach picnic areas. An archeologically significant 5,360-year-old spruce root basket—”The Thorne River Basket”—was found in the estuary of the Thorne River in 1998 and is preserved in the Alaska State Museum in Juneau.
Port Protection is nestled in a quiet cove three miles south of the northern tip of the west side of Prince of Wales Island. Access is by boat or floatplane. A gravel boat launch at Labouchere Bay, a little more than a mile from the community, provides access to the road system.
In the early 1900s, Wooden Wheel Johnson gave the cove its name. A trading post established in 1946 ran for a quarter of a century, growing into a warehouse, rental cabins, dock facilities and fuel sales. The permanent community of Port Protection was established in 1981 through the state’s land disposal program.
Commercial fishing is the principal industry; gillnetters and trollers homeport here. Local artists produce drawings, paintings, carvings of wooden boxes and writing. Full-service and self-service lodging is available nearby. A boardwalk in the forest provides charming access to residents’ homes. Most services are seasonal in Port Protection. Call Wooden Wheel Cove Trading Post for updated information: 907-489-2222.
For remarkable photographic and narrative perspectives on this community and the area,
see an island resident's blog at www.alaskafloatsmyboat.com.
Point Baker is on the northern tip of Prince of Wales Island in a protected harbor that opens onto Sumner Strait. The community is accessible only by boat or floatplane. Since being settled in the early 1900s, the community has prospered through the fishing industry.
The first store and post office were opened by 1941. Today a 440-foot state float is the “floating downtown” and includes a floatplane dock; store; cafe; saloon; fuel sales; laundry and shower; community building; post office; and volunteer fire department.
Point Baker is currently 25 households strong; residents are commercial gillnet and troll fishermen. In summer, the harbor has full-service and do-it-yourself lodges and hosts traveling cruisers from all over the U.S., drawn by great fishing for Alaskan salmon and halibut and for opportunities to observe humpback whales.
A blog posted by a resident of the island provides fascinating perspectives on this area in
words and photos; take your browser to www.alaskafloatsmyboat.com.