Prince of Wales Island is the fourth-largest island in the United States. This natural paradise is 140 miles (225km) long and covers more than 2,230 square miles (3588sq km). Wilderness and wildlife attract the adventure traveler and there are over 900 miles (1448km) of coastline. The myriad coves, islands, and bays make this an attractive destination for kayakers and canoeists. Logging roads take cyclists into secret places and hiking adventure through forested areas awaits the restless spirit.
Access to the island includes flight options from Juneau and Sitka, as well as air and sea options from the main entry point of Ketchikan. From there, you can catch a three-hour ferry ride across the Clarence Sound or make use of air transport. What a wonderful way to get your first impression of this beautiful area. All around you is blue water, mountain views, and you may even spot the whales and porpoises on your trip across. If you want to take your own vehicle across, the ferry is ideal for that. Alternatively, vehicles are available for rent on the island.
Craig, the largest town on the island makes for a convenient base with accommodation and tour options. Situated on the western side of the island, Craig offers facilities every nature lover could wish for, such as restaurants, fuel, groceries, accommodations, and boat charters. From Craig, you can access the top 6 best activities you can do during a vacation to Prince of Wales Island.
1. Explore El Capitan cave in the Tongass National Forest
The cave opens to visitors during the summer months and the trip via road or shuttle is worth it. It's located in the northwest of the island, surrounded by old growth forests and plenty of solitude and beautiful scenery. Guests may book a tour or drive there themselves. The USDA Forest Service offers free guided trips around the caves from May through September and as you cannot explore on your own, it's best to Contact the Craig or Thorne Bay District Forest Service offices for more information.
A certain level of fitness is required, as you need to navigate over 300 steps to reach the entrance. The cave is not for the faint-hearted, but then, you wouldn't be exploring this rugged part of Alaska if you were. However, wildlife abounds, and you may spot some animals or signs of their presence. Plus, once inside, keep a lookout for bats. The stunning views from the cave system overlook Kosciusko Island on the Alexander Archipelago.
2. Watch the bears feeding at the fish ladders at Dog Salmon and Cable Creek Fish Passes
Experience watching wild bears feeding at the famous Prince of Wales fish passes. Dog Salmon Pass is on the road to Hydaburg, south of Cable Creek. Meanwhile, Cable Creek is about 8 miles (12km) from the intersection of the Craig-Hollis Highway and the Hydaburg Highway.
Both sites make for amazing sights of wild bears, the occasional wolf, and eagles. Take along a camera for some awesome action shots from your safe viewing platform. The areas provide interpretive signage and a wilderness experience. There are no restrooms at Cable Creek, but Dog Salmon provides picnic tables and there are also hiking opportunities. The best times to visit are from mid-July to September. But please note that bears are wild animals. For your safety, The Prince of Wales Chamber of Commerce provides some bear safety tips in their Island Guide.
In part, they offer this advice, and more: "As you hike, make noise to avoid surprising bears." Plus, "never get between a sow bear and her cubs." They recommend you "keep food in closed containers and avoid cooking smelly, fatty foods." If you overnight out, then it’s best to "sleep away from your food, food-preparation equipment and clothing that has food scents." They also advise that you should always "give bears plenty of space."
3. Visit the impressive totems at multiple native communities
Klawock is on the west coast of Prince of Wales Island, about seven miles (11km) from Craig. It used to be a summer fishing village for the Tlingit people. While there are other totem parks on Prince of Wales, the totem park at Klawock is often considered the easiest to access, especially if time is limited. Set up on a hill, the 21 totems overlook the harbor below. Whilst there, you might make a day trip of it and take in a tour at the local salmon hatchery.
If you are near Hydaburg, you need not miss out on totem culture. The Hydaburg Totem Park has pride of place, where the Haida people treasure their totems and culture. You can learn how to interpret the meanings of the totems. Plus, keep an eye out for the carving shed where you can see the carvers work on their traditional art.
Kasaan is yet another great option to view totems. In fact, you’ll see the only traditional Haida clan house in the US. You’ll find totems along the trail set in a misty rainforest, plus a recently restored clan house. Tours of the site can be arranged through the local native corporation.
4. Go beachcombing or picnic at Sandy Beach in Tongass National Forest
Sandy Beach is six miles (9km) north of Thorne Bay and is in the Tongass National Forest. The beach is one of the few sandy beaches in the Prince of Wales Island area. Best known for the opportunity to beach-comb, you also stand a very good chance of spotting killer whales and humpback whales. Other wildlife you may come across include Sitka black-tailed deer, black bear, and birds, including the iconic bald eagles.
Sandy beach also has a picnic site with toilet facilities, tables, and fire-rings. While you relax and eat, you will enjoy the scenic beauty of Clarence Strait. There are also views of the Cleveland Peninsula and Etolin Island. Wait for the tide to drop and then explore the pools and rocks to discover sea life like sea stars, sea urchins, sand dollars, nudibranchs, and more. If you don't mind the cold water, the beach is nice for swimming as well. If you prefer to overnight there are camping facilities.
5. Kayak or canoe on Prince of Wales Island
When you take a vacation on Prince of Wales Island, water is all around you. Startling beauty and wildlife can be experienced by either canoeing or kayaking. The towns on the island provide rentals, and you can also book an organized tour. The Sarkar Lakes route at the north of the island is a 15-mile (24km) loop where you can also do some portage.
Kayaking is available in multiple areas, but Craig may be the best option where you can arrange drop-offs or just paddle off into watery nature. Of course, wherever you go the seabirds and marine life add to your experience. Several operators offer kayak tours which you can tailor-make to your fitness levels and needs.
If you base in Craig, there are opportunities for those who prefer a rather more comfortable boating experience. You can take a motorized trip out on the water with experienced boat captains. In March and April, it's even better as that's when the herring spawns in the area. Along with the herring come dozens of whales, hundreds of sea lions, scores of seals and countless eagles.
6. Fish in the salmon-rich waters of Prince of Wales Island
No trip to Prince of Wales Island would be complete without a day of fishing in Southeast Alaska’s rich waters. The ocean waters off the island teem with diverse fish species – in summer and fall, you can enjoy fine coho and halibut fishing, while spring and summer present exciting opportunities to catch king salmon. Or for a really unusual catch of the day, set crab pots and feast on your own freshly caught crab at the dinner table later.
If you’re an old fishing hand, numerous fishing charters on the island offer self-guided packages comprising vehicle, boat, and accommodation rentals. For those who want to discover the island’s best angling spots with an expert, you’ll find fully guided fishing options available.
Inland, the island’s freshwater streams and lakes also brim with trout and salmon life. Cast your hook on the river bank as you enjoy the tranquil atmosphere of the island’s verdant rainforests.
Prince of Wales Island, Alaska an adventure awaits
No matter what your personal comfort level is, there's so much to do on this beautiful island in Alaska. Walk through temperate rainforests, explore caves, inlets, and secret bays. Kayak the ocean, canoe, and portage, or spend a night in a rugged wilderness cabin. Enjoy the scenery and photographic opportunities, or head out for a day to enjoy the local culture. Whether you enjoy camping, self-catering, or comfortable hotel accommodation, the island's sure to fulfill that desire to experience nature in the raw. For more destination guides and accommodation reviews, check out Trip101.
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