Sublime Wilderness, Charming Port Cities
A watery wilderness “unspeakably pure and sublime,” to borrow from John Muir’s description of Glacier Bay, Alaska’s “Panhandle” encompasses a narrow strip of mainland backed up against the Coast Mountains and hundreds of islands in the Alexander Archipelago. The mist shrouded forests, pebbled beaches, quiet waterways and glaciated mountains of Southeast draw a million visitors each year. SOUTHEAST ALASKA A uniquely different environment from the rest of Alaska, offering a uniquely different experience for visitors, Southeast Alaska lies at the same latitude as Scotland and southern Sweden. It has a typical Pacific Northwest climate, although temperatures generally run 10 degrees cooler than Seattle, WA.
Transportation is dictated by topography, with most communities accessible only by air or water. Ferries of the Alaska Marine Highway System (www.ferryalaska.com) carry both passengers and vehicles between mainline Southeast Alaska port cities and to Prince Rupert, BC, and Bellingham, WA. Two towns on the ferry system’s mainline also connect to the mainland highway system: Haines via the Haines Highway, and Skagway via the South Klondike Highway (both junction with the Alaska Highway in Canada). Hyder, at the head of Portland Canal, is accessible by road from Stewart, BC. SOUTHEAST COMMUNITIES The mainline ports in Southeast (from south to north) are Ketchikan (pop. 8,313), Wrangell (pop. 2,448), Petersburg (pop. 3,200), Sitka (pop. 9,084), Juneau (pop. 33,064), Haines (pop. 2,530) and Skagway (pop. 1,036). For more details, see “Ports of Call” on pages 18-19.
Prince of Wales Island, a 3-hour ferry ride west from Ketchikan, is the third largest island under the American flag and has the most extensive road system in Southeast Alaska. Island communities include Craig, Klawock, Hydaburg, Thorne Bay, Kasaan, Coffman Cove and Whale Pass.
Other Southeast communities served by state ferries and local airlines, include Metlakatla, on the west coast of Annette Island; Kake, on the northwest coast of Kupreanof Island; Angoon on Admiralty Island; and Hoonah, Pelican and Tenakee on Chichagof Island. Yakutat, on the Gulf of Alaska coast, is a stop on the Cross Gulf ferry route. It is also a popular destination for steelhead fisherman.
Gustavus (gustavusak.com), gateway to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, is located on the north shore of Icy Strait, 48 miles northwest of Juneau. It is served by the state ferry system and jet flights from Juneau as well as charters and scheduled service from other Southeast communities, with many visitors bound for Glacier Bay Lodge & Tours. SOUTHEAST ATTRACTIONS Join a wildlife cruise to see marine wildlife, such as humpback whales and orcas, or a sightseeing cruise of Glacier Bay, Misty Fiords, LeConte Glacier, Stikine River or Tracy Arm. There’s black and brown bear viewing at Pack Creek on Admiralty Island, Anan Creek near Wrangell, Fish Creek near Hyder and Herring Cove near Ketchikan. Especially popular in Southeast are flightseeing tours—by small plane or helicopter—to see glaciers and icefields. Enjoy Russian dance performances in Sitka and Tlingit dance performances in Haines. Explore Alaska Native culture at totem parks and museums throughout Southeast Alaska. Step into the region’s past at colorful Creek Street in Ketchikan, the Red Dog Saloon in Juneau or the Red Onion Saloon & Brothel Museum in Skagway. Get a taste of the Gold Rush by taking a day hike up the Chilkoot Trail. Skim the treetops of a lush forest hanging from a zipline. Experience this watery wilderness on a kayak trip. The possibilities are endless.