Admiralty Island National Monument (Kootznoowoo) Wilderness

Located in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.

About 15 miles west of Juneau, Admiralty Island National Monument Wilderness takes up 937,400 acres, roughly 90 percent of Admiralty Island. Most of Admiralty has many interesting features in its gentle, rolling topography with spruce-hemlock rainforest interspersed with small areas of muskeg. Timberline is typically at 1,500 to 2,000 feet. Above timberline the forest gradually changes to alpine-tundra with rock outcrops and permanent to semi-permanent ice fields. Angoon is the largest settled community and most peoples entryway to the island. With 450 residents, one general store, one lodge and no restaurant, you should arrive well prepared. The island has an interesting history, traces of which will be apparent as you explore the island.

Recreation

Admiralty is known for its dense bear population, but recreation is not limited to bear watching. Cabins for public use are available for rent. Recreationists can hunt, fish, or paddle a canoe across the island on a chain of lakes. They can watch whales feed on herring; camp on one of hundreds of small beaches; or hike to the alpine level and see deer, ptarmigan and outstanding views.

Power Boating
Visitors boat in everything from 100-foot yachts to small inflatables to explore Admiralty's bays and beaches. Boat charters and guided tours are available from Juneau and Angoon. Some of the lodges on the island also provide fishing expeditions. Upper Seymour Canal and Mitchell Bay offer more protected waters, and opportunities to camp on small islands and poke around coves and narrow passages. Seymour Canal is accessible from Juneau in a boat smaller than 16 feet in length if using the Oliver Inlet tram, but a minimum 17-foot tide is needed to launch on the Seymour side. Precautions should be taken when boating in this area. Pay special attention to tides, especially in narrow inlets. If you approach Admiralty Island from Stephens Passage, please be aware that this is open ocean and canoeists and kayakers should be highly skilled. Anchoring may be difficult in some of the big bays with their shallow mud flats. Five-foot seas are relatively common in the bigger straits and passages. Charts for some areas are not always accurate or available, so boaters should watch for unmarked reefs and rocks.

Canoeing and Kayaking
For experienced boaters, kayak and canoe trips can begin in Juneau and travel across the Oliver Inlet tram into Seymour Canal. Kayakers and canoeists may also load their crafts on the State ferry and travel to Angoon before paddling to Mitchell Bay. A system of seven lakes connected by a portage trail between Mole Harbor and Mitchell Bay offers calmer waters than the ocean and rental cabins in which to dry out. These trips usually take five to seven days. People with more time may paddle from Juneau to Angoon by either the lakes route (10-14 days) or all the way around the island (two to three weeks). These longer trips involve open water crossings and require a decked boat with an experienced paddler.

Cabins
Admiralty Island National Monument has 14 public recreation cabins available for rent at $25 to $45 a night. Cabins may be booked up to six months in advance. Popular cabins are booked early. Most of the cabins are on freshwater lakes and have boats provided. Life jackets should be taken along. Two cabins at Pybus Bay and Gambier Bay are on the ocean and do not have boats. The cabins vary in size but all will accommodate four people. Each cabin has either a wood or oil stove. Be sure to check which. For those with oil stoves, you must bring your own oil. Also take pots, pans, matches and similar gear because they are not supplied.

Those renting lake cabins have ample opportunity to fish, and often see beaver, deer, eagles, loons and geese. Bears are usually wary of people and keep a distance. It is important to keep a clean camp so bears are not attracted to your site.

Admiralty has 15 cabins for rent, $25 per night, on a daily basis. Three cabins are on salt water (boat accessible) and the rest on inland lakes and are accessible by floatplane or the Cross Admiralty Canoe Route.

The Hasselborg River, Distin Lake and Big Shaheen Cabins are the most rustic since they are constructed out of mostly native material. The cabins at Lake Kathleen and Florence Lake are located on a small parcel of Forest Service land which is surrounded by private property. Much of this private property is being actively logged so you will see and hear evidence of these activities at this cabin. Admiralty Cove and East and West Youngs Lake cabins are the closest to Juneau and the cheapest to fly to. Admiralty Cove is the only cabin close to Juneau that you can boat to. Cabins are rustic and you will need all of the equipment you would normally take camping except a tent. Cabins have plywood bunks, tables, wood or oil stoves and an outhouse. Cabins on lakes have rowboats and cabins with wood stoves have firewood. For additional cabin information, obtain a copy of the Admiralty Island National Monument Map, available for $4.00.

Camping
The best camping spots below timberline are usually where large spruce grow on well-drained sand or gravel spits, forming a natural canopy. If possible, use existing tent sites to prevent damage to other vegetation, and follow "no trace camping" procedures. This means pack out all your garbage and dispose of human wastes by using an area below the upper tide level. Burn toilet paper in the intertidal zone. If an intertidal area isn't available, dig a 6-8-inch hole and dispose of the waste, covering the hole with moss or soil. Remember that in Mitchell Bay there are designated camping sites and within those sites, there are designated waste disposal areas.

Build fires with only dead or down material. Keep fires small and build them below the high tide line when possible. If not, use rocks and fill a ring with gravel at least three inches deep. Most importantly, make sure the fire is out when you leave. Most of the soil on Admiralty is a thick organic duff that can smolder and burn for weeks, exposing tree roots, killing trees and making them susceptible to wind-throw. Put the fire out by removing the rocks, pouring water on the fire and stirring. Repeat until you can put your hand into the wet ashes.

Trails and Hiking
Most Admiralty trails are in the lakes region and are used for portaging. There are no maintained trails for long-distance hikes, and hiking in the rain forest of Admiralty Island is tedious and taxing. Hikers may hike along beaches, however, or climb to the 2,000-foot alpine area. To reach alpine, pick a heavily forested ridge leading to where you want to travel. Avoid drainages, avalanche paths and brushy hills.

Hunting and Fishing
The Monument boasts all species of salmon as well as many freshwater and saltwater trout species. Sitka black-tailed deer, which are generally smaller than deer found elsewhere in the western United States, are the most popular game for hunters. Brown bear (grizzly) hunting is also common, but black bear are not found on the island. Marten, mink, otter and beaver and other small animals live on Admiralty.

Visitors to the state are reminded that they need nonresident licenses to hunt or fish. Deer hunting can be done without a guide, but nonresidents who want to hunt bear must hire a state-licensed bear guide.

Wildlife Viewing
In addition to viewing bears (see Seymour Canal section), Admiralty offers ample opportunity to see a variety of wildlife in an undisturbed setting. Watching the shoreline and estuaries in the early mornings and at twilight will often provide a glimpse of either eagles or brown bears. With the largest concentration of nesting bald eagles in the world, Admiralty Island offers many chances for those anxious to see our national bird. Those near the ocean may see humpback whales, killer whales, sea lions, sea otters, seals, and porpoises. Birds are most commonly found in the "fringe habitats" between the forest and muskegs or meadows, and along the shores. Popular sightings include the Vancouver Canada goose and trumpeter swan. Deer will sometimes be seen along the edge of the forest in the early morning and late evening. Animals found elsewhere in Southeast but not on Admiralty include mountain goats, moose, wolverine, foxes, wolves, coyotes, black bears, porcupines, muskrats and hares.

Guide Services and Tours
Many individuals who wish to visit Admiralty Island may want to use the services of a professional outfitter or guide. The Forest Service has issued permits to several individuals and companies to provide guided services for a variety of recreational opportunities including fishing, hunting, sightseeing, kayaking/canoeing, wildlife viewing, photography and camping. The services these guides provide range from renting specialized equipment to supplying fully planned, outfitted and guided trips.

Angoon

In the summer, there are two ferry's a week from Juneau and Sitka to Angoon. The ferry drops you off about three miles out of town. Cabs are available or you can walk. There are no camping facilities in Angoon. There is no formal trail system but you can walk along the road system. You can charter with a local for fishing, sightseeing or transportation. If you charter or rent a canoe at the store you can travel into Mitchell Bay and camp. Angoon is the start of the west end of the Admiralty Cross Island Canoe Route.

Angoon is a traditional native village. It is not developed for tourism. Although Angoon has most of the modern amenities, its people still spend a substantial amount of time fishing, hunting and gathering. It is important for the visitor to Angoon, as well as the surrounding forest and bays, to understand this subsistence life style and to respect the land. There is a lodge/motel in Angoon but it is important to call ahead to get reservations at any time. There are no restaurants. A small general store carries food, supplies and hardware. Gasoline is also available.


The Island
Seymour Canal
This major inlet on the east side of Admiralty Island supports one of the largest concentrations of bald eagles in Southeast Alaska. Located in Seymour Canal is the Seymour Canal Eagle Management Area, 10,778 acres that encompass Swan, Tiedemann, Bug, Dorn, Faust and several other small islands. The area supports one of the densest populations of nesting bald eagles in the world. The Pack Creek Cooperative Management Area is also located in Seymour Canal, and is managed to protect bears and for bear viewing. Consisting of Swan Cove, Pack Creek, Windfall Harbor, Windfall Island and Swan Island, the area is closed to brown bear hunting by the State of Alaska.

Pack Creek is the most popular bear viewing site in the Monument and is jointly managed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Forest Service. The chance to see bears is high because the bears are used to people and not hunted in this area. A permit is needed to visit the Pack Creek. Permits may be obtained from the visitor center at Centennial Hall and the Admiralty Monument office in Juneau or requested by mail.

There is a one-mile trail to a bear-viewing observatory alongside Pack Creek. Several good campsites are available on nearby Windfall Island, although a boat is needed for access. Swan Cove and Windfall Harbor offer an excellent choice for those interested in a more remote bear viewing experience.Beware, that the large tideflat at Swan Cove requires special attention to tides. Guided trips to Pack Creek by canoe, floatplane, and charter boat are also available.

Greens Creek Mine
This underground mine is the largest silver producing mine in North America. Greens Creek Mine also produces gold, zinc and lead. Opened in 1989, the mine's development within the Monument is provided for by the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. About 200 workers commute daily by boat from Juneau to the project, which includes 14 miles of road and approximately 265 acres of developed National Forest land. The Forest Service cooperates with the State to ensure that the mine doesn't adversely affect water quality, fish, wildlife or the site's natural beauty. With a mine life of between 11 and 17 years, research has already been started to find the best way to restore the disturbed areas.

Cube Cove
This private land is the site of logging by the Sitka-based Native corporation, Shee Atika, Inc. The corporation selected land on Admiralty under a federal act aimed at settling Native land claims. Shee Atika, Inc. is in the process of logging two major watersheds in the area and plans to log a third. Land exchange negotiations with Shee Atika and other involved parties have been initiated in an effort to acquire this area as a part of the Monument.

Mitchell Bay and community of Angoon
East of the community of Angoon lies Mitchell Bay, a scenic complex of intertidal lagoons, estuaries, islands and narrow saltwater channels. The bay, which has long been an important source of food and protection for Angoon's Tlingit people, has become increasingly popular for visitors who sportfish, boat and sightsee. Historic areas include fort sites, summer fish camps, garden sites and named places with importance to individuals and clans. For this reason, you are asked to camp only in designated campsites and never disturb other sites in the bay. The Deisheetaan clan owned Mitchell Bay in the 19th century and used a summer settlement on the shores of Hasselborg River to harvest salmon with gaff hooks and dip nets. Later in the century ownership of the bay passed to the Teikweidee clan. Angoon residents continue to harvest salmon in the bay -- but with more modern means.

Angoon's 600 residents live close to the nature that surrounds them. About 80 percent of the residents are Tlingit Indians, whose ancestors came to the island more than a thousand years ago. Weathered clan houses stand amid modern schools and houses along the narrow dirt street; the smell of burning alder from fish smokehouses still wafts on summer breezes; and you may notice kelp drying here and there about the town. Local economy is based on fishing, not tourism, and amenities are few for visitors, but a careful observer can get a look into the past along Angoon's docks and beaches.

Travelers reach Angoon or Mitchell Bay by floatplane, boat or Alaska State ferry (the only ferry access to Admiralty Island is via Angoon). There are no trails and only a few miles of road leading from the village. You need a boat or the services of a guide to see Mitchell Bay.

Canoes are available for rent in Angoon. You should be an experienced canoe/camper to explore Mitchell Bay due to the extreme tidal fluctuations and challenging paddle conditions. Angoon marks the beginning of a paddle/portage trip along the canoe route to Mole Harbor.

The bay is becoming so popular that if you're looking for solitude you may want to visit in months other than May, June, or July. Recreation Opportunity Guides for Mitchell Bay contain more information.

Whitewater Bay
Recovery from past logging can be seen in Whitewater Bay. Thousands of acres in at least 60 areas were logged between 1850 and 1971 on Admiralty Island. About three-quarters of the timber along the shoreline of Whitewater Bay was harvested between 1850 and 1960, with another large area harvested in 1964. A walk through the old clearcuts tells a story. With cut areas from 26 to 14 years old, these bays offer an excellent chance to examine plant community succession and tree growth in a typical Southeast Alaska forest.

Murder Cove and Tyee
Just inside rugged Point Gardner lies the site of the old Tyee cannery, which closed in the 1940's. Surprise Harbor provides good anchorage past the rocky entrance and offers beautiful view. Murder Cove got its name in 1869 when two prospectors were killed in retaliation for the shooting of a Kake resident's brother. "The Cheechakos," a book by Wayne Short, provides more information on this area.

Pybus and Gambier Bays
Beautiful, remote and protected from outer waters, these bays are pristine and less visited than the more accessible northern bays of Admiralty Island. Brown bears are abundant along the grassy beaches in spring and near salmon streams in summer. This is a favorite spot for deer hunters and for commercial fishing vessels waiting out poor weather. Each bay has a public recreation cabin for rent and some private cabins; both have remnants of fox farms and canneries. Pybus Bay has a lodge on private land near an old cannery site.

Mole Harbor
Site of the Alan Hasselborg homestead (on private property), this harbor also marks one entrance to the popular Cross Admiralty Canoe Route, which follows a course about 32 mile. to Angoon. Originally built in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the route is now maintained by the Forest Service. It includes several lakes and portages (from one-quarter to three miles long) and ends with a ten-mile saltwater paddle through Mitchell Bay and Kootznoowoo Inlet to Angoon. Public recreation cabins along the route may be rented from the Forest Service, and there are several three-sided shelters which are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Side trips to other lakes are also possible. The Admiralty Island National Monument Canoe Route brochure contains a map and more information. Rental canoes and guided week-long trips are also available for trips on the canoe route.

The Past
Admiralty Island was named by Captain George Vancouver in 1794, centuries after it had become known to the Tlingit Indians as Kootznoowoo -- Fortress of the Bears. This is an apt name, as brown bears are found here in greater density than anywhere else on earth. Now a National Monument, most of it wilderness, Admiralty remains a misty rain forest where bears outnumber people.

The present day Tlingits on Admiralty trace their roots to Angoon, the only village on the island. They are coastal people with close ties to the animals that give them their clan names. While the economy of Angoon is based on a monetary system, residents continue to rely heavily on gathering wild foods for subsistence.

Admiralty Island residents first came into contact with the Euro-American world in the late 1700's, when English and Russian fur traders came to take sea otter pelts and leave behind trade items. Overhunting caused a rapid decline in the number of sea otters, and by 1867, when the Russians sold Alaska to the United States, commercial sea otter hunting was a thing of the past. The next visitors to the area were Yankee ships looking for whales and herring, followed by gold prospectors. In the 1880's, the island became a steamship stop along the route from Sitka to Juneau. Loggers cut timber for construction of herring and whaling stations and for housing in Juneau and Douglas.

For Angoon residents, matters came to a head in 1882 when the harpoon gun of a whaling boat exploded, killing a shaman (medicine man). Compensation for the death of the important village member was demanded by his clansmen, and, when it was denied, a steam launch with two crewmen was taken hostage by the village. The boat and crew were released a short time later and work was stopped at the whaling station as the village prepared to bury their shaman. The U.S. Navy bombarded the village, killing children and destroying houses, canoes and food caches. Starvation followed in the long winter. In 1973 the U.S. government paid $90,000 compensation for the foray.

In the early 1880's, the salmon salteries of the previous century were replaced by automated canneries in several bays on Admiralty. Up to 20 fox farms also operated on the island. The Great Depression, which spelled the end of fox farming, resulted in the closure of many canneries. The Depression, however, also brought a new era to Admiralty Island with the Civilian Conservation Corps, formed in 1934 to combat unemployment. On Admiralty, 245 members of the CCC built trails and shelters from Kootznoowoo Inlet to Mole Harbor, laying the foundation for tourism and recreation. For many years Alan Hasselborg guided an international clientele of bear hunters and photographers from his Mole Harbor homestead, which generated recognition of Admiralty's brown bears as a unique resource. By 1935 "bear reserves" were established at Pack Creek and Thayer Mountain.

In the 1950's and 1960's, the island was the site of large-scale logging in several bays. As national environmental awareness and recreational use of the I island grew, logging met with increased criticism, beginning a controversy that continues today. When a pulp and plywood mill that would rely on Admiralty trees was proposed, conservationists objected and described Admiralty as the "crown jewel" of coastal rain forests. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter agreed, and declared Admiralty Island a National Monument for the protection of its ecological, cultural, geological, historic, prehistoric and scientific values. In 1980, Congress designated most of the island as Wilderness.

Practicalities
Access
There's no road to Admiralty, you have to take either a boat, ferry, or floatplane. You can charter a boat in the nearby communities of Juneau or Sitka but it can be expensive. Plan on several hundred dollars or more per day and inquire with boat charter services listed in the yellow pages. The Alaska State Ferry system serves Angoon, a native village on the west side of the island, from both Juneau and Sitka. This is the cheapest way to get to Admiralty ($24 one way). Canoe rentals and boat charters are available in Angoon. Floatplanes are available for charter in all major towns. The costs of a trip vary widely depending on where you go and what type of plane you use. Figure about $100-300 per person round trip to most popular destinations. Scheduled flights via floatplane are available to Angoon for $75 from Juneau.

The most popular way to reach Admiralty is by boat. This includes charter boats and guide services, or personal or rented boat, canoe or kayak. You may also charter a floatplane. Lists of charter plane operators, charter boats and guide services are available. Charter plane costs vary with type of plane and distance traveled, and charter boats can be $500 or more a day. Prices vary and it may pay to shop around.

Less expensive ways to get to the island include renting a sea kayak in Juneau or taking the Alaska State ferry, which travels regularly to Angoon. You may take a canoe or kayak on the ferry for a minimal charge of about $10.00. Rental canoes are also available in Angoon. Small boats or kayaks can be taken to Seymour Canal via the 1 mile long Oliver Inlet tram (a small railway with a flatcar that is pushed by hand) 12 miles south of Juneau.

For further information contact: Admiralty Island National Monument - Tongass National Forest




Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 25 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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