Tongass National Forest

Prince of Wales Island

Prince of Wales Island is the third largest island in the United States, with Kodiak Island being the largest and the big island of Hawaii the second. Prince of Wales Island includes the main island and hundreds of adjacent islandsa total of more than 2,600 square miles with 990 miles of coastline and countless bays waiting to be explored. Its 990-mile coastline has numerous bays, coves, inlets and points.

The landscape is characterized by steep, forested mountains and deep U-shaped valleys, streams, lakes, saltwater straits, and bays that were carved by glacial ice, which once covered this entire area. The blanket of spruce-hemlock forest is broken by scattering of muskegs, or bogs. Most of the mountains on the island are 2,000 to 3,000 feet high.

The island is accessible only by small aircraft or by ferry. Once you're there, there's lots of recreation. More than 1,000 miles of roads cut through the island. Hikers have a good selection of trails to choose from. A couple of cave trails, especially, are worth a gander.

Various outfitters and guides are available in most communities to provide fishing, flight seeing, kayaking, boating, and hunting access and equipment.

Not all of the lands on the Prince of Wales Island are part of the national forest. The Alaska Statehood Act provided for the State of Alaska to select up to 400,000 acres of land for community expansion and recreation from the National Forests in Alaska. Lands for communities such as Whale Pass, Edna Bay, Hollis and Thorne Bay, are a few areas that have been selected by the state.


Fishing: All of the major drainages on Prince of Wales contain spawning runs of one to four species of salmon. Fall runs include Coho and Dog Salmon. Coho average about 10 pounds, and can be challenging fighters. Dog Salmon have a wide distribution, and have long been important for subsistence purposes.

Hunting: Fall is hunting season across much of the country. In Southeast Alaska, black bear and Sitka black-tailed deer are commonly sought. Deer are an important source of food for many people. Bear are hunted for their hides, meat, and sometimes as a source of cooking oil.

Snow Sports: Not common on Prince of Wales Island, but some tenacious enthusiasts pursue their hobbies. Snowmobilers travel snow-filled roads in the interior of the island. (Main roads are typically plowed and maintained.) Backcountry skiers climb to alpine areas in pursuit of snow-covered slopes.

Cabins: The 21 recreation cabins on Prince of Wales Island are located in a variety of settings, from ocean beaches to high alpine lakes. A few cabins are road/trail accessible, but most are remote and are typically inaccessible during the winter months. Contact the Forest Service for availability, facts about each cabin, and reservations. Please note: Cabin reservations must be made in person, or via mail.

Dispersed Camping is permitted throughout the Tongass National Forest, as long as other activities are not taking place. Please respect adjacent private lands; camp only on the National Forest.

Wildlife: Estuaries are the areas where saltwater mixes with inland fresh water sources. These areas are well-known for supporting a variety of wildlife species. Migrating birds and other animals seek shelter and hunt for food here. Several major estuaries can be seen from the road systemnear Hollis, Hydaburg, Coffman Cove, and Whale Pass.

Muskegs are wet, boggy areas where layers of sphagnum mosses are saturated with acidic water. Find the tiny red cranberries in the low vegetation. Catch a glimpse of bear, deer, or even tiny shrews foraging in the muskegs.

Forests are also home to a variety of animals. Sitka black-tail deer, flying squirrels, northern goshawks, and a variety of other animals nest, breed, or forage in the forests of Southeast Alaska.

In streams and waterways, migrating salmon can be seen from spring through fall. Dog Salmon (Chum) are common late in the year. For easy viewing, visit one of the fish passes: Rio Roberts creek near Thorne Bay, Big Lake near Ratz Harbor, Cable Creek on the Hydaburg Road, or Dog Salmon on the road to Polk Inlet.

There are over 1,500 miles of roads on Prince of Wales Island. The road system connects many island communities and offers an opportunity to explore a large piece of Southeast Alaska on your own.

Most of the roads were originally logging roads. The vast majority still have a gravel surface. Paved roads are limited to the area near Craig and Klawock, and the main road to the ferry terminal in Hollis.

Hollis is frequently the first stop for island visitors; it is the site of the only ferry terminal on Prince of Wales Island.

Near the turn of the century, Hollis was a mining town, with a population of over 1,000. Gold and silver were mined until about 1915. When the mines closed, the town was abandoned.

In 1954 Ketchikan Pulp Company (KPC) was awarded a 50-year timber contract. Hollis was KPC's first logging camp, and served as the base for timber operations on Prince of Wales. The camp was moved to Thorne Bay in 1962.

Today Hollis has approximately 100 residents. Pay phones are located near the ferry terminal and floatplane dock. No other visitor services are available.

Klawock, originally a Tlingit village, grew around the commercial fishing industry. In 1878, one of Alaska's first salmon canneries was built here. Timber and fishing are still the mainstays of the economy today.

Klawock is located on the west side of the island, 7 miles north of Craig. It is the second-largest community on the island, with a population of approximately 750. Commercial services include gas, food, and lodging.

Klawock has an excellent display of totem poles, in a small park constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). This community is also home to the only paved airstrip on the island.

Craig is located on the west side of the island. It is the largest community on Prince of Wales Island, with a population of approximately 2,000. Most services are available (gas, food lodging, auto repair, medical care, laundry, banks, stores, etc.).

The townsite was once a temporary Indian camp, which was used when gathering herring eggs. In the early 1900's a saltery was established, and soon after, the community was founded by Craig Millar. Craig's present economy includes fishing, timber, tourism, government and retail services.

Hydaburg is a predominantly Native community, established by the Haida people in 1911. Traditional subsistence lifestyles are common in this community. Commercial fishing and timber activities are also an important part of the economy.

A totem park was developed here by the CCC in the 1930's. Fuel and limited groceries are available. Hydaburg has approximately 400 residents.

Thorne Bay was established in 1962 when Ketchikan Pulp Company moved its main logging camp from Hollis. Since then, Thorne Bay has evolved from a company-owned logging camp to an incorporated community. Employment in Thorne Bay centers around the timber industry, commercial fishing, and government and retail services.

Thorne Bay is located on the east side of the island, approximately 38 miles from Klawock. Services include gas, groceries, and some lodging. The community is home to approximately 650 people.

Small Communities: While none of the communities on Prince of Wales are large (by southern standards), there are several smaller communities on the island. Each has its own character. One may be the home base for a fishing fleet, another may be a small logging camp. Limited services are available.

Coffman Cove, Whale Pass, and Naukati are on the road system. Communities such as Port Protection, Kassan, and Edna Bay are accessible only by boat or floatplane. The Prince of Wales Chamber of Commerce (907-826-3870) has more information for all communities.

Southeast Alaska is well known for its abundant rainfall. The maritime (ocean-influenced) climate is cool and moist most of the year. Winter temperatures on Prince of Wales typically range from the mid 30's to low 50's. Between 60 and 220 inches of rain saturate the island each year. July is generally the driest month, and November is usually the wettest. Be prepared for rain any month of the year. Bring warm clothing, rain gear, and knee-high rubber boots.

The changing tides are an ever-present part of life in Southeast Alaska. There are two high tides per day, and two lows; the tide reaches a maximum or minimum point of the cycle in 6 1/2 hours. Tidal fluctuations can be as much as 23 feet in just a few hours.

Some activities may need to be planned around the tide cycle. Enticing beach meadow campsites may be flooded within hours. Locate your campsites well above the high tide line for the day.

Tidal currents can be complex due to the many islands, bays, and passages. Tide tables and charts are essential for many marine-based activities; they are available in most local communities.

Native people have called this island home for at least 8,000 years. Many of today's island residents have ties to these early inhabitants.

About 300 years ago, the Haida claimed roughly the southern third of the island as their territory. Three Tlingit kwans (loosely defined as tribes) occupied the northern portion of this island. The Tlingit and Haida cultures were distinctly different, yet both were highly developed with complex social organizations.

A household usually consisted of an extended family, with ten to twenty individuals. Households would have exclusive rights to certain salmon streams, berry patches, or seal haulouts.

The first in-depth European exploration of this area occurred in 1775 by the Spanish explorer Don Juan Francisco Bodega y Quadra. The British were not far behind the Spanish explorers. Captain James Cook sought the fabled Northwest Passage in 1778. In 1790 Captain George Vancouver began a thorough documentary of Southeast Alaska, producing detailed charts and journals. Many regional names can be attributed to the area's early inhabitants and European-descended explorers. Sukkwan Strait, Hessa Inlet, Bucarelli Bay, San Fernando Island, Prince of Wales Island, and Kupreanof Island, are a small sample of the names from our colorful past.

Wide scale commercial development of the island didn't begin until the 19th century. Fishing, mining, and logging were the primary industries to establish in this area. In addition to a burgeoning commercial fishing fleet, one of the first canneries in Alaska was built in Klawock in 1878. In the mid-late 1800's mineral exploration began. Copper, gold, silver, zinc, lead, uranium, and palladium were all mined from the island. There are still many mining claims on Prince of Wales Island. Logging became a major industry in the mid 1900's. Many island roads were initially built for log haul; several communities began as logging camps. The timber industry is still a major employer, and an integral part of many island communities.

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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