For many around the world, a visit to America’s Last Frontier is a lifelong bucket list dream. Whether nature lovers intrigued by Alaska’s myriad natural wonders or adventurers seeking the abundant challenges within its wild boundaries, this mysterious land of the midnight sun where glaciers mark the horizon and wildlife easily outnumbers humans, does not disappoint.
While the 49th state is spectacular to visit year round, most land on its shores during the summer months – particularly in the southeast where my husband and I began our Alaskan adventure. We were bound for the Inside Passage which is made up of a chain of islands beginning near British Columbia and extending up to mainland Alaska.
We stopped briefly in Ketchikan, Alaska’s First City before embarking on the Inter-Island Ferry to Prince of Wales, an island that is just slightly larger than the state of Delaware and the fourth largest island in the United States. Prince of Wales has 6,000 residents and is home to abundant wildlife, thrilling hiking, stunning scenery and some of the best hunting and fishing in Alaska. The three hour trip is a photographer’s dream with frequent porpoise, sea otter, humpback and killer whale sightings framed by ice blue water and lush mountain ranges.
There are several towns of all sizes around the island, all connected by well-maintained roads and all well worth exploring as they each offer distinct Alaskan cultures. We opted to stay in the town of Klawock at the famed Fireweed Lodge offering genuine, Alaskan-luxe hospitality by owners Bob and Jeanne Anderson with eighteen delightful rooms – many overlooking the water, gourmet meals, a full fitness center, hot tub and on-site fish smoke company – Two Girls Seafood Specialties. Bob is a lifelong Alaskan with an insider’s knowledge of the area and waters and provides ultimate fishing excursions from Fireweed’s private dock featuring a large fleet of streamlined boats and the best guides in the state.
We spent our days exploring Prince of Wales (locals often say POW) constantly stopping to take photos of the breathtaking scenes surrounding us – massive, snowcapped mountain peaks, deep blue waters, bubbling creeks, sundrenched meadows and dense forests of the Tongass National Forest housing Sitka black-tailed deer, black bear (including the most adorable cub clinging to a tree beside the road) and all manners of hearty creatures. We could see the white heads of bald eagles resting in treetops overhead using their vantage points to spot salmon swimming by. Throughout our travels we looked out for the delectable salmonberry – a lush treat similar in appearance to a blackberry but available in a variety of colors throughout the summer.
We were fascinated by Prince of Wales’ seaside communities from Thorne Bay to Coffman Cove, tiny little Whale Pass and Naukati to picturesque Kasaan – each adds its own charm to this remarkable island. The native village of Hydaburg was founded by the Haida people in 1911 and is a must-see stop on any trip to POW as the rich culture provides visitors with myriad sights including the famous totem park and the renowned totem carving center – the Haida Carving Shed. Native artists welcome guests to witness the ancient carving process and inquire about the methods and legends behind these magical storybooks. Klawock and Craig are the largest towns on the island with 600 and 2000 residents respectively and offer grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies as well as gift shops.
On our final evening at the Fireweed, we relaxed on our deck – at 10:30 pm the sun was beginning its descent but provided plenty of pastel pink light across the blue sky as we watched the tide come in and listened to the eagles call nearby. The thought of leaving this enchanting paradise and returning to the lower 48 was not an appealing one but the thought of returning again very soon – was.