Note: Paperback includes map, Kindle digital version does not, suggest getting map below.
Off the beaten path, about 25 miles southwest of Petersburg, Wrangell’s history stems from its position at the mouth of the Stikine River.
This small town was the busiest spot in Alaska when the hordes bound for the Stikine and Cassiar gold rushes poured through in 1861 and 1873, bound up the Stikine, the natural route into the interior. But when the rushes were over, Wrangell settled back down into a small fishing and logging community, with many Chinese coming to work in the canneries and the first sawmill constructed in 1888.
Compared to the bigger towns where crowds overflow the sidewalks when the big ships are in, visitors here find a welcome slower pace, perhaps encountering schoolchildren selling garnets they’ve dug from the riverbank, and small locally owned shops instead of the big chains.
But it is still the river that is the biggest draw. It is on the main migratory route north for many species. April is especially dramatic, when 1500 plus bald eagles congregate to feed on the hooligan (a small oily fish) run, and 8-10,000 snow geese pass through on their way north.
The 160 miles between Wrangell and Telegraph Creek, in Canada, are especially dramatic, and raft or floatplane or jetboats are a great way to explore. Another visitor option is a boat trip to the Anan Creek Bear Observatory, about 30 miles south. When the fish are running, the bear are waiting for them and it’s an impressive sight. Short on time? Consider a floatplane trip over Petersburg, Wrangell narrows, and LeConte Glacier.
Wrangell was hit especially hard when the Alaska Pulp Corporation sawmill, the town’s largest employer, closed in 1994. Unlike Ketchikan and Sitka, area towns that also had big mills that closed, Wrangell did not have a strong visitor and tourism industry to fall back on. So when Wrangell Seafoods failed a decade or so later, it was an especially hard blow. Fortunately, Alaska’s biggest seafood company, Trident, bought the plant and made major upgrades. Around the same time the town began cleaning up the old sawmill site, purchased the largest boat lift in SE Alaska and redeveloped the site as a major boatyard. It was a big hit and the town has high hopes that over time, it will be a major part of the local economy.
Southeast Alaska also has a king crab season, albeit a short one. I found this boat unloading crab in June directly into big plastic lined cardboard boxes, rather than going into the adjacent processing plant, which struck me as odd. But then that evening, as I was getting into the Alaska Airlines ‘combi’ – a 737-400 fitted out with cargo hatch/pallet tracks forward and passenger cabin aft, I saw the big boxes of live king crab being loaded as well. The entire catch was being flown live to Seattle, where they would be put into a live tank in some restaurant!
Klondike Bikes – 907-874-2453
Sunrise Aviation – 800-874-2319
Star Cab – 907-874-3622
Alaska Charter & Travel – 888-993-2750
Fish Wrangell – 907-874-2590
Breakaway Adventures – 888-385-2488
Muskeag Meadows Golf Course – 907-874-4653
Stikine Inn – 888-874-3388
Wrangell Hostel – 907-874-3534
Sourdough Lodge – 800-874-3613
Places to eat:
For the view: Stikine Inn
Where the locals eat: Diamond C Cafe
For more: www.wrangell.com