Wrangell is located in Southeast Alaska at northwest tip of Wrangell Island on Zimovia Strait; 6 miles southwest of the mouth of the Stikine River Delta; 3 hours by ferry or 32 air miles southeast of Petersburg, the closest major community; and 6 hours by ferry or 85 air miles north of Ketchikan.
Stop by the visitor information desk at the James and Elsie Nolan Center on Campbell Drive. The Nolan Center also houses the Wrangell Museum. Short videos are shown on request at the small theater in the Nolan Center (inquire at visitor information counter or in the museum gift shop). Phone 1-800-367-9745 or 907-874-3770; www.nolancenter.org.
Wrangell is the only Alaska city to have existed under 4 nations and 3 flags—the Stikine Tlingits, the Russians, Great Britain and the United States. Wrangell began in 1834, as a Russian stockade called Redoubt St. Dionysius, built to prevent the Hudson’s Bay Co. from fur trading up the rich Stikine River to the northeast. The Russians leased Wrangell Island and the mainland of southeastern Alaska to the Hudson’s Bay Co. in 1840. Under the British, the stockade was called Fort Stikine.
The post remained under the British flag until Alaska was purchased by the United States in 1867. A year later, the Americans established a military post here, naming it Fort Wrangell after the island, which was named by the Russians after Baron von Wrangel, a governor of the Russian–American Co.
Its strategic location near the mouth of the Stikine River made Wrangell an important supply point not only for fur traders but also for gold seekers following the river route to the goldfields. Today, Wrangell serves as a hub for goods, services and transportation for outlying fishing villages, remote settlement areas and logging camps. The town depended largely on fishing until Japanese interests arrived in the mid-1950s, and established a mill. Silver Bay Logging, now closed, ran the mill for more than 30 years. Fishing remains one of Wrangell’s largest industries, and active seafood processing operations are on the waterfront.
Wrangell Museum, in the Nolan Center at 296 Campbell Dr., features exhibits highlighting Wrangell’s diverse history. Exhibit areas focus on Native culture; fur trade and exploration; the military; mining, fishing, timber; and 20th century topics. The oldest known Tlingit houseposts in Southeast Alaska are on display, along with a spruce root and cedar bark basket collection. Phone 907-874-3770 or visit www.nolancenter.org. Admission charged. Current movies are shown Friday and Sunday at the theater in Nolan Center.
Chief Shakes Island and Tribal House
Chief Shakes Island and Tribal House (pictured above), in the middle of Wrangell Harbor, is reached by boardwalk. Constructed in 1940, by the Civilian Conservation Corp, it is a replica of the original 19th century Tribal House. The Tribal House was reconstructed in 2012, using local carvers and re-dedicated in 2013. The Tribal House is open when cruise ships are in port during the summer or by appointment. Phone 907-305-0404 for details. Admission is charged.
St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church
St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church is a 0.2-mile walk from the Ferry Terminal up Second and Church streets. This picturesque church is the oldest Roman Catholic parish in Alaska, founded May 2, 1879. Just beyond is the First Presbyterian Church, which has a red neon cross, 1 of 2 in the world that serve as navigational aids. This was the first church in Wrangell and is one of the oldest Protestant churches in Alaska (founded in 1877, and built in 1879). In summer it doubles as the Wrangell Hostel.
Muskeg Meadows Golf Course
Muskeg Meadows Golf Course is a USGA regulation 9-hole golf course with a 250-yard driving range, putting green and pro-shop. Muskeg Meadows hosts tournaments almost every weekend during the summer. For details, phone 907-874-4653; www.wrangellalaskagolf.com.
Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park
Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park is located a half-mile from the ferry terminal via Stikine Avenue (watch for sign; limited parking). The park has some 40 petroglyphs (ancient designs carved into rock faces) that may be found between low and high tide marks. These are thought to be Tlingit in origin. A boardwalk provides access from cul-de-sac to an observation deck with interpretive signs overlooking the beach. Stairs lead from the deck to the beach. The petroglyphs are protected by state and federal antiquities laws: Visitors may only photograph the real petroglyphs. Make rubbings using the replica petroglyphs displayed on the observation deck.
Anan Wildlife Observatory
Anan Wildlife Observatory is located 30 miles southeast of Wrangell. From late June through mid-September, visitors can watch black and brown bears catch humpies headed for the salmon spawning grounds. Anan (pronounced an-an) is accessible by boat or floatplane only. The U.S. Forest Service manages Anan, maintaining the covered deck/observation platform overlooking the creek and falls, and the trail.
Visitors to Anan, arriving by floatplane or boat, are dropped off at the “lagoon entrance” and must walk in on the half-mile boardwalk trail (some stairs). No food or beverages (except water) allowed.
The observatory is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. A day pass is required to visit Anan during peak season (July 5–August 25); cost is $10 per person per day plus a $6 reservation fee. The permit system limits visitors to 12 non-commercial permits per day. Commercial outfitters are limited to 60 permits per day. If you visit the observatory with a guide or outfitter, the permit may be included in the cost of the trip. The Forest Service office in Wrangell has more information about the permit system and a list of guides and outfitters permitted to transport visitors to Anan; phone 907-874-2323. Purchase permits online at www.recreation.gov.
The Stikine River Delta lies north of Wrangell within the Stikine–LeConte Wilderness and is accessible only by boat or plane. The Stikine is the fastest free flowing, navigable river in North America, and can be rafted, canoed or run by skiff or jetboat. Floatplane and jetboat charters for both sightseeing and drop-offs at put-in sites for river runners, are available in Wrangell.
The Stikine River plays host to a stunning migration of birds each spring, according to the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game. The second highest concentration of bald eagles in the world occurs on the Stikine during the annual spring run of eulachon. Grasses and sedges on the Stikine Flats at the mouth of the river attract up to 10,000 snow geese each year. The Stikine River Delta is a critical refueling stop for millions of shorebirds during their annual migration. These birds feed on tiny invertebrates and small fish before continuing on to their arctic breeding grounds. Great bird watching, but like all migratory bird watching, timing is everything and the birds have their own schedule. The Stikine River Birding Festival celebrates spring and the arrival of the birds in late spring. Check with the local visitor’s bureau or Forest Service office when planning a birding trip.
LeConte Glacier, also within the Stikine-LeConte Wilderness, is at the head of LeConte Bay, just north of the Stikine River Delta. It is the southernmost tidewater glacier in North America. Charter trips for sightseeing LeConte Glacier are available locally.
Garnet Ledge, a rocky outcrop on the south bank of the Stikine River Delta at Garnet Creek, is 7.5 miles from Wrangell Harbor, reached at high tide by small boat. Garnet, a semiprecious stone, can be found embedded in the ledge here. The garnet ledge is on land deeded to the Presbytery of Alaska from the Southeast Council of the Boy Scouts of America (who had previously acquired the land from the late Fred Hanford, former mayor of Wrangell). Garnets are sold by children at the docks when ships and ferries are in port. Anyone who is not a child from Wrangell must get a permit to dig garnets. Contact the Presbyterian Church in Wrangell.
There are several popular trails close to town. The Mount Dewey Trail begins at Third Street and leads to the top of 400-foot Mount Dewey, overlooking the downtown area and Zimovia Strait. Volunteer Park Trails are located off Bennett Street behind the elementary school, near the Little League ballfields. This is an easy loop walk through muskeg, shrub forests and old-growth forest.
Rainbow Falls is a popular local trail that begins across from the Shoemaker Bay Recreation Area at Milepost 4.6 Zimovia Highway. It is a steep 0.7-mile trail to a scenic waterfall. Institute Creek trail intersects with Rainbow Falls trail at Mile 0.6 and leads 2.7 miles to viewpoint and shelter overlooking Shoemaker Bay and Zimovia Strait. Institute Creek Trail also intersects with Wrangell High Country trail, which leads to 2 high-elevation shelters.
Nemo Point USFS Recreation Area, at Milepost 13.6 Zimovia Highway, offers dramatic views of Zimovia Strait from campsites and overlooks. From the end of the Zimovia Highway and from the Nemo Point road there is access to the island’s extensive forest road system. These narrow logging roads provide access to lakes, trails and campsites. Favorite destinations for locals include Earl West Cove recreation site; Highbush Lake; and Thoms and Long lakes (both walk-in).
USFS cabins in the surrounding area are a major attraction here. There are 23 USFS public-use cabins scattered throughout the region that are accessible by air or by boat. The U.S. Forest Service office is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays; 525 Bennett St., phone 907-874-2323; or visit www.fs.usda.gov/tongass.
Pats Lake and High-bush Lake are accessible by road. Thoms Lake and Long Lake are accessible via road and trail. Fly in to Kunk Lake, Anan Lake, Marten Lake, Virginia Lake, Eagle Lake and Salmon Bay (on Prince of Wales Island). Stikine River near Wrangell (closed to freshwater chinook salmon fishing), Dolly Varden to 22 inches, and cutthroat to 18 inches, best in midsummer to fall; spring steelhead to 12 lbs., coho salmon 8 to 12 lbs., September and October. Saltwater fishing near Wrangell for chinook salmon, 10 to 30 lbs., best in May and June. There are bait, minimum size and other restrictions (see current sportfishing regulations). Stop by the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game office at 215 Front St. for details. Wrangell Salmon Derby runs from mid-May to mid-June; occasional chinook to 50-plus lbs.
Lodging & Services
Accommodations at the Stikine Inn; 1-888-874-3388; www.stikineinnak.com. The Wrangell Hostel is located in the Presbyterian church; phone 907-874-3534.
Meals at the Stikine Inn, Marine Bar, and 2 cafes. Wrangell has 2 supermarkets; gas stations; hardware, marine, sporting goods and auto parts stores; banks; a laundromat; clothing stores and gift shops.
The Nolan Center serves as the local movie theater, showing current feature films on most weekends.
Breakaway Adventures offers scheduled and custom-designed trips to the Anan Bear and Wildlife Observatory as well as to the Stikine River and nearby glaciers. Rent boats and canoes from them for complete flexibility in plans. Phone 907-874-2488 or visit https://breakawayadventures.com.
Irene Ingle Public Library, just up from the ferry terminal on Second Street, has internet, computers, a copy machine, paperback exchange and public restrooms. Access to free public Wi-Fi outside the library, 24/7. Visit www.wrangell.com/library or phone 907-874-3535.
The city-owned Shoemaker RV Park & Campground provides tent and RV camping at Shoemaker Bay Recreation Area, Milepost 4.6 Zimovia Highway. There are 6 tent sites located adjacent to the creek and park area. RV sites are located in the harbor with some overflow sites in the harbor parking lot. There are a total of 25 RV spaces: 16 with electricity in the north parking area, and the 9 harbor parking lot sites with no hookups. Potable water, dump station and restrooms adjacent harbor parking lot sites. Camping fees are $20/night for non-hookup sites, $30/night for sites with hookups; 10-day limit for RVs, 5-day limit for tent campers. Phone 907-874-2444; https://www.wrangellrec.com/info/facilities.
Tent camping only at City Park, located at Milepost 1.7 Zimovia Highway. There are restrooms, tables and firepits. Tent camping is restricted to 48 hours; no tents in picnic shelters. Because overnight parking is prohibited at the city park, tent sites are restricted to bicyclists or walk-ins. Nice views for visitors during the day from this park’s loop access road.
Nemo Point USFS Recreation Area (pictured above), at Milepost 13.6 Zimovia Highway, has 4 recreation sites for tent campers and RVs with dramatic views of Zimovia Strait. No fees, no reservations. Steep and narrow gravel access road to sites; NOT good for large RVs. An information board at Mile 0.5 on the access road has site maps and information about site accessibility, summer weekly interpretive programs and other campground activities.
Another option is staying at Wrangell’s USFS public-use cabin. The cabin fee is $45/night plus a $8 reservation fee. The Middle Ridge Cabin is located 19 miles from Wrangell. Cabin is at 1,500 feet elevation and access may be limited seasonally because of snow. For details, contact the Forest Service office in Wrangell, phone 907-874-2323; www.fs.usda.gov/tongass. Cabin reservations at www.recreation.gov or phone 1-877-444-6777.
Air: Daily scheduled jet service is provided by Alaska Airlines to other Southeast cities with through service to Seattle and Anchorage. Charter services available.
The airport terminal is 1.1 miles from the ferry terminal via Evergreen Avenue or 1.1 miles from Zimovia Highway via Bennett Street. Taxi to town or check with local hotels about courtesy van service.
Ferry: Alaska Marine Highway serves Wrangell. The ferry terminal is at the end of Second and Church streets. Walk or take a taxi from terminal to town. Terminal facilities include ticket office, waiting room and vehicle waiting area; phone 907-874-3711. Reservations phone 1-800-642-0066. For tariffs and schedules visit www.ferryalaska.com.
Car Rental: Available at the airport from Practical Rent-A-Car 907-874-3975.
Highways: Zimovia Highway. Logging roads have opened up most of Wrangell Island to motorists. Check with the USFS office at 525 Bennett St. for a copy of the Motor Vehicles Use Map, which can also be downloaded at https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/tongass/maps-pubs/?cid=stelprdb5430063. Write USDA Forest Service, Wrangell Ranger District, Box 51, Wrangell, AK 99929; phone 907-874-2323.
Private Boats: Transient moorage downtown on Reliance Float near Shakes Tribal House, and at Milepost 1.4 Zimovia Highway at Heritage Harbor. If you are traveling to Wrangell by boat, contact harbor master for tie-up space, phone 907-874-3736 or radio VHF Ch. 16.