Prince of Wales Island, located in Southeast Alaska, is the third largest island in the United States. Click here for a PDF map of Prince of Wales Island.
Visitor Information: Prince of Wales Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 490, Klawock, AK 99925; phone 907-755-2626; email@example.com; www.princeofwalescoc.org; www.discoverpowisland. com. The U.S. Forest Service has offices in Craig, 907-826-3271, and Thorne Bay, 907-828-3304; www.fs.usda.gov/tongass.
Prince of Wales Island is the third largest island under the American flag (Kodiak is second, the Big Island of Hawaii is first), measuring roughly 135 miles north to south by 45 miles east to west. A mountainous, heavily forested island with a cool, moist, maritime climate, the island is best known for its world-class fishing and for having the most extensive road system in Southeast Alaska. Designated a State Scenic Byway in 2010, the island road system, with over 100 miles of paved road, offers visitors a unique driving experience. The scenery is anything but repetitive, as the roads travel through old-growth forest and clear-cut areas, with mountain views and views of coastline and offshore islands.
Historically, salmon and timber have been the economic mainstays of Prince of Wales Island. One of Alaska’s first canneries was built at Klawock in 1878, and some 25 more canneries were eventually built on the island to process salmon.
Wildlife viewing opportunities abound—from bald eagles to bears. It is not uncommon to have to brake for black bears or Sitka black-tailed deer crossing the road.
El Capitan Cave
It is estimated that there are thousands of caves on the island. The major geological attraction on the island is El Capitan Cave, located 75 miles from Craig via the North Prince of Wales Road.
With more than 13,000 feet of passageways, El Capitan Cave is the largest known cave in Alaska. A steep staircase trail (more than 365 steps) leads up to the cave entrance. The cave is accessible only by guided tour offered by the Forest Service. To book a tour, phone the Thorne Bay Ranger District at 907-828-3304. Tours last about 2 hours. Wear warm clothes and boots. The U.S. Forest Service provides flashlights and safety helmets with headlamps.
Four miles south of the turnoff for El Capitan is Beaver Falls Karst Trail. This 1-mile boardwalk crosses ancient muskegs, cathedral forests, and displays many karst features, such as sinkholes, deep vertical pits, lost rivers and collapsed channels.
Annual events on the island include the Prince of Wales Island Marathon in May. The 26.2-mile marathon begins and ends at the high school in Craig. This annual event takes place the Saturday preceding Memorial Day. For fishermen there are salmon derbies in Thorne Bay (May–July) and Craig– Klawock (June–August). The annual “By the Sea” Arts & Seafood Festival takes place in Coffman Cove in mid-August.
Tour the road system
The road system connects 9 communities and also provides access to hiking trails; roadside fishing streams (sockeye, humpy and coho salmon, cutthroat, rainbow trout and Dolly Varden); and some unique geological attractions. On Prince of Wales Island, the Forest Service manages 5 designated wilderness areas, as well as public-use cabins, campgrounds, hiking trails and canoe trails.
Many of the island’s communities began as logging camps. Today, timber harvests on the island are only a fraction of what they once were. Motorists get a close-up look at the effects of logging as they drive the island’s roads. Clear-cut areas, in various stages of regrowth, alternate with old-growth forest as you travel from one end of the island to the other. Watch for logging truck traffic throughout the island.
A major attraction here is the world-class saltwater sportfishing that abounds immediately offshore and throughout the many smaller islands surrounding Prince of Wales Island. Most communities have boat ramps. Visiting fishermen may also charter with a local operator. Lodges providing guided fishing charters and packages include: Fireweed Lodge, Stryker Bay Adventures, Kingfisher Charters & Lodge, Shelter Cove, SureStrike, Catch-a-King, Steamboat Bay Resort and Alaska’s Waterfall Resort. Visit the Prince of Wales Chamber of Commerce websites at www.princeofwalescoc.org and www.discoverpowisland.com.
Ocean fishing for salmon is best in July and early August for chinooks, August and September for coho, July, August and September for humpies, and August and September for chum. Halibut to 100 lbs., 50-lb. chinook salmon and 15-lb. coho salmon are not considered uncommon during the sport season, usually May through August due to the weather and fish migration patterns. Abundant bottom fish, including lingcod, halibut and red snapper, reside throughout these waters year-round.
Nine communities on Prince of Wales Island are connected by the island road system. Coffman Cove, Craig, Hydaburg, Kasaan, Klawock, Thorne Bay and Whale Pass have city status. The smaller communities of Hollis and Naukati and are described in the road logs.
Three communities not on the island road system are PORT PROTECTION (pop. 42), POINT BAKER (pop. 16), and EDNA BAY. Located on the northern tip of Prince of Wales Island, these 3 small fishing villages are accessible by floatplane and skiff.
Lodging & Services
Accommodations on the island range from lodges, cabins and bed-and-breakfasts to guest houses and apartments. If you are dining out, Craig has the widest selection of eateries, from pizza to bakery/cafes/food trucks. Shopping and other services are also found mainly in Craig and in neighboring Klawock. Wi-Fi can be found at libraries in Craig, Hollis, Thorne Bay and Whale Pass; and for customers at Papa’s Pizza in Craig.
Fireweed Lodge (www.fireweedlodge.com) is located in Klawock on the Craig–Klawock–Hollis Highway; the entrance is across the street from St. John By the Sea Catholic Church. Fireweed Lodge has a dining room and arranges fishing charters. Sunnahae Hotel (www.sunnahaehotel.com) in Craig offers comfortable rooms and cozy cabins with free Wi-Fi. For a complete list of lodges and other businesses on the island, visit the Prince of Wales Chamber of Commerce website at www.princeofwalescoc.org.
Klawock has cabins, RV sites, fishing packages and charters at Stryker Bay Adventures; phone 541-901-9674, reserve ahead. There is an RV park in Thorne Bay, across from the USFS office on Sandy Beach Road.
There are 2 U.S. Forest Service campgrounds on the island—Eagle’s Nest on Thorne Bay Road and Harris River on the Craig–Klawock–Hollis Highway. Camping fee at both is $8. Campground sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you are in a group and wish to book adjacent sites ahead of time, this may be possible; please call the Craig Ranger District at 907-826-3271 or visit www.recreation.gov. Several undeveloped dispersed campsites are accessible via the island road system; see www.fs.usda.gov/tongass.
There are 17 USFS cabins (accessible by plane, boat or on foot) and two 3-sided shelters (free) available for public use; reservations and a fee are required ($20–$45 a night, per cabin). Online reservations are available; visit www.recreation.gov.
Air: Daily scheduled service from Ketchikan available. All communities on the island are served by floatplane. Wheel planes land at Klawock Airport. Air charters that serve Prince of Wales include, Alaska Seaplanes (www.flyalaskaseaplanes.com, 1-800-354-2479); Taquan Air (www.taquanair.com, 1-800-770-8800); and Island Air Express (1-888-387-8989).
Ferry: Year-round, daily passenger and vehicle service via Inter–Island Ferry Authority. The IFA’s MV Stikine or MV Prince of Wales connect Ketchikan and with the Hollis Ferry Terminal at Clark Bay, which is 23 miles from Klawock and 30 miles from Craig via the Craig–Klawock–Hollis Highway. Ferry crossing time is about 3 hours. For reservations, phone 1-866-308-4848; online at www.interislandferry.com. In Ketchikan, stop by the IFA ticket counter inside the Alaska Marine Highway terminal, or phone 1-866-308-4848.
Car rentals: Hollis Adventure Rentals (www.harentals.com), phone 907-530-7040; Rainforest Auto Rentals, phone 907-826-2277.
Highways: The island’s road system (an Alaska Scenic Byway) is logged in this section as the Craig–Klawock–Hollis Highway (paved), connecting the IFA Ferry Landing at Hollis/Clark Bay with downtown Craig; Big Salt Lake Road (paved), connecting Klawock to the Control Lake junction; Thorne Bay Road (paved), connecting Control Lake Junction with the community of Thorne Bay; and North Prince of Wales Road/FH 43, from Control Lake Junction to road end at Labouchere Bay (improved pavement and narrow gravel). See map and road logs this section.