Prince of Wales Island, Alaska: Logistics
Getting to Prince of Wales Island, Alaska
When was the last time you were welcomed by a whale? Getting to this island, the largest of about 1,100 that form Alaska's inside passage - the Gateway to Alaska - is part of the fun!
Your Adventure Begins at Ketchikan, Alaska
Fly Alaska Air into Ketchikan International Airport from Seattle or Juneau. Delta also has flights to Ketchikan but only at certain times of the year.
Prince of Wales Island
By Ferry: From Ketchikan, the inter-island ferry will take your family (and vehicle if you rent it in Ketchikan) on a 3-hour cross-channel ride into the former mining and timber town of Hollis.
Book passage in advance and be at the dock at least an hour before sail time. The ferry has a café for a bite or coffee, as well as a play area to keep the kids corralled while you soak up the views. Watch for whales and other marine life.
By Air: Local carriers offer seasonally scheduled flights from Ketchikan to Hollis, Thorne Bay, or Craig. Flights to other communities are irregularly available or on demand.
For more information see Prince of Wales Chamber of Commerce
Getting Around on Prince of Wales Island
Once on the island, settle in and enjoy! Hiking, walking, biking the trails, logging roads, and raised boardwalks or canoeing or kayaking the streams are wonderful ways of connecting with the unique ecosystems of the temperate rainforest - but be sure to familiarize yourself with island Responsible Best Practices before you head out.
Exploring the Island By Car
You will want a car for exploring on Prince of Wales Island. You can rent one at Ketchikan and bring it to the island by ferry. Or pick one up in Hollis. Either way, a front-wheel or four-wheel drive or SUV is recommended.
With over 1,300 miles (2,100 km) of paved or maintained gravel roads as well as several hundred additional miles of logging roads (good for mountain biking), exploring is easy on this the 135-mile (217 km) long, 45-mile (72 km) wide island.
The Scenic Byway zig-zags the island’s length and width. It is 260 miles (418 km) of mostly paved roads connecting almost all of the island’s communities, from Point Baker at the extreme northern end it extends south to Whale Pass, Naukati Bay, Coffman Cove, Thorne Bay, Klawock, Craig, Kasaan, Hollis, and Hydaburg.
Tips from the Department of Transportation
The use of a four-wheel drive or a sturdy SUV on the island is highly recommended. Be sure your spare tire is in good shape. Watch your gas gauge and mile markers: Fuel is available in Craig, Klawock, Naukati, Thorne Bay, Coffman Cove and Whale Pass. Bring your cell phone car charger.
Accommodations on Prince of Wales Island
Lodging is a Family Affair
The communities on Prince of Wales Island are small and the number of tourist rooms is limited. The good news is that local families own and run most of the island lodges. When you are here, you are part of the family - so bring your family! Unfortunately for new comers, returning guests book with their favorite families in months or years in advance! The lodges fill quickly - this is not a place to expect a vast list of last-minute choices. Reserve early to make sure you have the accommodations most comfortable for you and your family.
The warmth and welcome of these home based lodges is off the charts - but the amenities score can be uneven. Lodges range from full service to very basic. Many are self-catering, providing a small kitchenette for your self-cooked meals. Others offer breakfast, dinner, and even a packed lunch to enjoy during the day's adventures included or at a small additional cost. Many lodges also have kayaks or canoes and land vehicles to rent.
Best advice for Prince of Wales Island is to book your accommodations well in advance. To be sure you find the accommodations most comfortable for your families needs, inquire about meal availability, bath rooms, or other concerns before you book.
A Note on Responsible Tourism: In the past, most tourists who arrived here came to the Island for the sport fishing or hunting. We do not encourage or condone hunting or (non-catch and release) sport fishing and have tried to steer away from those lodges that specifically cater to these activities. We request that visitors respect their hosts and other guests at all times. Hunting and fishing licenses are an economic fact of life. As responsible tourism grows it will, over time, lessen their necessity.
Choosing A "Base Camp"
The island is small enough to be able to do a good bit of exploring with day trips from a central location. The communities of Crag or Thorn Bay, the largest of the island’s towns, are situated in the midsection, almost exactly opposite each other, on the east and west sides of the oval-ish shaped island. Either is a reasonable drive from the ferry port at Hollis. At least two small air carriers have regularly scheduled flights between Craig or Thorn Bay and Ketchikan.
Craig: Population 1127
Craig, on Prince of Wales Island's western coast, is the Island's largest town - and a fabulous place to begin your visit to Prince of Wales Island. Watch whales and sea birds without leaving land, hike the trails including the famous Graveyard walk; some are wheelchair accessible. See "Prince of Wales Island: Things to Do" for more. Craig is also the place to find just about anything you need, including: lodging, car fuel, shops, cafes, and medical care.
Sunnahae Hotel. The Sunnahae property consists of a small hotel with ten rooms, and two large detached cabins and one efficiency cabin. The main hotel building is comfortable and has one accessible room downstairs, but for a special treat, or if you are bringing a family, book early to stay in one of their cabins. They are fully furnished, have a kitchen and bath, sleep five, and look out over the most beautiful water views you will ever see.
Stock up on your favorite sundowner beverage and enjoy it from the porch. There is free WiFi and laundry facilities in the hotel and each cabin. There is also an events room that holds 40 comfortably - perfect for family reunions.
No food is served here, but walk over to the Fish & Chicks food truck run by a couple of local ladies for a freshly caught al fresco dinner or stop into the Dock Side Galley for home cooked burgers, fish, salads and more. Be sure to say hi to Linda, the office manager at Sunnahae for me. Self catering in the cabins.
Thorne Bay (Population 500)
Thorne Bay was once a logging town; in fact, at one time it was considered one of the planet’s largest. Look for the town’s welcome sign, made from one of the world’s largest log handling grapples. Frankly, we are happy to see it put to a more benign use.
The Welcome Inn lives up to its name; when you stay with hosts Tim and Teresa, you are family. The lodge is a great spot from which to base your explorations of the northeastern part of the island including Balls Lake, and Gravely Creek. Watch the pinks (salmon) in July and August, says Teresa, “it is an amazing site.”
The lodge, which features three guest rooms, is right on the Bay - and family friendly! Once settled into the Welcome Inn, walk down the lawn to the water or enjoy the awe-inspiring views from the living room window. Hike the rainforest trails around Thorne Bay or hire a fishing boat to take you out for some whale, porpoise, sea lion, and bird watching.
Teresa will provide a first-class Alaskan breakfast for you. If you’d like a bagged lunch (there is a small charge), it will come with (do not miss!) homemade cookies for dessert. If requested, Teresa will prepare you her famous home cooked family-style dinners ($25.00 per person). Order in advance. Teresa's recipes alone will have you booking a return trip to Thorne Bay.
Coffman Cove: Population 200
Coffman Cove is Prince of Wales Island’s most northern community accessible by paved road - and well worth the effort to explore.
The Alaska Lodge and Retreat. Two guest rooms plus a master suite, and a fabulous view. Breakfast included, other home cooked meals available all featuring fresh ingredients from organic and local growers and producers.
The Whale Point Cabin. Four cabins with kitchenette that will sleep from 2 to 5 people each. Self catering. Located on the bay. Car and water craft rental available. The view is free.
A Room With A View. Self Catering Only. See whales, porpoise, sea lion right from your window! Your accommodation includes a kitchen, bathroom and laundry facilities.
Klawock: Population 777
The Fireweed Lodge. This lodge was recommended to us by a (U.S.) mainland transplant who specifically mentioned the work-out room and basketball court. He and his family love it. It is considerably more pricey than the others, but they also offer considerably more amenities than a home based lodge. There are 18 well appointed rooms here, six with views overlooking the Klawock Estuary a favorite of bears, deer, and eagles! Each room has a private bath.
Fireweed lodge caters to sport fisherman. As such they have complete packages that include captained boats, these can be used for viewing whales, orca, porpoise, seal, sea lion, and sea birds as well as fishing. Family friendly. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served.
Camping on Prince of Wales Island
All of Prince of Wales Island is bear country. Although the black bears are not usually aggressive, careless, or not responsible behavior can turn that around. The Forestry Service has recommended responsible practices, review them prior to beginning your adventure.
Forestry cabins. There are 21 recreational cabins scattered through out Prince of Wales Island - from the mountains to the beaches. A few are accessible by road vehicle, a few from the water, including Karta Lake cabin mentioned in "Prince of Wales Island: Things to Do". Many of the cabins are remote and all are rustic. Reserve in advance.
Campgrounds. Prince of Wales Island welcomes campers. The following are two Forestry Service campgrounds that have accessible sheltered picnic areas, vault toilets, fire rings, grills, and ample opportunity for trail hiking and other activities.
Harris River near Craig
Eagle Nest Campgrounds near Thorne Bay. Eagle Nest also has a boat ramp, kayaking, canoeing, and an interpretive trail. See the Balls Lake section of Prince of Wales Island: Things to Do" for more information.
Prince of Wales Island also has numerous private campgrounds, some attached to lodges. The campsite section of the Prince of Wales Chamber of Commerce website is a good place to look for sites that fit your specific needs.
Food and Cuisine on Prince of Wales Island
Local is Ingredients - Local Conversation
Restaurants are low key, casual, and limited in number and hours of operation, but they are also places to get a surprising array of good home cooking, from fresh sushi to burgers, to fish tacos, chowders, and grilled meats. And do not forget dessert! Many of the ingredients are locally grown or caught.
The family owned restaurants are also great places to get to know the locals. Ask them about their favorite places in the rainforest or where they go to see whales and otters!
Self catering is big here and a convenient option when traveling with a family. Every village will at least have a little grocery, and many of the lodges include self-catering facilities: a refrigerator, microwave,a small stove, and sometimes utensils and pots, if not a full kitchen.
For More On Prince of Wales Island
To Luke and others on Prince of Wales island who prefer to remain nameless
but whose enthusiasm and love for their wonderful home is surpassed only by their generosity.
and to the
U.S Forestry Service at Prince of Wales Island for their time, help, and enthusiasm for this very special place.
JFimages01, photography. Follow him on Facebook