Prince of Wales Island
With more miles of roads than the rest of Southeast Alaska combined, a beautifully wild coastline, deep U-shaped valleys, rugged snow-topped mountains, hidden caves, and a wealth of wildlife, you might expect the country’s third-largest island (after Kodiak and Hawaii) to be a major tourist attraction. But Prince of Wales Island (POW) has thus far remained off the tourist path for a number of reasons, the primary one being logging.
Much of the land has been heavily logged, with huge clear-cuts gouged out of the hillsides, particularly along the extensive road network. Logging has slowed markedly in recent years as the Forest Service shifts to a more diverse land-management policy, and as the Native Alaskan corporations run out of trees to cut.
Actually, POW’s notoriety is its saving grace as well: The towns are authentically Alaskan, with no pretext of civility for the tourists. The 4,500 or so people who live here are friendly, and the roads offer good opportunities for a variety of recreation—including mountain biking—not available elsewhere in the Southeast.
The island is very popular with hunters, and the roads provide easy access to many bays for fishing. Black bears and deer are common sights, and wolves are occasionally seen. As logging has declined on POW, tourism—especially from those looking to catch halibut and salmon—has increased. Most of the main roads are now paved, and a ferry provides daily service between Ketchikan and Hollis.
Prince of Wales Island’s largest settlement is Craig, on the west coast, but Klawock, Thorne Bay, and Hydaburg each have several hundred people. Rainfall on POW ranges 60–200 inches per year, depending on local topographic conditions. As an aside, this is one of four Prince of Wales Islands on the planet. The others are in Canada’s Northwest Territories, in Australia, and in Malaysia.
Located in Klawock, the Prince of Wales Chamber of Commerce (907/755-2626, www.princeofwalescoc.org, Mon.–Fri. 8 a.m.–4 p.m. year-round) is a good source for local info, and their website features links to many island lodging places and fishing resorts.
Getting to Prince of Wales Island
By Ferry: The Inter-Island Ferry Authority (907/826-4848 or 866/308-4848, www.interislandferry.com) operates the MV Prince of Wales, a vehicle and passenger ferry with daily round-trips between Ketchikan and the tiny spot called Hollis (no services other than phones and toilets). It’s 25 miles from Hollis to Klawock, the nearest town. Reservations are strongly recommended for vehicles on this ferry.
Shoo Teen Taxi Service (907/965-4949) provides shuttle vans from the ferry in Hollis to and from Craig ($35 pp). Call a day ahead for reservations.
By Air: On a rainy midsummer day when the clouds were almost to the water, I sat in Craig waiting to fly back to Ketchikan. The weather looked marginal to me, but when I asked at the air-taxi counter if they were flying, the woman glanced outside and nonchalantly responded, “Oh sure, it looks pretty good today.” We flew.
Three air-taxi operators, ProMech Air (907/225-3845 or 800/860-3845, www.promechair.com), Pacific Airways (907/225-3500 or 877/360-3500, www.flypacificairways.com), and Taquan Air (907/225-8800 or 800/770-8800, www.taquanair.com) have daily floatplane service from Ketchikan to Craig, Hollis, and Thorne Bay.
Taquan also flies to smaller settlements scattered across the island, including Coffman Cove, Naukati, Point Baker, Point Protection, and Whale Pass. Harris Aircraft Services (907/966-3050 or 877/966-3050, www.harrisaircraft.com) flies most days between Sitka and Klawock.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition