Quiet, friendly, and conservative, the settlement of Wrangell (pop. 1,700) sits on an island near the mouth of the Stikine River. The streets are full of folks in pickup trucks, their dogs hanging out the back and country tunes on the radio. Wrangell is quite unlike its neighbor, prim and proper Petersburg.
Wrangell’s inner harbor resonates with salmon- and shrimp-processing plants, fishing boats, and seaplanes, while totem poles guard historic Chief Shakes Island. Surrounding the harbor are old buildings on piles, wooded hillsides, and snowcapped mountains. Wrangell is compact enough that visitors can hoof it around to the most interesting sites in an hour or two and still have time to buy beer for the ferry.
To see the area right, however, you should spend a couple of days, or longer if you’re interested in exploring the mighty Stikine River.
Wrangell’s Stikine River Birding Festival in early May celebrates the arrival of spring with natural history presentations, bird-watching tours, and more. Mid-May–mid-June, pull out your fishing pole for the King Salmon Derby—top prize is $6,000. The main summer event is the town’s July 4th celebration, with a parade, a logging show, log rolling contests, a tug of war, live music, and fireworks. All this is funded by a handful of teenagers and their families who run downtown food booths in June.
The Forest Service’s Wrangell Ranger District Office (525 Bennett St., 907/874-2323, www.fs.fed.us/r10/tongass) is 0.75 miles from town on the left side of the road. It has information on local hiking trails, the Stikine River, and nearby recreation cabins.
Getting to Wrangell
Wrangell’s ferry terminal (907/874-3711) is right in town. Alaska Marine Highway (907/465-3941 or 800/642-0066, www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs) ferries head both north and south almost daily during the summer, but the terminal is open only for vessel arrivals and departures.
The airport is 1.5 miles from town on Bennett Street. Alaska Airlines (800/426-0333, www.alaskaair.com) has daily flights from Wrangell to Juneau, Ketchikan, Petersburg, and Sitka. Sunrise Aviation (907/874-2319 or 800/874-2311, www.sunriseflights.com) provides flightseeing trips and charter flights to nearby Forest Service cabins and Anan Creek. They often have seat-fare rates if someone else has already set up a charter; this can be a fast and reasonable way to fly to Petersburg or Prince of Wales.
Rent cars at the airport from Practical Rent-A-Car (907/874-3975). Both Northern Lights Taxi (907/874-4646) and Star Cab (907/874-3622) charge $7 from the airport to town.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition