Strategically located near the mouth of the Stikine River, Wrangell is one of the oldest towns in Alaska. Now home to 2,058 residents, the town is the only one to have existed under three flags and be ruled by four nations: Tlingit, Russia, England and the United States.
Wrangell's heyday was as a jumping-off point for three major gold rushes up the Stikine River from 1861 to the late 1890s. Back then Wrangell was as lawless and ruthless as Skagway and at one point Wyatt Earp, the famous Arizona lawman, filled in as a volunteer marshal for 10 days before moving on to Nome. Wrangell's most famous visitor, however, was John Muir, who came in 1879 and again in 1880.
Things to do
Wrangell’s interesting early history can be experienced at the Wrangell Museum in the Nolan Center, one of the Inside Passage region’s newest museums. Another side of Wrangell’s history can been seen in its impressive collection of totems; more than a dozen are scattered throughout town. One of the most enchanting spots is also the location of the best collection of totems: Chief Shakes Island, a grassy islet in the middle of the boat harbor that is reached by a pedestrian bridge. A community house also stands on the property. This quiet oasis is a great place to spot bald eagles perched in surrounding cottonwoods. Kiksadi Totem Park is located on Front Street. The park was dedicated in 1987 by Sealaska Native Corporation with the first traditional totem rising in Wrangell in more than 40 years.
Located just north of town is Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park, where you can see primitive rock carvings believed to be at least 1,000 years old. There are almost 50 in the area, resembling spirals, birds, whales and faces, but you need to hunt around to find most of them. Another interesting walk from the downtown area is Mount Dewey Trail. This half-mile climb leads to a small clearing on top of a hill overlooking Wrangell and the surrounding waterways.
The most popular day trip from Wrangell is to Anan Wildlife Observatory. Located 30 miles southeast of Wrangell on the mainland, Anan Creek is the site of one of the largest pink salmon runs in the Inside Passage. From the viewing platforms at the observatory, you can watch eagles, harbor seals, black bears and a few brown bears chowing down on the spawning salmon. Almost every tour operator in town offers a guided trip there. Contact the Tongass National Forest for more information.