Pelican was established as a salmon cannery town back in the late 1930s, and it still proudly promotes the slogan it was given back then: “Closest to the fish!”
Pelican is indeed close to the fish. Located on the northwest coast of Chichagof Island, 90 miles north of Sitka and 100 miles west of Juneau in Alaska’s Inside Passage region, it boasts the closest harbor to the rich Fairweather salmon grounds. The town is also known for its boardwalk, which links most residences and businesses in and around the small-boat harbor, which is the heart of town.
Things to do
Not surprisingly, silver and king salmon as well as giant halibut are plentiful in the area, and in the summer, plenty of charter boats are available to take visitors out to catch them. The annual king salmon derby, held in early June, is a great opportunity to haul in a giant king and possibly win cash prizes for the effort.
Pelican is also uniquely well situated for sea kayaking. There are approximately 40 miles of protected inside waters near town for relaxed and scenic paddling. A popular destination for kayakers is White Sulphur Hot Springs, located about 20 nautical miles from Pelican. Pelican is also adjacent to the West-Chichagof Yakobi Island Wilderness Area, which features four public-use cabins available for rent from the Tongass National Forest. There are several fishing lodges located in Pelican and in the settlements of Phonograph Cove and Sunnyside.
During the summer months, Alaska Marine Highway ferries sail to Pelican twice a month from Juneau, which can make a fun daytrip. The cruise through Icy Strait is scenic, with a very good possibility of seeing humpback whales, and two hours in port offers plenty of time to walk the length of town. Salmon Way consists of a mile-long boardwalk built on pilings over tidelands and is a photographer's delight. There are only two miles of rough gravel roads beyond that.
Pelican’s most interesting attraction is Rosie's Bar & Grill, a classic Alaskan fisherman's bar. Here you can mingle with trollers, longliners and visitors before hopping back on the state ferry. The Lisanski Inlet Café, famous for its seafood menu, is also a great stop. The best source for information is the Pelican Chamber of Commerce.
Charter fishing captains are available to take visitors for a day on the water to fish for a variety of saltwater species including king salmon, silver salmon, pink salmon, halibut, ling cod and rockfish. The kings often weigh in at 25 to 45 pounds with a few 50 to 70 pounders taken annually. Halibut can weigh in up to 100 pounds or more. On the first Friday in June, Pelican stages its annual King Salmon Derby, where a week later some skilled, or maybe just lucky, angler walks away with a cash prize for the largest king.
Pelican is a paradise for sea kayakers with easy access to Lisianski Inlet, Lisianski Straits and Stag Bay, which offer more than 40 miles of protected waters to explore. More experienced paddlers head for the outside coastal waters of West-Chichagof Yakobi Island Wilderness Area, which offers miles of coastline dotted with protected bays, estuaries and channels. Kayaks are available for rent in Pelican while the Alaska Marine Highway travels to Pelican from Juneau every two weeks in the summer months.
White Sulfur Hot Springs
Pelican charter boat operators can arrange a day tour or overnight adventure to White Sulfur Hot Springs, located 20 miles from Pelican on the outside coast of Chichagof Island. The natural hot springs include a U.S. Forest Service cabin
that can be reserved and a covered hot spring pool with a bathhouse. There is an outside pool where one can stretch out, soak the aches and pains away while listening to the ocean swells break on the shoreline. The inside pool provides views of the Pacific Ocean and the coastal isles.