At 140 miles long and more than 2,230 square miles, Prince of Wales Island is the country's fourth-largest island, after Alaska's Kodiak Island, Hawaii's Big Island and Puerto Rico.
About Prince of Wales Island
Prince of Wales Island is the traditional Tlingit territory, although the Kaigani Haida moved into the area in the 18th century and its indigenous residents today are primarily of Haida descent. Although Russian, British, Spanish and French explorers passed by the island throughout the 1700s, Western interest in the island didn’t come until the late 1800s, when rich deposits of gold were found on the island. Later, the primary industry became logging – Prince of Wales Island is located in the heart of the temperate rainforest that defines most of the Inside Passage and northwest coast of British Columbia, and much of its towering Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock were thoroughly harvested in the 1970s and ‘80s. With the decline of the logging and timber industry in the 1990s, workers on the island shifted their focus to commercial fishing, which remains the primary economic force today.
Things to do
Located just a three-hour ferry ride from Ketchikan, Prince of Wales Island is a vast, rugged island and the perfect destination for adventurous visitors who come to Alaska with a paddle or backpack in hand or with hopes of landing a trophy salmon or halibut.
The 990-mile coastline of Prince of Wales Island meanders around numerous bays, coves, saltwater straits and protected islands, making it a kayaker's delight. Chains of inland lakes are better suited for paddlers willing to portage a canoe, and the island is scattered with public-use cabins available through the Tongass National Forest for those who want to spend a night on their own in the wilderness. The island has the most extensive road system in the Inside Passage, with 1,300 miles of paved or maintained gravel roads that lead to small villages, rustic campgrounds, fishing lodges and numerous trails. There are also several hundred miles of logging roads that many visitors explore on mountain bikes.
Among Prince of Wales Island’s more unusual attractions are fish ladders and ancient caves. On the island's southern half, you can watch salmon attempt to negotiate ladders at Cable Creek Fish Pass and Dog Salmon Fish Pass. Both have viewing platforms from which to see spawning salmon and hungry black bears. On the north end of the island are karst formations of more than 850 grottos and caves. The most popular cave is El Capitan. The cave is northwest of the town of Thorne Bay; U.S. Forest Service rangers lead two-hour tours into it daily during the summer. For more information about caves, camping, trails and public-use cabins, contact the Tongass National Forest.
The Inter-Island Ferry Authority provides service from Ketchikan, and once on the island, visitors can head off to a dozen small communities, with most offering accommodations and other services. The ferry docks in the small town of Hollis. The largest, most visitor-friendly towns are Craig and Klawock, only seven miles apart but still a 31-mile drive across the island along the paved Hollis-Klawock Highway. Also supporting lodging, restaurants, small grocery stores and other visitor amenities is Thorne Bay, 38 miles northeast from Klawock, and Coffman Cove, 55 miles north of Klawock.