Immerse into nature and art with the totems, skillfully carved by Native artists of Southeast Alaska
Ten miles north of Ketchikan is Totem Bight State Historical Park, an 11-acre park that is packed with restored and re-carved totems as well as a colorful community house. Just as impressive as the totems are the park's lush rainforest setting and the rocky coastline along Tongass Narrows.
When Alaska's indigenous people migrated to non-Native communities to seek work in the early 1900s, the villages and totem poles they left behind were soon overgrown by forests and eroded by weather. In 1938, the U.S. Forest Service began a program designed to salvage and restore these large cedar monuments by hiring skilled carvers from among elder Tlingit and Haida Indians who in turn passed on the art of carving totems to younger artisans.
The project grew into the construction of a model Native village, and by World War II the community house was complete and 15 poles were erected. The name of the site was then changed to Totem Bight. When Alaska received statehood in 1959, the title to the land passed from the federal government to the State of Alaska. In 1970 the state park was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Ecosystem and Wildlife
The region is classified as a temperate rain forest within the Pacific temperate rain forest zone, which extends from Prince William Sound to northern California. The vast majority of Alaska’s coastal temperate rainforests are old growth, consisting primarily of Western hemlock, Sitka spruce, mountain hemlock, and Alaska yellow cedar. Mature coastal temperate rainforests are extraordinarily complex and stable habitats. Wildlife in the area includes brown bears, black bears, wolf, Sitka black-tailed deer, humpback whales, orcas, salmon, bald eagles and harlequin ducks.
The Clan House is the central attraction at the park, offering an inside look into the past to learn about Native culture and family life. Then stroll through the spires of 14 totems and learn the history of the area through these “silent storytellers,” erected to continue passing down the oral traditions of the Natives from generation to generation. Take a rest at the park’s viewing deck, where visitors are treated to precious photographic moments of wildlife and nature along the Tongass Narrows.
The most impressive feature of the park is the Clan House. The structure represents a clan house that may have housed 30 to 50 people and is symbolized by carved house posts, designs on the house fronts and stylized painting. Inside the house is one large room with a central fireplace surrounded by a planked platform. The walls and floors were hand-adzed to smooth the surface and remove splinters. The dwelling served as living quarters for several families of a particular lineage.
Outside 14 totems are still erected in the park with each pole representing a story or event. Also at Totem Bight is a parking area, interpretive panels, toilets, a book shop and a viewing deck overlooking the Tongass Narrows.
There are no fees at Totem Bight.
Totem Bight is 10 miles northwest of Ketchikan along North Tongass Highway. For more information contact Ketchikan Ranger Station (907-247-8574) within the park.
Visits the Ketchikan community page for accommodations, tours and activities.