7 Things to Do in Petersburg
From paddling to fishing and plenty of art, there are many ways to experience Petersburg. Here are seven ways to explore the Inside Passage coastal town known for Norwegian history and marine activities.
1. Explore Norwegian Culture
Peter Buschmann, who emigrated from Norway, founded Petersburg in 1897. He settled, opened a cannery, and encouraged his friends and family to come from Norway to join him. The result is a small city bursting with Scandinavian culture, from street names to architecture. Stroll through town and look for rosemaling — a traditional, flowery Norwegian folk art — that decorates many homes and businesses, especially along Sing Lee Ally, which is the center of old Petersburg. Plan a stop at the historical Sons of Norway Hall, a large white building in Sing Lee Ally that was built on pilings in 1912. The social hall is a National Historic Site and the center for Norwegian culture in Petersburg. In the summer, pause here for Norwegian dancers and enjoy a taste of Norway at the buffet.
While Norwegian culture is alive and well in Petersburg year-round, the best time to experience it is at the Little Norway Festival in mid-May. During the multiday festival, Petersburg celebrates Norwegian Independence Day with costumes, a parade, games, dances, fresh fish, and shrimp.
2. Tour Downtown Petersburg
Petersburg is known for its public art, and it is especially apparent downtown. Local creations can be found at the city’s galleries, museums, and at the library. Keep an eye out for sculptures and totems in the area and visit downtown shops to find made-in-Alaska artwork. Handcrafted items produced by Alaskans include Alaska native artwork and Norwegian-style sweaters, jewelry, and more.
Art can also be seen without even entering the buildings. Imaginative designs are stamped into sidewalks and adorn storefronts. To top it off, look for one of the city’s many murals around town. As travelers take in the art scene, they can stop at local shops, outfitters, and restaurants. Enjoy fresh seafood caught nearby or a warm cup of coffee to get the day started. Bustling canneries and fishing fleets keep the city bustling all year long.
3. Learn Petersburg Fishing Traditions
A fishing town since its beginning, fishing culture is still alive in Petersburg today. Cast a line, learn about the area’s fishing history, or do both! Take a guided trip or set out alone — either way there is plenty of opportunity to reel in the big one. Fish for king salmon at Blind River Rapids Boardwalk or try for silver salmon or halibut in Frederick Sound. Fishing guides will take clients out for a day on the water to try to catch a halibut that can range in size from 100 to 300 pounds. Or, anglers can stay on shore to fish for herring right off the harbor docks.
To learn about the town’s fishing traditions, visit the Clausen Memorial Museum. It’s home to historical Alaska artifacts, along with commercial fishing and processing gear from the early days of Petersburg. Displays include the largest king salmon ever caught, weighing in at 126 pounds, and a Tlingit dugout canoe. After the museum, head to Bojer Wikan Fisherman’s Memorial Park. Built on pilings, a bronze sculpture of the local fishermen honors Bojer and his fellow crewmembers who were lost at sea. Valhalla, a replica of a Viking ship that was built in 1976, is also found at the park.
4. Take a LeConte Glacier Tour
LeConte Glacier, a tidewater glacier, is only 20 miles by boat from Petersburg. Icebergs from the glacier often float into Frederick Sound and can sometimes be seen from town. To get a good look at the glacier, visitors can book flightseeing tours, kayaking trips, or day cruises that include whale watching in the sound.
By kayak, it takes one to two days to reach the glacier. Guided trips take travelers across Frederick Sound north of Coney Island. If the conditions are right, it can be possible to set up camp in LeConte Bay within view of the ice. To reach their destination, travelers will likely paddle past wildlife and giant icebergs. For a less-extreme adventure, book a flightseeing tour or arrange boat transportation. Both will offer great views of the sound, wildlife, and the glacier without all the paddling.
5. Embark on an Outdoor Adventure
There are many great adventures to embark on just outside of Petersburg. In and around town, hiking trails take visitors to scenic vistas. From wheelchair-accessible trails to mountain hikes out to public use cabins, there are treks for every skill level.
Hop in the car to see Mitkof Island, where you’ll find the world’s largest temperate rainforest. There are plenty of adventures awaiting here. An accessible boardwalk trail leads visitors to Blind River Rapids fishing area and other trails lead to sun-ripened berry patches and gorgeous hillsides. Paddle around via canoe or kayak, or head to the Three Lakes area where you can borrow a rowboat.
Visitors can also take a guided kayaking trip to nearby glaciers or to explore the surrounding islands. The Petersburg Ranger District of the Tongass National Forest boasts 1.6 million acres of forest, thousands of miles of shoreline, impressive icefields, mountain peaks, and surrounding islands.
6. Discover Petersburg’s Parks: Wildlife, Tidepools, Petroglyphs, and More
Spend a day at local parks and recreation centers in and around Petersburg. One of the most popular attractions is the Narrows Viewing Platform in Eagle Roost Park. From the park, which is within walking distance of downtown, visitors can easily spot eagles roosting in the trees overhead or flying around with other waterfowl. At the beach, explore tide pools at low tide to discover hermit crabs, sea stars, and more.
Another place for tide pooling is the Sandy Beach Park. Just 2 miles from downtown, Sandy Beach is perfect for a picnic and a day of exploring. At low tide, ancient Alaska Native petroglyphs, rock carvings, and 2,000-year-old Tlingit fish traps can be seen on the left towards the point.
On the way to (or from) Sandy Beach, make a pit stop at a popular wedding destination called Outlook Park. The wildlife observatory is located between town and the beach. A covered shelter — modeled after a traditional Norwegian stave church — offers views of Frederick Sound where you can watch humpbacks, orcas, sea lions, and icebergs. See if you can spot the Coast Mountains and Devil’s Thumb, a mountain in the Stikine Icecap region.
7. Take in Waterfront Sights
Petersburg’s waterfront has plenty to offer. From wildlife viewing to taking in the sights and sounds of the harbor, it’s easy to spend hours exploring. Visitors can head to any one of the town’s three scenic harbors to chat with local fishermen and learn about abundant marine life or simply watch the boats come in and out of port. Many types of watercrafts come and go, including tugs, small cruise ships, charter boats, crab boats, and more. Visitors will also enjoy views of nearby islands, mountains, and occasionally sea lions.
Humpback whales migrate through the area as well. For the best viewing opportunity, travelers can take a day cruise from one of the city’s harbors to nearby Frederick Sound. Usually, other wildlife such as orcas, seals, and more can be spotted.
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