Wrangell is one of the oldest non-Native settlements in Alaska beginning when the Russians built a stockade named Redoubt St. Dionysius in 1834. In 1840, Russia leased it to the British, who renamed it Fort Stikine. When the U.S. purchased Alaska in 1868, the name was chanced to Fort Wrangell and eventually became simply Wrangell. The community thrived as a supply center for fur traders and later for gold miners using the Stikine River to reach gold in British Columbia and the Klondike fields in the Yukon. The Tlingits have used the area for thousands of years and still continue a rich tradition today.
Front Street is the heart of Wrangell's business district and the eastern side of the street is a historical area featuring buildings with quite distinctive false fronts left over from the gold rush days. Also on Front Street is Kiksadi Totem Park, which was dedicated in 1987 by Sealaska Native Corporation with the first traditional totem rising in Wrangell in more than 40 years.
The Wrangell Museum features exhibits highlighting Wrangell's diverse history. The collection includes indigenous artifacts, petroglyphs, local relics and photographs from the past. There is also a collection of Alaska art that includes a Sidney Laurence painting. Wrangell also is home to two historical churches. St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church is the oldest Roman Catholic parish in Alaska, founded in 1879. Just beyond is the First Presbyterian Church, which has a red neo cross, one of two in the world that serves as navigational aids. Founded in 1877 and built in 1879, it is one of the oldest Protestant churches in Alaska.
Chief Shakes Island is one of Wrangell's most interesting attractions. Located on an island in the town's Inner Boat Harbor and accessed by a bridge, it features an impressive collection of totem poles and the Shakes Community House. The community house is an excellent example of a high-caste tribal house and contains tools, blankets and other cultural items. As impressive at the tribal house is the view of bustling Wrangell Harbor from the island. Chief Shakes' gravesite is located in Wrangell and is enclosed by a Russian-style picket fence topped by two killer-whale totems.
An interesting afternoon can be spent looking for Tlingit and Tsimshian petroglyphs, primitive rock carvings believed to be 8,000 years old. Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park contains the best and is reached by a marked wooden boardwalk leading to the beach. Many of the petroglyphs are spirals and faces with about 40 in the area. Most are submerged during high tide, so check with the Visitor Center in town for the best times.
A day trip to Anan Wildlife Observatory presents the opportunity to photograph black and brown bears and eagles feeding on the July and August pink salmon runs. The observatory is accessible by boat or floatplane only. Managed by the U.S. Forest Service, a visit to Anan requires a permit. Permits are included in a number of guided tours or contact the Forest Service in Wrangell for more information. The Forest Service maintains a covered observation platform overlooking the creek and falls, located a half-mile from the entrance. A boardwalk leads to the platform. No food or beverages (except water) are allowed at the observatory.
Wrangell has a wonderful network of hiking trails. Mt. Dewey Trail is a half-mile starting in downtown and leading up a hill to an observation point overlooking Wrangell and the surrounding waterways. Rainbow Falls Trail leads to waterfalls and on to an observation point overlooking Shoemaker Bay. The views are worth the steep portions of the trail. Long Lake Trail is a pleasant hike on a boardwalk leading to Long Lake. Highbush Lake Trail is another short path leading to the lake. The surrounding views are excellent.
The beautiful, wild Stikine River is characterized by a narrow, rugged shoreline and the mountains and hanging glaciers that surround it. It is the fastest navigable river in North American and is highlighted by the Grand Canyon, a steep-walled enclosure of the waterway where churning whitewater makes river travel impossible. Trips from below the canyon are a favorite for rafters and kayakers. The trek requires a charter flight to Telegraph Creek in British Columbia and ends with a 160-mile float back to Wrangell. Other kayaking opportunities are available out of Wrangell.
LeConte Glacier is at the head of LeConte Bay, just north of the Stikine River delta. It is the southernmost tidewater glacier in North America. Day cruises are available to view the glacier as well as the surrounding area.
Garnet Ledge is a rocky outcrop on the south bank of the Stikine River delta, about 7.5 miles from Wrangell Harbor and accessible by small boat. Garnets can be found embedded in the ledge. The land is deeded to the Southeast Council of the Boy Scouts of America and is designated for scouting purposes. Resident children are allowed to dig garnets in reasonable quantities. Permits are needed for non-resident children through the Boy Scout office in Juneau. Wrangell children sell garnets at the docks when ships and ferries are in port.
The Stikine River plays host to stunning numbers of birds each spring with the second highest concentration of bald eagles in the world during the annual spring run of eulachon. The Stikine Delta is a critical refueling stop for thousands of shorebirds each year including up to 10,000 snow geese. The annual Garnet Festival, celebrated the third week in April, marks the arrival of spring and the annual bald eagle migration on the Stikine River.
Location: The City of Wrangell is located on the northwest tip of Wrangell Island, 155 miles south of Juneau and 89 lies northwest of Ketchikan. It is near the mouth of the Stikine River.
Access: Daily scheduled jet service to other Inside Passage communities with through service to Seattle and Anchorage, charter air service, Alaska Marine Highway ferry, small to mid-sized cruise ships.
Accommodations: Four hotels/motels, one lodge, seven bed and breakfasts (90 rooms total); four restaurants. All conveniences, food and most supplies.
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