When most people think of a rainforest, they picture the volcanic backdrop of Hawaii or the hot, humid jungles of Costa Rica. Although these places definitely fit the category (and are well worth a visit), our very own Prince of Wales Island is a rainforest, too. We’re located right in the heart of the Pacific temperate rainforest eco-region, which means that even though you’ll encounter glaciers and cooler temperatures, we’re still teeming with wildlife and natural splendor. In fact, our forests are home to hundreds of endangered and rare flora and fauna—many of which you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
Tongass National Forest
Prince of Wales Island has the distinction of being part of the Tongass National Forest, the largest remaining temperate rainforest in the entire world. Our unique ecosystem combines old-growth rainforest with all the natural diversity that comes from being surrounded by an ocean. This means you can enjoy a quiet walk through a hemlock forest for an hour or two before arriving at a sandy beach with whale watching vantage points and tide pools teeming with marine life.
Most visitors to Tongass are ready and excited to view the hundreds of bears that live here, the more than 2,000 nesting resident bald eagles, and the salmon-spawning rivers that feed them both. However, these aren’t the only wild creatures you might encounter. Gray wolves, mountain goats, and Sitka black-tailed deer are the most common inhabitants, but don’t be surprised to find the occasional flying squirrel or bat soaring overhead. River otters and beavers can be found in the inland waterways, along with all the fish that brought you here in the first place.
Bird watchers and ocean lovers will have plenty to keep them busy, as well. You don’t have to be a professional bird watcher to spot several varieties of auklets and petrels, or to enjoy viewing eagles and osprey hunting right in front of you. Puffins aren’t always easy to spot but are well worth the effort, while sightings of more common bird varieties like ducks, geese, and cranes are almost guaranteed.
And as far as flora goes…well, all you have to do is take a five-minute walk through the forest before you realize you’re looking at a landscape unlike any other. The rich, abundant plant life at every turn makes it easy for you to feel like you’re the only person on earth. Few things are more peaceful or put you so much in touch with the natural world than walks like these.
Hiking the Trails
Tongass National Forest is huge and covers more than just Prince of Wales Island. In fact, there are more than 700 miles of hiking trails available to those who want to get out and enjoy nature. Difficulty varies depending on where you are and what kind of accessibility you’re after, but there are hikes that visitors of all ages can enjoy. Boardwalk Lodge guides will assist you with finding the best trails to match your experience.
Here on Prince of Wales Island, there are several dozen hiking trails for you to explore. These range from One Duck Trail, a gentle slope that takes you over a mile to an alpine picnic location, to Sunnahae, a strenuous two-mile climb that will provide you with some of the most breathtaking views on the island. A downloadable list of trails operated and maintained by the Forest Service is available here, but it’s important to remember that accessibility will vary depending on the timing of your visit.
Most of the nature walks on Prince of Wales will take between two to four hours, which makes them perfect when you want to take an afternoon away from fishing to see something more of the island. Just remember to dress appropriately and keep your camera close at hand!
Book your stay at Alaska’s Boardwalk Lodge now, and consider taking time to explore some trails here in Southeast Alaska.