I must fully admit that my favorite Alaska town was Wrangell. It could have something to do with its climate. It could also have to do with its hard working atmosphere and general ambiance. Its people were especially friendly. A true Alaska town of 2,500 hard-working people with few businesses other than what is necessary for survival, Wrangell is completely unique. It could simply have to do with the fact that this is the only Alaska town that we took a walking tour of and got to know quite well.
Wrangell is a natural deep-water port and sits on the top end of an island shaped like a bird in flight. It has a thriving fishing industry that we questioned and other traditional enterprises that keep it humming. It’s a welcomed stop for only small cruise ships and independent travelers. Wrangell is accessible only via Alaska Airlines, float planes, and the Alaska State Ferry System. There are no roads into it. It has mild summers with an annual rainfall of only about 80 inches. Its climate is closer to Tofino than Haines. Autumns are wet and windy. Winters are mild. Its setting is typically spectacular. Wrangell is probably better suited as a jumping off place to see glaciers, wildlife observatories, and free rivers like the Stikine.
Wrangell is 750 miles north of Seattle and 150 miles south of Juneau. It has few traditional tourist shops and has seen declines in its economy as fishing, timber industries, and boat repairs become less important. Seafood processing still remains a viable business here, however, and salmon, shrimp, herring, and halibut handlers are still scattered about this community in large numbers as are churches. We saw many of the fish handlers. Our host sported a traditional Tlingit headpiece and spoke of his divorce and 4 daughters.
John Muir arrived in Wrangell in 1879 and found it inhospitable and rough. Wyatt Earp was its official law officer at one point. Both black and brown bears are here in large numbers and causing conflict. It is the only Alaska town that has had 4 rulers: Tlingit, Russian, British, and American. It has only one museum of note that acknowledges its unique character with flags. The James and Elsie Nolan Center more or less specializes in totems, house posts, and other local crafts. We were allowed in it as our first stop, and it was amazing and different.
Wrangell is so extremely rare that it has a truly unique golf course called Muskeg Meadows that has a raven rule. The kids of Wrangell Island have an unusual way of funding their educations. There is a garnet mine on their island, and they are the only people allowed to sell these sometimes valuable rocks to fund their schooling.
Come to Wrangell to be both entertained and amused by its totally unique atmosphere and character.