U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

Tongass National Forest


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Forest Information

The Tongass National Forest is comprised of 16,691,642 acres and is located in southeast Alaska. There are eleven developed campgrounds of which eight meet the selection criteria.

There is no two ways around it, the Tongass National Forest (NF) is a challenge to reach but worth the effort. One challenge comes from its size. The Tongass is about 435 miles from top to bottom, and contains over 2,000 islands with 14,000 miles of coastlines, making it the largest national forest in the United States. Another challenge is the weather. The Tongass is a temperate rainforest so rain, more than 100 inches per year in many locations, is a common occurrence. Rubber boots, also know as Southeast sneakers, is common footwear. The Tongass NF has glaciers, mountains, estuaries, lakes, caves, and an assortment of campgrounds that any camper will delight in. What it doesn't have are crowded campgrounds and asphalt roads linking everything together.

Floatplanes, boats, and kayaks are used to access the Tongass NF's many smaller islands while ferry boats provide the means to reach the larger islands. These ferries carry everything from pedestrians to huge semi-trucks . Although pedestrians and small vehicles such as bicyclists, motorcyclists, family sedans, and pick-up trucks rarely have a problem getting on these ferries, larger vehicles, like recreation vehicles (RV), should make reservations to ensure they have a place on the ferry. Although the ferries provide regular service, weather, tide, and other factors can interrupt service. Calling ahead to confirm the ferry's schedule is recommended.

Perhaps the best known glacier in the Tongass, Mendenhall Glacier, is a short drive from the state's capitol of Juneau and has been a "tourist attraction" for more than a hundred years. It attracts visitors from around the world. On the north side of Mendenhall Lake and below the Mendenhall Glacier is the Tongass NF's most developed campground, Mendenhall campground. This campground offers campers three levels of a camping experience while enjoying the forest. There is a cluster of campsites just for backpackers, a separate area for RV campers looking for hook-ups, and a third area for campers who don't want hook-ups and might be camping in a tent or RV. In the middle of this area are flush toilets and hot showers. Numerous trails near Mendenhall campground also provide campers with an opportunity to explore the area around and near the glacier. On Lynn Canal is another Tongass NF campground called Auke Village. A nice campground tucked in stand of mature trees and overlooking the water, Auke Village is a more "traditional" forest service campground.

Southwest of Juneau, facing the Gulf of Alaska, and retaining some of its Russian character, is the community of Sitka on Baranof Island. North of Sitka, and just above the ferry terminal, is the delightful Starrigavan Recreational Area. It also offers campers three camping experiences. There is a larger loop near an estuary, appropriately named Estuary Loop, with spacious campsites ideal for RV campers. On Starrigavan Bay there are three campsites where sea kayakers can paddle to and camp overnight, and between these areas, is a loop where backpackers can camp.

A forth level of camping has just been added to Starrigavan, a log cabin available to rent in the Estuary Loop. Starrigavn campground's cabin is unique in that it is the only one in the Tongass National Forest's other 150 cabins that is located within a campground. The other cabins offer a more wilderness experience and can be reached only via boat, float plane, or foot. The Tongass cabins are cozy shelters with wooden bunks sleeping 2 to 15 people and an outhouse. They must be reserved ahead of stay. Cabin descriptions and maps are available at www.fs.fed.us/r10/tongass/cabins/cabins.shtml.

The Southeast Alaska Discover Center in Ketchikan (on Revillagigedo Island) has a wealth of information, exhibits, and knowledgeable staff members. North of Ketchikan are Signal Creek and Last Chance campgrounds. Both campgrounds are in the Ward Lake Recreation Area but only Signal Creek campground is on the lakeshore. It might be because of this that Signal Creek campground lacks the more relaxing feel of Last Chance campground. Located further up the valley, Last Chance campground, however, lacks the muskeg and thicker vegetation found at Signal Creek campground.

The Ketchikan-Misty Fiord Ranger District is responsible for a wonderful piece of Alaska that does not have campgrounds meeting the selection criteria but offers two very special experiences. Hyder, Alaska is at the head of Portland Fjord and can be reached either by mail plane from Ketchikan or automobile from Canada. Both methods are amazing. The mail plane crosses the Misty Fiord National Monument while the drive along Provincial Rt. 37A has to be one of the most scenic in British Columbia. So what makes Hyder special? Specifically, the Fish Creek Bear View Platform (fee required) and Salmon Glacier, a T-shaped river of ice, all make it special. And then there is Hyder itself and its quirky residents having both human and wildlife, namely bears.

Taking the ferry west from Ketchikan, up the Inside Passage (Clarence Strait), is Prince of Wales Island with its caves, muskeg, and population of 500-pound (plus) black bears. There are two campgrounds on this Island. Harris River campground on the southern end of the island, near Craig, and Eagles Nest campground, close to Thorne Bay and the island's middle section. Harris River campground is a good place to camp for people going to or getting off the ferry. It is one of those undiscovered gems every national forest should have. Eagles Nest campground on Balls Lake is much better known to anglers, wildlife and bird watchers, and folks who enjoy a leisurely paddle or a quiet stroll.

Wrangell Island has two campgrounds but they didn't meet our criteria so are not included in this survey. However, it should be said Wrangell Island is reported to have some of the best hiking in the Tongass and the campground at Nemo Recreation Area has a fabulous view of Zimovia Strait (part of the Inside Passage).

The influence of its Norwegian settlers is easy to see in Petersburg on Mitkof Island. Ohmer Creek campground is a perfect location as a base camp for exploring the many interesting sights on this island. A drive along the south end of the island is a scenic day trip while Manmade Hole Picnic Area has many features to attract visitors. Hiking Blind River Rapids and Three Lakes Loop trails are recommended "must-do" activities while at Ohmer Creek campground.

It is said a trip to Alaska is a once-in-a-lifetime-experience and camping in the Tongass National Forest adds to the wonder of that experience. Camping on islands covered with lush green forests of towering Sitka spruce that line the azure blue water flowing from the Clarence Strait up through Lynn Canal making up the Inside Passage where the wildlife is still wild, are part of the Tongass National Forest experience. It is an experience you will remember for years to come.

SUPERVISOR ADDRESS 648 Mission St. Federal Bldg. Ketchikan, Alaska 99901-6591 907-225-3101 RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES Craig 900 Main Street PO Box 500 Craig, Alaska 99921-9998 907-826-3271 Hoonah 430 Airport Way PO Box 135 Hoonah, Alaska 99829-0135 907-945-3631 Juneau 8510 Mendenhall Loop Road Juneau, Alaska 99801 907-586-8800 Ketchikan-Misty Fiords 3031 Tongass Avenue Ketchikan, Alaska 99901-5743 907-225-2148 Petersburg 12 North Nordic Drive PO Box 1328 Petersburg, Alaska 99833-1328 907-772-3871 Sitka 204 Siginaka Way Sitka, Alaska 99835 907-747-6671 Thorne Bay 1312 Federal Way PO Box 19001 Thorne Bay, Alaska 99919-0001 907-828-3304 Wrangell 525 Bennett Street PO Box 51 Wrangell, Alaska 99929-0051 907-874-2323 Yakutat 712 Ocean Cape Road PO Box 327 Yakutat, Alaska 99689-0327 907-784-3359

Fred and Suzi Dow