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An unbelievably friendly island community nestled amongst pristine, untamed wilderness, Wrangell is a township of just over 2,000 people, yet it acts as a gateway to the winding beauty of the mighty Stikine River. A settlement which is one of the oldest in Alaska, in the past, the town has been ruled by four nations: Tlingit, England, Russia, and the United States. An authenticity resides in the town that you will be hard pressed to find in more modern ports in Alaska, with traditional totem poles, the untouched Tongass National Forest and collections of Tlingit native culture all within reach of this quaint township.
Chief Shakes Island
In the midst of the refreshing waters of Wrangell’s harbour, the grassy inlet of the Chief Shakes Historic Site can be reached by way of a scenic pedestrian wooden bridge that has broached the gap for decades. This national heritage site receives over 10,000 visitors a year and is one of the only remaining sites of traditional buildings that feature the unique totem art and carvings of the most notable Native American tribes in Alaskan history, the Tlingit. The site’s main feature is a replica of a 19th Century Tlingit tribal house, built to authentic specifications described by elders in the 1920s, which is surrounded by dozens of colourful totem poles on the verdant island. Historically occupied by the lineage of tribal chiefs, the inlet has undergone rigorous preservation and construction to add to its wonder, should you choose to visit this unique location for yourself.
Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park
This stunning national heritage site has the highest amount of petroglyphs (ancient rock carvings) in the whole of the south east of Alaska. Designs and symbols etched into the rock, centuries old, can be found along an idyllic coastline of salmon streams, outcrops of bedrock and former habitation sites. Petroglyph beach is incredibly easy to get to from the centre of Wrangell (just a mile from the ferry terminal) and is an iconic part of Alaskan culture. The mysteries of the petroglyphs are numerous, with many of the natives thinking the etchings of wildlife, mountain peaks and figures may be commemorating victories, a way to record events or a form of writing. Whatever their origin might be, these symbols of Alaska’s rich history are worth visiting for the spectacular sights of the coast alone.
Anan Bear and Wildlife Observatory
Based in Anan creek, an ancient Tlingit native fishing site at the south end of the island, Anan Bear and Wildlife Observatory sees huge numbers of black and brown bears make a pilgrimage to its waters to feat on the largest pink salmon to be found in Southeast Alaska. The US Forest Service now runs the site, and has constructed a panoramic observation deck that lets you watch these magnificent animals hunt in their natural habitat. Cascading waterfalls provide a majestic backdrop to getting up close and personal with the wild bears as they tend to their young and wade through pockets between outcrops. This excursion is definitely a must for those who are bored of wildlife attractions simply meaning a visit to the local zoo.
A link to the artistic heritage of Wrangell is evident in every single one of its boutique gift and souvenir stores in its centre. In many of the unique pieces made by local artists, the ancient art and modern art of the township combine into unique pieces such as paintings, carvings and sculptures. For some of the finest antiques, totem and marine inspired art in Wrangell, make sure to visit Marine Artist Brenda Schwartz on Front Street, as well as House with a History on Mckinnan Street.
For a fantastic breakfast with a view of the seafront, enjoy the exquisite omelettes and harsh browns at Diamond C on Front Street. For sumptuous seafood, head down to The Stik Restaurant and Bar on Stikine Avenue, a staple for natives and tourists alike, for shrimp fresh from the harbour, and a warm atmosphere under the varnished beams of its spacious cabin interior.
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