Region 1 South: Southeast Alaska Panhandle
Southeast Alaska, commonly referred to as "The Panhandle", comprises a number of large islands and a strip of coastline that borders British Columbia to the east. The area is roughly 480 miles long and 100 miles wide, depending on where the measurement is taken. This region is the timber capitol of the state, and receives the highest annual rainfall in the entire state. Ketchikan is typical of the area, receiving an average of over thirteen feet of rain per year.
The Road System
Getting around in Region 1 is the biggest challenge. Only two towns are connected to the highway system; Haines, and Skagway. Both link up to the highway system in Canada. There's a relatively short road system north of Juneau (the state capital), another running south out of Petersburg, and a road running a short distance north from Ketchikan. Prince of Wales (POW) island has a paved road system linking Coffman Cove, Thorne Bay, Craig, and Hydaburg. POW also has a number of dirt logging roads that are available for recreational use. Though the road system is limited, there are many other ways of accessing the area, and getting there is half the fun!
The Tongass National Forest is found in Region 1 and it contains a number of cabins that are available for public use. Reservations must be made well in advance, and there may be a fee involved (Alaska has hundreds of such cabins and the rules for reservations, user fees, etc, depend on the location of the cabins and which state or federal agency owns it. Check our Public-Use Cabins pages for locations, recommended gear, reservations and contact information. Also take a look at our Gear Pages for recommendations on sleeping bags, pads, cots and the like.
Cruise ships ply the waters of Southeast during the summer tour season, which begins in May and continues into September. Some cruise ships continue northward to Yakutat, Cordova, Valdez and Whittier or Seward. Most of the cruise ships sail the Inside Passage, an oceanic waterway that is protected from the open waters of the Pacific by several large islands. The first of these islands, Prince of Wales, is 140 miles long, and offers numerous recreational opportunities. Next in line are Kuiu and Kupreanof Islands, then the so-called "ABC Islands" (Admiralty, Baranof and Chicagof Islands), home to some of Alaska's largest brown bears.
Several items are available in our bookstore that can familiarize you with how Alaska cruises operate and what to expect. For many the most important of these resources is The Alaska Cruise Handbook, by Joe Upton. This is truly the bible of cruise guides for southeast Alaska, taking you mile-by-mile along the major cruise routes and through the various ports of call. Includes many details such as local history, native culture, local activities including walks and hikes, and area shopping. Normally available only on the cruise ships themselves, they are available in our bookstore AT THIS LINK. Other resources of interest can be found in the list below:
- Alaska the Cruise Lover's Guide, by Paul and Audrey Grescoe
- Alaska's Inside Passage (DVD), by John Hoold
- Alaska's Inside Passage (DVD), by Alaska Video Postcards
- Cruising to Alaska (DVD), by Alaska Video Postcards
- Marine Mammals of Alaska, by Kate Wynne
- The Nature of Alaska, by James Kavanaugh
The Alaska Marine Highway System (the ferry)
The State of Alaska operates a ferry system in Southeast that is second to none. You can bring your vehicle, sleep aboard and enjoy many on-board amenities for a reasonable price. Northbound ships out of Bellingham, Washington may visit Prince Rupert (in British Columbia) before continuing on to Metlakatla, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Kake, Sitka, Angoon, Juneau and Hoonah before terminating in Haines or Skagway (for those who which to continue the northward journey by car). The schedule varies somewhat from winter (October through April) and summer (May through September). Amenities include staterooms (must be reserved well in advance), bathrooms with showers, hot and cold meals and drinks for purchase, alcoholic beverages and much more. For travelers on a budget, sleeper recliners are available, tents can be set up in certain areas aboard ship, or you can simply roll out your sleeping bag for a night under the stars. You can even bring a cooler along with your own food if you prefer. The schedule allows stops at any of several towns along the way, so if you want to take a few days off for shore-based recreation, fishing, or sight-seeing, the opportunities are there for the taking. Visit the Alaska Marine Highway website for schedule and pricing information. Or visit their YouTube site for video snapshots of the ships, the amenities, and to discover this unique transportation system for yourself.
|Route Segment||Running Time||Naut. Miles||Statute Miles|
|Prince Rupert-Ketchikan||6 hours||91||103|
The towns of Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka, Juneau, Yakutat and Cordova offer daily scheduled airline service. Some towns offer direct flights from Seattle or Anchorage, while others may require one or more additional stops along the way. Once you're in one of these main towns, you will find additional regional carriers or charter operators who can get you just about anywhere you want to go, either by wheeled aircraft or seaplane. The greatest challenge facing pilots in this area is the weather; southeast is notorious for rain and sometimes you have to wait for a break in the weather. If you're bringing your own aircraft into Southeast, check NOAA's Alaska Aviation Weather Unit and other pilot weather services before taking off for Southeast Alaska.
Southeast Alaska Boating Opportunities
If there were a heaven for boating in Alaska, Southeast would be it. Majestic, timbered mountains plunge into deep fijords while ancient glaciers flow toward tidewater, calving vast icebergs into sapphire-blue waters. The area is laced with river systems inviting day-floaters or expedition rafters seeking multi-day adventures. So whether you're a sailor heeding the call of the sea, a sea kayaker looking for an intimate cove where whales can be found, or a rafter in search of a freshwater ride through timbered valleys, Southeast has something to offer.
Our Articles on Southeast Saltwater Boating
Winter Cruising "Alaska Style" by Ted Mattson
Most of the river systems in Southeast are short (less than 30 miles in length), and access can be difficult. Some flow through forested areas and have narrow, timber-choked channels that make navigation challenging even for experienced boaters. Others have glacial origins, and the water is the color of concrete all the way from the terminal end of the glacier to the confluence of the river and the ocean. Some Southeast rivers originate in Canada, requiring permits to float. Do your homework or you could run afoul of the law.
CAUTION: Before embarking on a river trip anywhere in Alaska, do your homework! Double-check your information against details from your air charter, get flow information from the Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center (APRFC), and other floaters. Check our Boating Forums for discussions with people who have been there. If you are not familiar with the characteristics of Alaska's rivers, read our River Information page for a general orientation, and a list of resources to get you started on the learning process.
Check our Master River List for additional resources on rivers in Southeast Alaska or elsewhere in the state. Over 500 rivers are listed.
Southeast Alaska Fishing Opportunities
Southeast has some of the best saltwater salmon fishing in the state of Alaska. You can base your trip out of any of dozens of lodges, or fly out to a remote cabin where you can motor along in a rented boat. Halibut, rockfish, and lingcod are found in abundance here, and freshwater anglers can pursue cutthroat, rainbow and brook trout. Some river systems also offer excellent steelhead fishing.
Be advised that both freshwater and saltwater fishing regulations are determined by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G). An annual synopsis of those regulations is available either from department offices in the towns in Southeast Alaska, or from most sporting goods stores. They can also be viewed and ordered online at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's website. Note that the Department also issues Emergency Orders, which can supersede the regulations. In other words, seasons and bag limits may change with little notice. It is the angler's responsibility to keep abreast of these reports, which can be found on the ADF&G website. Finally, ADF&G offers fishing reports on their site, which can be viewed AT THIS LINK.
Check the links below for specific fishing opportunities in each area.
Southeast Alaska Hunting Opportunities
The state of Alaska is divided into 26 Game Management Units (GMU), some of which are divided further into sub-units. Region 1 (south) contains GMUs 1, 2, 3 & 4. In order to determine the available game species and the open seasons for each, you must consult the Alaska Hunting Regulations for the unit(s) you plan to hunt. That is the first step.
The geography and climate of southeast Alaska provide ideal habitat for a variety of big game. Sitka black-tailed deer are found throughout the region, but in best numbers on the "ABC islands" – Admiralty, Baranof and Chichagof. The ABC’s are also the home of the largest populations of brown bears in the region. Black bears are abundant on Prince of Wales Island (POW) and the islands in the central portion of the region. Goats are indigenous to the coastal mountains and have also been transplanted to Baranof Island. A late 1980’s transplant brought elk to Southeast, and a limited hunting season opened in 1997. Moose are not as numerous in Southeast Alaska as they are in other areas of the state, although reasonable populations are found on the Yakutat Forelands, in the Haines area, and smaller populations near Juneau, Petersburg and Ketchikan. Wolves are found throughout Southeast Alaska except on the ABC islands.
Sitka area: Best known for brown bear and deer hunting.
Petersburg area: Black bear numbers are good here; also deer.
Ketchikan area: Also good for black bear and deer hunting as well as mountain goat.
Juneau area: The region's best moose hunting is found in this area; also some deer and goats.
Check the links below for specific details about hunting Southeast Alaska
Commercial Services for Hunters in Southeast Alaska
Much of the guided big game hunting in this region is by boat. Boat rentals are available in some communities for hunters wanting to roll their own. A variety of air charter services with float planes also provide an important transportation alternative. Visit our Southeast Alaska regional hunting information page for detailed information on geography, weather, transportation, species, seasons, & RealAudio (tm) interviews.
Want to learn how to hunt the species that inhabit Region 1? Visit our species pages, which provide information on species biology, distribution, and how to hunt the various species available in this region. A complete list of books and videos for each species is also provided.
ADF&G Region 1 Information
For general Southeast Alaska hunting information and regulations information, contact the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Hunting Information Page, PO Box 240020, Douglas, AK 99824-0020. Tel. (907) 465-4265, FAX: (907) 465-4272. ADF&G Management and Harvest Reports, a vital hunt-planning tool, can be found AT THIS LINK. Reports are listed in sequential order by species. For detailed research into population trends, review several reports. For more recent data contact the area biologist. Region 1 biologists can be contacted at the ADF&G office in Douglas. The phone number is 1 (907) 465-4265. For your convenience, we have provided the contact information for all ADF&G Area Biologists, by region and Game Management Unit, AT THIS LINK.
Classic Alaska Charters offers excellent overnight custom cruises aboard the “Saltery C”, their fully-outfitted 40’ live-aboard Bayliner Explorer Motoryacht. Each trip is an adventure customized to your requirements. Meals prepared by the onboard chef are unequalled in the business, and include healthy entrees such as fresh Alaska seafood and delicious desserts. Activities include fishing (freshwater and saltwater), kayaking, wildlife viewing, photography, crabbing & shrimping, hiking and just relaxing along the spectacular waterways of Ketchikan, Prince of Wales Island and Misty Fjords National Monument.
Though the southern panhandle region has a lot to offer, there are also some unique opportunities farther north in the Yakutat / Cordova area! Check out the northern panhandle area next, or have a look at some of the other areas Alaska has to offer. Click into our Places area in the left menu for more information!