Guest Author - Dawn Engler
The Tongass National Forest is large. 16.9 million acres large. 80% of the Southeast or Inside Passage Region falls within the Tongass. It is the largest National Forest in the United States and the world’s largest temperate rainforest. That's large!
This forest was named for the Tongass Clan of the Tlingit Indians. In an attempt to preserve the ways, language, and understanding of their ancestry, you will find the locals freely share their stories. There are approximately 2000 islands in Southeast Alaska within the Tongass Forest. On a visit to Kruzof Island, outside of Sitka, zipping around the island on a Rhino 4x4, we were able to see the difference between the meadows, the new and old growth, then down to the black sand beach. Old growth trees are 200-800 years old. These trees are so majestic and inspiring. Leaves one to wonder what they would say of the past if they could tell a story. New growth averages around 20 to 100 years before the next growth moves in and takes over. One of the locals leading a tour said the best thing about so many islands being a part of a National Forest, is you can pack up your picnic, your family, hop on the boat, and zip on across to an island, and there are no crowds to fight! Camping is allowed by permit, pack it in and pack it out to almost any island.
There is an abundance of wildlife in the Tongass. Bears can be found almost anywhere, with the largest concentration of brown bears in the world on Admiralty Island! The greatest population of bald eagles is found in the Tongass. If you have the time, visit The American Bald Eagle Foundation in Haines Alaska, minutes from the cruise ship docks. You may even be greeted at the dock by their mascot Eagle!
Fishing is a huge industry. For fresh water, try salmon, and trophy sized trout, or salt water fishing for halibut, salmon, shrimp, and crab. Wildlife tours are easily found whether you are looking for land or water adventures. Hiking includes dense forests on maintained trails. Juneau area alone boasts many trails with the West Glacier Trail along Mendenhall Glacier said to be the most spectacular hike in Southeast Alaska. A visit to Mendenhall should be included on your list of things to do in the Tongass, hiking or not.
The Tongass is a special place with rich history, culture and beauty. Add it to the bucket list! There are many things to do and at varying rates of cost.