- The Tongass National Forest, is a forest of islands and trees and rain. It also abounds in animals and birds and fish, with unsurpassed scenery. It's a place where eagles are commonplace, most every road is a deer crossing, and bears use the trails, too. The Tongass is a wild place, where the natural world is a strong presence that nurtures spiritually and materially and demands respect.
Copyright: USDA Forest Service
Patterson Glacier, Tongass National Forest
The Tongass is the largest forest in the National Forest System, covering a land area the size of New Jersey. It is a glimmering rainforest full of glaciers, spectacular scenery, mountains, waterways, and thousands of islands separated by straits and channels. Over 400 species of terrestrial and marine wildlife, fish, and shellfish abound. Some species, such as the bald eagle and the brown bear, endangered in other parts of the United States, thrive on the Forest. Almost one third of the Tongass (5.7 million acres) is designated Wilderness.
The Mendenhall Glacier is 13 miles from downtown Juneau along a paved road. A visitor center there offers spectacular views of both the glacier and the fantastic ice fields feeding it. A boat ride from Petersburg or Wrangell may bring you near the face of LeConte or Shakes Glaciers. Flightseeing the Stikine Ice Field, which includes both LeConte and Shakes Glaciers, is popular from both Petersburg and Wrangell. There are air taxi operators in both towns. Some ice fields of mainland Southeast Alaska offer exhilarating experiences for the adventurous souls who enjoy skiing and hiking in the ice, snow, and thin air atop the Alaska Coast Range. There are places where you can take a helicopter to the ice fields and ski and hike down to saltwater - a trip not for the faint of heart or body!
Recreation - The Tongass National Forest offers outstanding recreation opportunities, some very different from anything you'll experience in national forests in the lower 48 states.
You can camp in a campground or in a cabin. You can hike through dense forest, alpine meadow, or on a wooden trail through marshland called muskeg. You can explore world-class caves. You can enjoy salt water fjords and unending waterways by canoe or kayak, your own motor or sail boat, charter boat, ferry, or cruise ship. You can watch bears, eagles, whales, and countless other critters in their natural settings. You can visit glaciers by land or sea. And of course, you can fish - fresh or salt water, everything from herring to trout to salmon to halibut.
Some of the most popular recreation facilities are the public recreation cabins. Reservations are required and rental fees run from $25 to $45 a night per cabin. The cabins are rustic - they are a true Alaskan experience. The Tongass also offers a number of camping experiences, ranging from a place to pitch your pup tent in the middle of nowhere to developed campgrounds along the road systems.
Winter recreation in the Tongass includes ice skating on lakes, ponds, and sloughs. Snow sports are influenced by nearby topography. Cross-country skiing is popular in areas of flat or gently-rolling ground. Snowmobiling is also popular many areas. Some cabins that are popular for winter sports activities include Eagle Glacier Memorial, Dan Moller, John Muir, Peterson Lake, and Windfall Lake cabins near Juneau and Ravens Roost cabin near Petersburg.
Climate - The climate in of southeast Alaska is influenced by the ocean, so although it experiences four seasons, it does not have the extremes of hot and cold - and dry - experienced farther inland. Summer temperatures usually range from the mid 40s to mid 60s with extremes dipping into the 30s and "soaring" into the 80s. Annual rainfall in downtown Juneau averages over 90 inches and in Ketchikan over 120! Needless to say, good rain gear and warm clothing are essential. Layers of wool clothing and rubber boots are standard dress in all the areas of Southeast Alaska.
Winter does bring snow and ice to all of the Tongass National Forest. The amount of both varies from north to south and from higher to lower elevations. Snow cover tends to be infrequent and fleeting in the lowlands around Ketchikan and Sitka, while Juneau and Skagway spend much of the winter under a blanket of white.
The Tongass National Forest is located in the coastal rainforest of Southeast Alaska. It stretches for hundreds of miles, from south of Ketchikan to north of Yakutat. The Forest Headquarters is located in Ketchican, with Forest offices also in Sitka, Petersburg, Juneau, Craig, Hoonah, Thorne Bay, Wrangell, and Yakutat. The Tongass has Visitor Centers in Ketchikan, Petersburg and at the Mendenhall Glacier. The Admiralty Island National Monument office is located in Juneau. The office for Misty Fiords National Monument is located in Ketchikan.