14 Reasons to visit Wrangell Alaska

Last Updated on June 15, 2023

Wrangell, Alaska is a wonderful place to visit in Southeast Alaska, especially for travelers who are looking for an authentic Alaskan experience away from the crowds of tourists in bigger towns and cruise ship ports. Wrangell has a fascinating history spanning the four nations who have claimed it: the Shtaxʼhéen Ḵwáan Tlingit, Russians, British and Americans. In addition to being a cross roads of humanity for thousands of years, Wrangell is surrounded by stunning natural beauty in mountains, glaciers, rivers, wildlife and beaches. There are opportunities for hiking, kayaking, fishing and other outdoor adventures. In this article I’ll tell you all about the reasons you should add Wrangell to your Alaska trip as well as a few logistics to help things go smoothly for you while visiting.

The town of Wrangell is different place than Wrangell-St Elias National Park, which is in an entirely different part of Alaska.

Related: What to pack for Alaska, How to visit Alaska without a car

How to get to Wrangell

Wrangell, Alaska is located on Wrangell Island and like many towns in Southeast Alaska (including Juneau the state capitol!) you have to take a boat or plane to get there.

For visitors, the best way to get to Wrangell is to fly there or take the Alaska Ferry.

You can fly to Wrangell on Alaska Airlines, which serves Wrangell with one jet flight per day going north (from Seattle and Ketchikan) and one going south (from Juneau and Petersburg). If that flight schedule isn’t ideal, you can also fly into Wrangell on a smaller plane from Ketchikan, Juneau or Petersburg.

If you’re taking the ferry, you can either fly to Ketchikan or Juneau and then take the ferry, or you can take the ferry all the way from Bellingham in Washington. Check the schedule carefully because ferry service isn’t daily and at times may only be once a week. From Ketchikan to Wrangell takes about 6 hours, from Juneau to Wrangell takes about 11 hours (including a stop in Petersburg).

When is the best time of year to visit Wrangell?

Wrangell is best to visit in the summer months. In the off season, many businesses and lodging are closed and no tours or trips are available.

Late May and early June are the driest and sunniest time of the year. However, it’s important to note that Wrangell is a very rainy place and you should plan on seeing some rain no matter what time you visit. The most things are open and the most tours and trips available in June, July and early August. Early June is the ideal time to visit.

How much time should I spend in Wrangell?

Wrangell is too far from bigger ports for a day trip in my opinion, and there are so many fun things to do you want to give yourself at least a couple days. Wrangell can be a wonderful stand alone weekend trip, or you could combine it with a trip to Petersburg or Ketchikan to take in even more of Southeast Alaska. In a couple of days, you’ll have the chance to explore town, do a hike or two and take a boat tour which is just about perfect.

Where can I stay in Wrangell?

Since it’s such a small town, it’s important to have your lodging set up well in advance! There are a couple of hotels in town, including the lovely Stikine Inn. The Stikine Inn also has a restaurant and a shuttle to the ferry terminal and the airport.

Wrangell also has several Bed and Breakfasts and Airbnbs. I have stayed at the Eagle Room Airbnb and I highly recommend it! It’s walking distance to everything in town and Brian is a wonderful host. There are two separate Airbnb rooms in the downstairs of his home and they are super comfortable and affordable with plenty of room.

Where can I eat in Wrangell?

Wrangell is a small town, so be prepared for restaurants to have limited hours and be closed some days (especially early and late season). You can get some good pre made food options (sandwiches and such) at City Market if you need something quick on the go.

The Skik Cafe (located in the Stikine Inn) has fantastic breakfast and lunch sandwiches and good coffee. You can take it with you or sit at tables inside. There is also a restaurant here that is open in the evenings for table service. It’s right next the harbor with big windows and a great view.

The Marine Bar has wonderful pizza and some outdoor seating along with drinks. Food is only served in the evening. Michelle’s Taste of Asia is also only open in the evenings and it’s excellent food.

Another tasty option is the Thai food truck next to Rayme’s bar.

The best things to do in Wrangell

From walking around this delightful town, to hiking to boat trips into the wilderness, there are a ton of fun things to do in Wrangell. Here are a few of my favorites!

Climb to the Mt Dewey Overlook

A view of Wrangell Alaska from the Mt Dewey Overlook. You can see several harbors in the town below through the trees and water and mountains in the distance.
Impressive view from the Mt Dewey overlook

It’s a tradition in my family to always find the high spot in a new place with a view and check it out. If that’s something you like to do too, or you just like to climb stairs, take the short trail (less than half a mile) to the Mt Dewey Overlook for a fantastic view of Wrangell and the surrounding water and mountains.

This trail is short but very steep and like many trails in Southeast Alaska, it is made up of wooden boardwalks and stairs. Make sure you have solid footwear since these can become slippery when it rains, which is often!

Explore Petroglyph Beach State Historic Site

An ancient petroglyph on a dark rock in the foreground. It is a circle with circles around it. It's on a gravel beach with other larger rocks. In the distance are mountains and a few clouds
One of the petroglyphs at Petroglyph Beach

Petroglyph Beach is one of the most fascinating beaches I’ve been to anywhere! The most unique feature of this beach are the 3000 year old petroglyphs which cover the rocks along the shore. It also has a gorgeous view of the mountains and it’s a wonderful place to go tidepooling at low tide.

An ADA accessible ramp and boardwalk lead to interpretive signs and replica petroglyphs and sharing the story and mystery of this ancient art. From there, you have to take some stairs to get down to the beach below. Once on the beach you can explore along the shore for tidepool animals as well as the petroglyphs. I found looking at the replicas first really helpful in knowing what I was looking for. Time and endless tides and water have taken their toll on the petroglyphs and it takes some time and effort to see them. Once you see one, it gets easier!

To get here, walk out of town towards the airport and then go left on grave street. There’s a road sign pointing you to the left as well. Walk straight ahead when the road ends and you’ll be there in a couple hundred feet.

A wooden boardwalk with railings above a rocky beach. Across the water are forested mountains
The interpretive platform at Petroglyph Beach

Explore the Chief Shakes Tribal House

A house screen on a replica wooden clan house in Wrangell Alaska. There is grass and a tree next to it

The replica Chief Shakes Tribal House was built in the 1930s on land that belonged to Stikine Tlingit royalty. It was restored again in 2013. It’s located on a beautiful and tiny island in the middle of one of Wrangell’s boat harbors and visitors can walk out to it on a pedestrian bridge. Now owned by local Tlingit people, the Wrangell Cooperative Association visitors are welcome to explore the replica building and some of the original totems around it. It is sometimes open to go inside, contact them directly for availability.

Visit Totem Park

Three totem poles in a park in Wrangell Alaska

Totem Park is a small park with beautiful trees and flowers surrounding several totem poles in the middle of town. Don’t miss this beautiful place with it’s fascinating orca art! The unique orca totems were my personal favorite.

Visit the Wrangell Museum

The Wrangell Museum is the best small museum I have ever been to and honestly even in a larger community it would be a fantastic museum. It’s well laid out and takes you on a journey of the many fascinating times in Wrangell’s history and present. Since Wrangell has been part of four different nations throughout it’s history it’s a compelling story of Indigenous Stikine Tlingit People as well as European fur traders and gold miners. Today Wrangell remains a mix of people and you can learn all about it here before walking around town.

This museum also has a fantastic collection of books about Alaska, especially Southeast Alaska so leave yourself some time for browsing. It’s located in a beautiful building right by the ship yards and town.

Wander the Harbor and Shipyards

Wrangell is home to mulitple busy harbors and shipyards and walking around and checking out the boats is always a fun activity in any Southeast Alaska town. Wrangell is no exception!

Hike to Rainbow Falls

A waterfall falls straight down hundreds of feet through a forest
Lovely Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls is a delightful and short hike through the rainforest along rushing Rainbow Creek to gorgeous Rainbow Falls. The hike to the viewpoint and back is just under 1.5 miles with about 500 feet of elevation gain. The trail starts relatively flat on gravel and after the first sturdy log bridge creek crossing, begins to climb on boardwalks and steps.

Similar to Mt Dewey, these wooden planked boardwalk and step trails provide a way to get above the mud, but can still become quite slippery so watch your footing. You’ll go up and up on the stairs until you reach a platform with a view of Rainbow Falls.

A series of wooden steps leads through the forest on a trail near Wrangell Alaska
The wooden step boardwalk trail is a feature of the Rainbow Falls Trail, and many other trails in Southeast Alaska

If you’re looking for a longer adventure, you can continue up the trail, now known as the Institute Creek Trail. In another 3 miles with an additional 1000 feet of elevation gain, you’ll come to a three sided shelter with a fantastic view all around. The trail continues even further with multi day hike options available and even a loop back on the North Wrangell Trail. Check with the forest service about trail conditions if you’re planning a longer trek and make sure to be prepared as you’ll be in a very remote area!

To get to the trailhead, you’ll drive out the road (Zimovia Highway) about four miles and look for the sign for the Rainbow Falls trailhead. The trailhead is on the left as you leave town, but the parking is on the right (across the street from the trail).

Drive the Road

Green undergrowth in the foreground and fjord in the background. There is still some snow on the forested mountains on a sunny day
The view from the Zimovia Highway

Like other towns in Southeast Alaska off the road system and only accessible by boat or plane, Wrangell still has “out the road” which is the term for driving out of town however far the road goes. In Wrangell, this road is officially called the Zimovia Highway and it goes 14 miles south of town along the water to various trailheads and harbors. There is a paved bike path along the highway going out of town.

Take a boat ride up the Stikine River

An airplane wing landing in Wrangell Alaska. Below the wing is the sprawling delta of a river surrounded by mountains
The impressive Stikine River delta from the air while landing at the Wrangell airport

The Stikine River has been an important place to humans for thousands of years. This stunning river, known as the “Great River” by Indigenous people, flows 400 gorgeous miles from it’s headwaters in the ice fields among the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, down through unending mountains and glaciers to it’s giant delta at it’s mouth near Wrangell.

In addition to spectacular wild scenery, the river is home to all five species of Pacific salmon as well as bears, moose and other animals. There are thousands of birds here, including many birds which migrant through in Spring and fall. Sea lions congregate near the delta.

You can take a boat tour up the river or a flightseeing tour. You can even get a bonus flightseeing tour when landing or taking off from Wrangell on your flight!

Take a boat trip to LeConte Glacier

A fjord full of glacial ice bergs in a narrow bay surrounded by high mountains and snow on a cloudy and rainy day
Ice from the glacier fills LeConte Bay

If you’re also planning to visit nearby Petersburg, I would recommend doing your LeConte Glacier trip there since it’s a bit closer and do the Stikine River here, but both of them are so amazing definitely fit in the trip to the glacier at some point on your trip! If you’re just going to Wrangell then definitely book with one of the tour operators to make sure you get to see this special place. This is one of the most breathtaking places in all of Southeast Alaska so you don’t want to miss it!

I also highly recommend booking this trip in advance. Small operators fill to capacity quickly.

Go Fishing

If you’re experienced in fishing, read up on local regulations and bring along your fishing gear for some fantastic fishing opportunities in both fresh and saltwater.

If you’re new to fishing and want to give it a try, there are several fishing charter operators in Wrangell that will take you out for a day trip or even a multi day fishing adventure! This gives you the chance to fish without having to get a bunch of gear or figure out where to go. Check with them about packaging and shipping your fish home.

Take a boat trip to the Anan Bear Observatory

The Anan Bear Observatory is a remote location in the Tongass National Forest. You will need to work with a tour operator to secure a boat or flight here, since there is no other way to get to this special place. The forest service limits permits to this area, another reason you want to work with a guide to plan your trip.

Anan Creek has been an important place for humans and bears (and other wildlife) thanks to the largest pink salmon run in Southeast Alaska. There is a viewing platform here, perfect for photographing bears as they feast on salmon. This is one of the best bear viewing opportunities in Alaska!

The time to see bears here is July and August when the salmon are running, and this is when the permit system is in place.

Go Kayaking

Anywhere you go in Southeast Alaska, there will be excellent opportunities to get out and kayak. The protected bays and inlets are perfect for exploring alongside whales and other marine mammals. Taking a tour will get you out on the water in a safe place that’s ideal for kayaking!

If you’re going out in your own kayak, make sure to educate yourself about the tides and currents which can be extremely fast and intense.

Rent a Remote Forest Service Cabin

One of the awesome things about Tongass National Forest is the large number of public use cabins that are available for rent all over Southeast Alaska! The Wrangell Ranger District has 23 public use cabins that are available to rent. Making use of a public use cabin is one of my strategies for saving money on a trip to Alaska!

Some of the cabins are on the road system on Wrangell Island, others are available only by boat or plane. You can work with one of the tour operators in Wrangell to arrange a water taxi for drop off and pick up at remote cabins.

There is even a cabin near the Anan Bear Observatory that includes permits to the observatory. You’ll need a boat or flight to drop you off here. You can also spend more time on the Stikine River by staying in one of the cabins there.

An ancient petroglyph on a dark rock in the foreground. It is a circle with circles around it. It's on a gravel beach with other larger rocks. In the distance are mountains and a few clouds. Text reads: Why you need to visit Wrangell Alaska
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Jennie Flaming
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite. I lived in Alaska for many years and I still spend lots of time there every year visiting friends and working as a tour director. I've been a guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington, am a field editor for the Milepost and host the Alaska Uncovered Podcast about Alaska Travel as well as the Washington State Hiking Podcast. I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you here!