Only 15 miles southeast of Juneau is Admiralty Island National Monument, a 1493-sq-mile preserve, of which 90% is designated wilderness. The monument has a wide variety of wildlife – from Sitka black-tailed deer and nesting bald eagles to harbor seals, sea lions and humpback whales – but more than anything else, Admiralty Island is known for bears. The 96-mile-long island has one of the highest populations of bears in Alaska, with an estimated 1500 brown bears, more than all the lower 48 states combined. It’s the reason the Tlingit called Admiralty Kootznoowoo, ‘the Fortress of Bears.’
The monument’s main attraction for visitors is Pack Creek, which flows from 4000ft mountains before spilling into Seymour Canal on the island’s east side. The extensive tide flats at the mouth of the creek draw a large number of bears in July and August to feed on salmon, making the spot a favorite for observing and photographing the animals.
Bear viewing at Pack Creek takes place at Stan Price State Wildlife Sanctuary, named for an Alaskan woodsman who lived on a floathouse here for almost 40 years. The vast majority of visitors to the sanctuary are day-trippers who arrive and depart on floatplanes. Upon arrival, all visitors are met by a ranger who explains the rules and then each party hikes to an observation tower – reached by a mile-long trail – that overlooks the creek.
Pack Creek has become so popular that the area buzzes with planes and boats every morning from early July to late August. Anticipating this daily rush hour, most resident bears escape into the forest, but a few bears hang around to feed on salmon, having long since been habituated to the human visitors. Seeing five or six bears would be a good viewing day at Pack Creek. You might see big boars during the mating season from May to mid-June; otherwise it’s sows and cubs the rest of the summer.
Above & Beyond Alaska offers one- and multi-day kayak rental packages that include round-trip floatplane transport; a one-day rental package is $595 per person while a two-day/one night trip is $695. You'll need to arrange your own permits.
Some visitors fly into the monument to stay at one of the 14 USFS cabins or to paddle the Cross Admiralty Island canoe route, a 32-mile paddle that spans the center of the island from the village of Angoon to Mole Harbor. Although the majority of the route consists of calm lakes connected by streams and portages, the 10-mile paddle from Angoon on Admiralty Island’s west coast to Mitchell Bay is subject to strong tides that challenge even experienced paddlers.
Angoon (pop 459) is the only community on Admiralty Island and serves as the departure point for many kayak and canoe trips into the heart of the monument, including the Cross Admiralty canoe route. Because of the difficulty getting a canoe out of Mole Harbor, many people are content to just spend a few days exploring and fishing Mitchell Bay and Salt Lake or paddling to a USFS cabin and then backtracking.
From June to mid-September, the USFS and Alaska Department of Fish and Game operate a permit system for Pack Creek and only 24 people are allowed per day from July to the end of August. Guiding and tour companies receive half the permits, leaving 12 for individuals who want to visit Pack Creek on their own. National Recreation Reservation Service, the people who handle USFS cabin reservations, are also handling Pack Creek permits. For the latest on the permit changes, particularly the date they become available each year (usually early February), contact the Admiralty Island National Monument office in Juneau.
There are no kayak or canoe rentals in Angoon. You can rent kayaks from Alaska Boat & Kayak at Auke Bay near Juneau and then place it on the Alaska Ferry.
There is also no tourist office; call the City of Angoon for information.