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Prince of Wales Island/USA

Introducing Prince of Wales Island

For some tourists, the Alaska they come looking for is only a three-hour ferry ride away from the crowds of cruise-ship tourists they experienced in Ketchikan. At 135 miles long and covering more than 2230 sq miles, Prince of Wales Island (POW) is the USA's third-largest island, after Alaska's Kodiak and Hawaii's Big Island.

This vast, rugged island is a destination for the adventurous at heart, loaded with hiking trails and canoe routes, Forest Service cabins and fishing opportunities.

The 990-mile coastline of POW meanders around numerous bays, coves, saltwater straits and protective islands, making it a kayaker's delight. And for someone carrying a mountain bike through Alaska, a week on the island is worth all the trouble of bringing the bike north. The island has the most extensive road system in the Southeast, 1300 miles of paved or maintained gravel roads that lead to small villages and several hundred miles more of shot-rock logging roads that lead to who-knows-where.

Presently tourism is relatively light but is bound to increase due to the expanding service of the Inter-Island Ferry Authority. The Authority launched its first vessel, MV Prince of Wales, in 2002 replacing the Alaska Marine Highway service between Ketchikan and Hollis. In mid-2006 the Authority will launch MV Stikine. From Coffman Cove the new ferry will make runs to Wrangell and Petersburg, eliminating the need to backtrack to Ketchikan if you want to visit POW.

There are no cruise ships on POW but there are clear-cuts and you must be prepared for them. Blanketing the island is a patchwork quilt of lush spruce-hemlock forest and fields of stumps where a forest used to be. They are a sign that you have reached real Alaska, a resource-based state where people make a living fishing, mining and cutting down trees.