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 encounter in Ketchikan. At 140 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 anyone carrying a mountain bike through Alaska, a week on the island is worth all the trouble of bringing the two-wheeler 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.
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 from fishing, mining and cutting down trees.
The Inter-Island Ferry Authority ferry from Ketchikan lands at Hollis (population 112), which has few visitor facilities and no stores or restaurants. The towns best set up for tourism are Craig (population 1250) and Klawock (population 777), only 7 miles apart and a 31-mile drive across the island along the paved Hollis–Klawock Hwy. Founded as a salmon-canning and cold-storage site in 1907, Craig is the island’s largest and most interesting community, with its mix of commercial fishers and loggers.
Also supporting lodging, restaurants, small grocery stores and other visitor amenities are Thorne Bay (population 487), 38 miles northeast from Klawock, and Coffman Cove (population 183), 55 miles north of Klawock. POW now has 150 miles of paved roads that connect all of these towns.