Part of Tongass National Forest, Mendenhall Glacier and Lake are approximately 12 miles from downtown Juneau, Alaska.

© urbanglimpses / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Tongass National Forest

Top choice in Southeast Alaska

Welcome to the largest national forest in the US, a tract of land almost the size of Ireland and significantly larger than adjacent Wrangell-St Elias National Park (itself the second biggest national park in the world).


Dedicated in 1907 by President Teddy Roosevelt, the forest encompasses most of the Alexander Archipelago’s 1110 islands as well as some mainland areas. In the 1930's, the indigenous Tlingit and Haida peoples brought a legal challenge to the US supreme court over their established rights to the land and won compensation. Both tribes are still very much involved in the preservation of this crucial ecosystem to this day.

Can you live in the Tongass National Forest?

Around 75,000 people live in the forest in a series of small towns and villages, all of which, bar Haines, Hyder and Skagway, are cut off from the main continental road network.

Notwithstanding, the protected area gets one million annual visitors, nearly 14 times its actual population, most of whom arrive on cruise ships. Despite being the largest temperate rainforest in the world, packed with Sitka spruce, western hemlock and red cedar, 40% of the Tongass isn’t actually forest at all, but is comprised of wetlands, ice and high mountain terrain.

Remote cabin on the edge of a lake in the Tongass National Forest, Alaska
Remote cabin in the Tongass National Forest, Alaska © Robert Szymanski/Shutterstock

Accommodation and information

For adventurers, rustic off-the-grid accommodation is available in 150 scattered USFS cabins, most of them only accessible by boat or floatplane. There are also 13 campgrounds, four of them free of charge. Offering an extra level of protection in the forest are two national monuments, Misty Fiords and Admiralty Island. As a national forest, the Tongass is notably different to national parks such as Glacier Bay, which it surrounds.

National parks are all about preservation. National forests, while highlighting protective environmental measures, are designed for multiuse. In the Tongass you can hunt, fish and take your dog for a walk on a trail. Agriculture and controlled logging are also permitted, and the forest hosts a number of important towns including the Alaskan capital, Juneau, with a population of 33,850.


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