Admiralty Island – The Fortress Of The Bear
By: Courtney Dowd-Stanley
Admiralty Island is located in Southeast Alaska in the heart of the Tongass National Forest, the largest temperate rainforest in North America. It is the 7th largest island in the United States, and the 132nd largest island in the world. It is also a part of the ABC Islands group, which includes Admiralty, Baranof, and Chichagof, and is the second largest island in the Alexander Archipelago, which is comprised of approximately 1100 islands. Probably the most alarming factoid about Admiralty Island is that around 10% of Alaska’s population of brown bears inhabits the island, and with almost one bear per square mile, it has the highest density of brown bears in North America. The island is home to a population of roughly 650 residents, of which the brown bears outnumber the humans by a near three to one ratio. With abundant wildlife, rich natural resources, and undeniable amounts of cultural charm, Admiralty Island attracts visitors from all around the world each year.
With no roads leading to this remote island, the only way to access it is via marine or air travel. From Juneau to the community of Angoon visitors can take a quick 40-minute floatplane ride, or a 6.5-hour-long ferry ride on the Alaska Marine Highway. You can also kayak to Admiralty Island, if you’re up for the challenge!
Admiralty Island has been home to the Tlingit people for many centuries, and rich cultural charm is found all throughout the area. The traditional Tlingit community of Angoon is the island’s only settlement, home to roughly 573 residents. On the northern end of the island there is a lightly populated section of the city of Juneau that accounts for roughly 6.2% of the island’s population of 650 residents.
It was the Tlingit people that originally named the island “Kootznoowoo” which means Fortress of the Bear. It is estimated that 1,600 brown bears inhabit the island. With a three-to-one bear-to-human ratio, we’d say that name is perfectly accurate. In fact, there are more brown bears on Admiralty Island than the entire lower 48 states combined.
Nearly one million acres (955,000 to be exact) is occupied by the Admiralty Island National Monument. This federally protected wilderness area is administered by the Tongass National Forest and is home to rugged coastlines, alpine tundra, and lush old-growth temperate rainforest. The towering Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and western redcedar trees are intimidating as they stand in stoic fashion.
The Kootznoowoo wilderness encompasses so much more than lush vegetation and massive brown bears. This place is truly a wildlife viewing haven. The island has more than 2,500 bald eagles, which makes it home to one of the world’s greatest concentrations of nesting bald eagles. Along the Seymour Canal coastline, there is an average of one eagle nest every mile.
The surrounding waters are home to all five species of Pacific salmon, which spawn in July and August. Head to Mitchell Bay, Hood Bay, Whitewater Bay, or Chaik Bay and it’s highly likely that you’ll spot harbor seals, porpoises, sea lions, and whales. Humpback whales are most frequently spotted feeding on fish up and down Seymour Canal.
Sitka black-tailed deer, a subspecies of the mule deer, are also quite plentiful on the island. It’s not uncommon to see these beautiful creatures gathered in groups on the shorelines, roaming in their natural habitat.
The most popular attraction on Admiralty Island is the world-renowned bear viewing at Pack Creek. The mouth of Pack Creek is part of the Stan Price State Wildlife Sanctuary. This is a great day trip option from Alaska’s capital city of Juneau, as a short floatplane ride will get you here in about 30 minutes. You’ll be met by a park ranger who will lead you on a short mile-long trail to a nearby observation tower, where all the magic begins to unfold before your very eyes. Visitors watch in amazement as they observe large groups of brown bears feeding on spawning salmon.
The island is nearly separated in two distinct sections by the Seymour Canal. Directly to the east is the long, narrow Glass Peninsula, which extends from Seymour Canal into Stephens Passage.
One of the most popular activities in Seymour Canal is kayaking. There is an expansive 32-mile trail system that links to eight beautiful lakes with seven intermittent portages.
Other popular recreational activities on and around Admiralty Island include hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, photography, whale watching, and more.
There are forest service cabins scattered throughout the island, perfect for those recreational enthusiasts looking to get off the grid and submerged into the rugged Alaska wilderness.
Safety Tips: While you’re in the heart of bear country, remember to use extreme caution and to always be aware of your direct surroundings (even in town). Don’t ever feed bears, as it is illegal and very dangerous. If you go into the backcountry, always store your food in bear-proof containers away from your direct campsite. Never approach or follow a bear, and be sure to always leave them an easy-to-find escape route when viewing them. Remember that these creatures will generally always try to take the path of least resistance, so make sure that you avoid boxing them in. If you unexpectedly encounter a bear up close and personal, make noise, clap your hands, and vocalize yourself loud enough to let the bear know that you’re a human. When a bear is standing on its hind legs, it’s not threatening you. Instead, it’s trying to identify who/what you are. So be confident in your actions and stand your ground. Whatever you do, don’t panic and run. Also, never try to outrun a bear. There is a high probability that bears (being the predators that they are) will instinctively try to chase anything that runs.
Looking for more where that came from? Check out Matanuska Glacier: Visiting One Of Alaska’s Most Amazing & Easily Accessible Places. If you haven’t already visited (and hiked) Flattop Mountain in Alaska’s largest city of Anchorage, it’s an incredibly scenic adventure! If you’re looking for a good laugh, check out these 23 Hilariously Accurate Ways To Always Spot A Tourist In Alaska This Summer.