Tongass National Forest – Alaska’s “Crown Jewel”
By: Courtney Dowd-Stanley
Head to Southeast Alaska where you will find the largest national forest in the United States of America, the Tongass National Forest. At 16.7 million-acres, this incredible destination covers roughly 80% of Alaska’s remarkable southeast region of the state.
The Tongass National Forest is home to more than half of the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest. You might be surprised to learn that it is actually remote enough to be home to many species of rare and endangered flora and fauna.
The Tongass National Forest was created by United States President Theodore Roosevelt on September 10, 1907 then later expanded by Roosevelt and then again by President Calvin Coolidge. It was named for the Tongass Clan of Tlingit Indians that inhabited the area, and the Tlingit culture is still very prominently noticed and alive to this very day.
Managed by the United States Forest Service and administered from offices in Ketchikan, the Tongass National Forest encompasses islands of the Alexander Archipelago and over 32 communities throughout Southeast Alaska, where roughly 75,000 people rely on it’s prolific resources. It shares an international border with Canada in British Columbia alongside the crest of the Boundary Ranges of the Coast Mountains. Ranger district offices can be found in Hoonah, Petersburg, Sitka, Thorne Bay, Craig, Wrangell, Juneau, and Yakutat.
It is known for its magnificent old-growth spruce, hemlock and yellow cedar trees. Ferns and moss cover the grounds of the Tongass while shrubs and evergreens grow lavishly on the ground of the canopy. The dramatic fjords, grandiose glaciers, and prolific runs of salmon throughout the many rivers inside the forest are just some of the wow-worthy factors that contribute to the region being known as the “crown jewel” of Alaska.
The Tongass has a coastline that stretches 11,000 miles in total and is home to Alaska’s state capital city of Juneau.
Surprisingly so, roughly half of the Tongass is actually covered by wetlands, ice, rock, and water instead of just trees. However the biggest trees in the Last Frontier are still found here. These are considered the “most valuable” from a logging standpoint because of the sheer size.
Only 25% or about 241,000 acres inside the Tongass National Forest are protected from logging by the US Forest Service.
Along with halibut and a variety of other fish, all five species of Pacific Salmon can be found throughout the waters inside the Tongass National Forest.
Other wildlife in the Tongass include brown and black bears, wolves, moose, mountain goats, humpback whales, orcas, sea otters, and seals.
Fun Fact: The concentration of bald eagles inside the Tongass is higher than anywhere else on earth.
In total there are 19 designated wilderness areas inside the Tongass National Forest, more than any other national forest in America. Some of the most popular include Endicott River Wilderness, Kootznoowoo Wilderness, Misty Fjords National Monument, and Kuiu Wilderness.
Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve is an attraction that draws in a plethora of people each year.
On average, the Tongass National Forest attracts about one million visitors annually. Most arrive via cruise ship, although float planes and boats are other suitable methods of transportation. Remote off-grid cabins inside the Tongass National Forest offer fun off-the-beaten-path alternatives to those looking to break up an otherwise structured cruise-type itinerary. The Alaska Marine Highway ferry system is also a very popular way to enjoy the magic found inside the Tongass National Forest.
Have you even visited the supremely scenic Tongass National Forest? We’d love to know about your favorite memories and what you loved most about being here!
Looking for another great read? Explore Alaska’s Mendenhall Ice Caves for a Surreal Glacier Experience. If you love Alaska’s idyllic charm, check out these 11 charming Alaska small towns that’ll leave you wanting more. Buckle up and prepare to enjoy: Road-Trippin’ Alaska; Your perfect way to escape the crowds in 2020. Also, for all those mastering the art of “social distancing” you’ll enjoy America’s least-visited National Park located right here in Alaska.