The jagged snow-capped mountains loom over the glassy waterways that cleave through the Tongass National Forest. Bears move silently among ancient hemlocks cloaked with lichen while seals lounge in iceberg-studded bays. Every breathe carries the tang of evergreens and the brine of the rich coastal waters. The untamed coastal rainforest of Southeast Alaska has challenged natives and explorers alike, and today the siren call of Alaska’s unfettered beauty continues to lure those wild at heart. Wrangell, Alaska.
Shrouded in the mists of the Inside Passage, Wrangell provides the ideal location to get lost in the wilds of Alaska’s Panhandle. Gigantic glaciers, world-class bear viewing, and stellar whale watching are all just a short boat ride from Wrangell’s docks. Search for timeworn petroglyphs at low tide or hike one of many trails mere minutes from downtown.
To many, backpacking into the forest, laden with camping gear and bear spray, remains the ultimate thrill, but it’s certainly not the only way to conquer Alaska’s coastal rainforests. For those of us who long for hot showers and soft beds at the end of long day of exploring, “The friendliest little town in SE Alaska” provides many unique lodgings.
Rooney’s Roost Bed and Breakfast
The aroma of straight-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies wafted through the door and onto the porch. Sunlight dappled across the long farmhouse table draped with a red, yellow, and green plaid cloth. Hand-stitched throw pillows embellished with colorful roosters adorned high-backed chairs in front of the large window framing the front deck and lush yard beyond. A cuckoo clock cheerfully marks the hours as the day passes. Upstairs, the throaty call of a raven drifted through the landing window into a nook stocked with antiques, books, and an overstuffed couch. Four plush bedrooms, each complete with private bathrooms, open out onto the cushy reading nook.
For two generations, the Rooney’s have welcomed guests into their bucolic home located two blocks from the docks of downtown Wrangell. Each morning, Mrs. Becky prepares her table for a staggering gourmet breakfast. Guests are treated to savory homemade dishes such as creamy crab quiche, spicy New Mexico Green Chili Souffle, and hearty Italian Strata. Sweet lovers indulge in warm cinnamon apple dutch babies, gooey stuffed french toast, and wild Alaska blueberry coffee cake. And no Rooney’s Roost breakfast is complete without honey, yogurt, fresh fruit, juice and hot, steamy coffee.
From the butter-colored walls to the creaky fourth stair from the bottom, Rooney’s Roost radiates with Alaskan turn-of-the-century warmth. At the end of a chilly day spent watching bears under the canopy of the rainforest or reeling in “the big one,” it’s the perfect roost to return home to.
The Squawking Raven Bed and Breakfast
Steeped in Tlingit culture, the beauty of the local clan accentuates every facet of Wrangell. Exquisitely carved totems dot the small town and stories of legendary heroes reverberate off the cedar walls of Chief Shakes Tribal House. Between the Tribal House, Cultural Center, and The Wrangell Museum, visitors can delve deep into the history and lore of the Tlingits. Then there’s the Squawking Raven Bed and Breakfast.
“On my mother’s side of the family, her grandfather was Charlie Jones, the 7th Chief Shakes,” explained Christie Dascawah Jamieson, as she fried sausages for breakfast. The morning light shone brightly through the picture windows and gleamed on the polished granite bar and stainless steel appliances. The great-grand daughter of the last Chief Shakes, she named her bed and breakfast after her Raven/Frog Clan. Black and white photographs from Wrangell’s days gone by hang from the living room walls and Native artwork crafted by her children sit upon the bar. As she sat down a heaping plate of steaming eggs, English muffins, and sausage in front of us she expounded on the history of her family’s Native Tlingit lineage.
Mrs. Christie opened the doors of The Squawking Raven in the summer of 2014. Just a quarter mile from downtown, the modern log home rests inside the slope of the mountain and surrounded by towering evergreens. With two bedrooms, each with plush queen sized-beds, satellite tv, and free Wi-Fi, the Jamieson’s strive to cater to just one guest/party at a time. Not only do guests receive their undivided attention but also the privilege of learning about Tlingit culture first hand.
Dockside Float House
Glance at any lifestyle publication or channel and you’ll notice that tiny homes are all the rage. These compact accommodations combine minimalist living and character with an emphasis on environmental friendliest and freedom. And that is exactly what Chris Hatton had in mind when she built her tiny float house, Dockside.
Moored in the local’s harbor, this cedar-clad itty-bitty vacation rental bobs in the heart and soul of Wrangell. Because of the well-planned layout, tall ceilings, and massive windows, the space feels open and airy. From the loft, a queen bed looks out onto the bay while below a full kitchen, washer and clothes line, and in-floor heating system gives Dockside all the creature comforts.
Mornings at Dockside begin with hot coffee on the small porch. Wave to passing fisherman as they head out for a day of halibut or salmon fishing. A bald eagle’s shrill whistle carries across the bay and harbor seals glide silently among the pillions. In the evenings, the lights of the harbor dance across the water’s surface and reflect across the walls. Be lulled to sleep by the slightest of waves as the fisherman return to the harbor with their days catch.
The somber forests, glacier-carved fjords, lofty mountains, and majestic wildlife surrounding Wrangell beg to be explored. Luckily, camping gear isn’t a necessity when answering the enchanting call of the wild. And with such unique accommodations, it’s easy to conquer the coastal rainforest of Alaska.
- Rooney’s Roost Bed and Breakfast
- Squawking Raven Bed and Breakfast
- Dockside Float House
- Travel Alaska, official state tourism site
- Wrangell, Alaska, Tourism, www.wrangell.com/visitorservices
-All photos by Jessica Pickett.