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Wrangell Travel Guide, Alaska

Located near the mouth of the Stikine River and near Chief Shakes Island with an excellent collection of totem poles, Wrangell came into existence as a gold rush boomtown and trading post and later the Russians chose the location to build a fort in 1834, but they stayed just until the British decided to take over in 1840. British domination lasted until Alaska was bought by the Americans in 1867.

Today Wrangell is a simple American logging town, the second stop on the ferry system and a busy harbor, but, unlike other Alaska towns that have done something to improve their look, Wrangell has not undergone major changes since the mid-20th century and so few tourists came in town. The town became even more degraded after the 1952 fire that destroyed most of the downtown buildings. The town’s economy directed towards the surrounding natural resources, wood and this was what sustained it for a long time. Lots of trees were cut, processed and shipped and everything went well until the mill was closed in 1994 because environmental issues. The town’s future was uncertain. It still is as it is maintained alive only by the small scale logging industry, some people have moved out and who knows how many of the about 2000 residents will remain.

Those who have been strongly routed to the place try hard to improve their town’s appearance.

The Nolan Center Museum is one of the results of their success. It boasts impressive galleries devoted to natural history, logging and fishing, Native culture and it traces Wrangell’s history with exhibits including early Alaska Native pieces.

Outside the museum north of town is the Wrangell Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park where you can see an impressive set of 50 petroglyphs representing animals and geometric done by forgotten indigenous people predating the Tlingit. It is exciting to look at them and try to guess what they mean.

Other well paid off efforts include recreation facilities like Muskeg Meadows golf course, the Anan Wildlife Observatory from where you can spot black bears. Wildlife watching tours are also available. For more active water recreation you can choose between hiking, biking, salmon fishing or kayaking. Staying on the gravel road will lead you to some picturesque places. It will take you a few days if you want to explore the sights so it would be a good idea to plan on staying. For accommodation you can either choose the campground at City Park or the Wrangell Hostel in town.

Staying in town is a good idea, it is quiet and non-threatening, a little town with a sense of humor where you can make friends. Wandering around is an enjoyable experience especially for families with kids that don’t have to be watched over all the time, crime here being quiet low. It is a pleasure to come to such a remote place where you can detach from the big city and enjoy a place that reflects a time, when not everything had to be done "yesterday”.

The nearby area is full of interesting places to visit like the Chief Shakes Island where you can see an exact copy of the house in which Chief Shakes VI lay in state in 1916 boasting some extraordinary artifacts, there are also the oldest and certainly the best-preserved Tlingit carved house posts, replicas of the mid-18th-century originals. Getting inside might be a bit difficult because it is not always opened but it is still worth visiting the collection of totem poles and the charming setting.

Another island worth visiting is the Wrangell Island. You can walk the gravel roads to get to the beautiful to places unspoiled by tourists and you will have the chance to have the fishing lakes, campsites and hike trails all to yourself.

The scenery and peace is worth going out of your way to come here. You can relax and take the city on its own terms, as a fun, unpretentious town.

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