Hoonah, Alaska

Hoonah is a city of over 900 people on Chicaghof Island in the Alexander Archipelago of Southeast Alaska.

The name is a transliteration of Xunaa, a Tlingit word that words “protected from the north winds” and is also used for the name of its people, the Huna.

Fishing is the main industry here, with many of the people adhering to a subsistence lifestyle of hunting, fishing, and gathering berries.

The city of Hoonah is approximately 7.3 square miles, with six miles of land and 1.3 miles of water.

General Background

Hoonah is one of several communities on Chicaghof Island, including Pelican, Tenakee Springs, and Elfin Cove. The city of Sitka also has territory on the island, although the city center is on Baranof Island.

The television series “Alaskan Bush People” was originally set on a homestead near Hoonah, although the actors on the show are not themselves Alaskan.

It’s not recommended to mention the show while in town, however, as many Alaskans have strong negative feelings toward the program, as they feel it makes Alaskans look foolish.

Although the year-round population is around 900, in the summer that number can reach over 1,300, as many people come from nearby villages for fishing and hunting.

Things to Do in Hoonah

Hoonah, like most places in Southeast Alaska, offers many charter fishing expeditions in nearby waters, including Ear Mountain Charters, Glacier Wind Charters, Hooked Adventures, and Wooshkeetan Adventures.

The city is also home to the world’s longest continuous zipline, The ZipRider, which is over one mile long!

There are also many opportunities to learn more about the Tlingit culture here, with totem poles across town, as well as demonstrations of carving being done in the city center.

The Lower Suntaheen River Trail and Wukuklook Beach Trail are also nearby, which give amazing views of the area.

There is also a large nest of eagles in town, close to the Hoonah school in town. If visitors are patient, they are almost guaranteed to see at least one bald eagle while in town.

How to Get to Hoonah

Since Hoonah sits on Chicaghof Island, there are no roads in or out of the city. There are also no roads to the other communities on the island.

No cruise ships go to Hoonah, although there is a “day cruise” option from town that takes visitors around Icy Strait.

Air travel is one of the most common ways to visit the city, with flights from Juneau offered by Alaska Seaplanes.

The city is served by both Hoonah Airport and Hoonah Seaplane Base, which allows both small-wheeled aircraft and float planes to land nearby.

The Alaska Marine Highway Service does offer weekly service to Hoonah and provides incredible views, although the length between visits makes this option best for only one way of travel.

There are also charter boats that can be rented in nearby cities that take visitors to Hoonah, including Allen Marine, which operates out of Juneau and Sitka.

Where to Stay, Eat, and Shop

Hoonah offers several fishing lodges, including the Icy Strait Lodge, the Port Frederick Lodge, and the Misty Bay Lodge.

There are also several traditional hotels in town, including the Wind N’ Sea Inn, the Hoonah Hideout, and the North Wind Inn. There are no campgrounds or RV Parks in Hoonah at this time.

There are several restaurants that offer a variety of dining options, including the Icy Strait Lodge’s dining room, Mary’s Restaurant, and The Fishermen’s Daughter.

There is a bar called “The Office” just north of the city center, as well as the Hoonah Brewing Company just up the street.

The main group of gift shops is called “The Shops” and is operated by the Hoonah Tribal Authority. They sell a variety of souvenirs, gifts, and Tlingit artwork made by local artists.

History of Hoonah

The Tlingit people have lived in the Glacier Bay area for thousands of years, as the area provided them with the ability to fish, hunt, and gather berries.

The settlement currently known as Hoonah was settled by the Tlingit in the 1750s, who left the Glacier Bay area due to advancing glaciers.

A Presbyterian Mission church was founded in 1881 by the famous American missionary Sheldon Jackson, who was pivotal in bringing Christianity to many Tlingit villages of the day.

Jackson believed that the Natives needed to abandon their traditional beliefs in order to fully accept the Gospel, which led to a schooling policy in the state that only English would be used and students were forbidden from using the traditional Tlingit language.

In spite of this, he feared that the culture would fully die out and began collecting various items from the villages to ensure the Tlingit traditions would survive.

Many of these artifacts, including those from Hoonah, are in the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka, as well as the Alaska State Museum in Juneau.

He was also integral in getting Presidential attention to the Alaska Natives, befriending Benjamin Harrison.

He convinced President Harrison to pass the Organic Act, which transferred Alaska to civilian control and resulted in Jackson himself being in charge of the state’s education.

During World War II, there was a POW camp full of German prisoners in nearby Excursion Inlet. After the camp was deserted, the Huna Tlingit salvaged oil drums from the site.

They took the drums back to Hoonah and placed them underneath their homes, filled with lamp oil.

On June 14th, 1944, a tarp near one of the homes caught fire and quickly spread, destroying the town. Only one man died, John C. Smith, who refused to leave the artifacts of which he had been placed in charge.

The town was rebuilt with assistance from the United States government, where it remains to this day, ready to welcome visitors on their next Alaskan adventure!

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