Kake, Alaska

Kake is a town of just under 500 people on Kupreanof Island in the Alexander Archipelago of Southeast Alaska.

The name, which is pronounced in English just like the dessert, derives from the Tlingit word “Ḵéex̱'”, which translates as “mouth of dawn” or “opening of daylight.”

The city consists of about eight square miles of land and six miles of water. It is located 95 air miles southwest of Juneau, the capital city.

The major industries in Kake are government, healthcare, and retail trade, with over one-third of the working population employed in these three fields.

General Background

Kake is one of the few remaining authentic Native Alaskan villages in Southeast Alaska, with over 50% of the population belonging to either the Tlingit or the Haida groups.

Many of its people still live a subsistence-based lifestyle, relying on hunting and fishing for most of their food.

Kake is home to the famous Kake Totem Pole, which stands 132 feet high! It was carved in 1967 from a single cedar tree brought over from Haines. At the time, it was the largest totem pole in the world and is now the third-largest.

It was carved both in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Alaska Purchase and as a way of healing after the city’s original totem poles were destroyed in 1912.

Tourism in Kake is less of a focus than in most other places in Southeast Alaska, but Kake does still get a good number of visitors every year.

It is also home to one of the few remaining major sawmills in Southeast Alaska after the US Forest Service reduced the amount of logging in the Tongass National Forest.

Kake is located in Alaska’s Tongass National Rainforest, the largest in North America. Many residents in the past have objected to the US Forest Service’s “Roadless Rule” that prevents logging and road construction in the forest.

It remains a contentious issue in Southeast Alaska, with strong feelings on both sides, but perhaps most strongly in Kake.

Things to Do in Kake

There are many great charter fishing expeditions anchored in Kake, with a focus on king salmon in May and June, silver salmon in July through September, and halibut available almost all year long.

There are also several kayaking trips available from Kake, primarily through the Tebenkof Bay Wilderness Area, a series of islands, bays, and coves nearby.

Kake is home to the annual Dog Salmon Festival every July, which features games, contests, and traditional Tlingit songs and dancing.

Kake is also well-known for its whale-watching expeditions, with the largest congregation of whales in Southeast Alaska.

There are also many black bears, eagles, and marine life that can be safely viewed while in town from various observation points.

How to Get to Kake

Kake, as is the case with a majority of Southeast Alaska, is inaccessible by road and visiting requires either a boat or a plane.

Kake Airport, about one mile out of town, is served primarily by Alaska Air Excursions. Approximately 85% of flights are to or from Sitka and Juneau.

The city’s seaplane base offers float plane service, primarily from Petersburg, Sitka, and Juneau.

The Alaska Marine Highway System also serves Kake and makes several trips per week to many cities from Skagway in the north to Bellingham, Washington, in the south.

Only very small cruise ships tend to visit Kake, as the dock is rather small and the larger cruises tend to focus on more populous cities.

Where to Stay, Eat, and Shop

Most people in Kake choose to stay at Keek-Kwan Lodge or the Waterfront Lodge, which combines a place to stay with a charter fishing excursion.

There are a few shops in town, including Sagebrush Dry Goods, a seller of waterproof items. There is also a Salvation Army thrift store in town, although it is only open for a few hours on Saturdays.

The SOS Value Mart is the town’s grocery and convenience store, which also has a variety of gift options, including clothing, candles, and toys for children.

One thing you won’t find in Kake, however, is a restaurant. Since many of the town’s residents rely on subsistence, there isn’t a year-round market for them.

History of Kake

Kupreanof Island was used by the local Tlingit people for thousands of years as a hunting ground.

The Kake tribes of the Tlingit were feared by white settlers, frightening Captain Vancouver of the Royal Navy on his expedition through the Inside Passage.

In 1869, the “Kake War” took place, after a Tlingit was killed in Sitka. Two European traders were killed by the Kake Tlingit in response, which set off a series of attacks by the United States Navy.

Three abandoned villages nearby were destroyed and the Tlingit did not rebuild until 1890 when the present site of Kake was chosen as their new home.

Many missionaries visited Kake, including some sent by the Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers.

The city’s totem poles were destroyed in 1912, although the exact reason is uncertain. As some stories go, the missionaries convinced the town to burn them as a sign of rejecting their cultural traditions and embracing their newfound faith.

In 1912, the Kake Cannery opened about a mile south of town, which provided many jobs for immigrant workers, mostly from Japan and the Philippines.

It was purchased by the city in 1940 and went out of business in 1977, but was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1997.

Kake can’t wait to welcome you to Kupraenof Island for your next amazing whale-watching or charter fishing tour!

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