Pelican is a small community of 98 people on Chicaghof Island in Southeast Alaska’s Lisianski Inlet.
The town is 0.6 square miles, making it one of the smallest communities in Southeast Alaska.
Nearly every working-age citizen of Pelican is involved in the fishing or tourism industry, although there are a few exceptions.
Pelican’s motto is “Closest to the Fish,” which reflects both the historical and modern importance of the city as one of the premier fishing locations in Southeast Alaska.
Pelican is very unique among Southeast Alaskan settlements, as nearly the entire town lives on a one-mile boardwalk that runs most of the length of the town.
On the north side of town lies a community called “Sunnyside,” which is only accessible by boat. It is primarily residential, although there is the Lisianski Inlet Fishing Lodge and its cabins can be found at the northernmost point.
As the story goes, when the first settlers came to build their homes, the captain asked his wife which side of the inlet she preferred. She pointed to the right and said, “The sunny side.”
On the other side of town is a neighborhood called “Whiskey Flats,” which is an exclusively residential area with no businesses or points of interest.
The town’s name derives from the name of city founder Charles Raatikainen’s fishing boat, The Pelican.
Things to Do in Pelican
Pelican is primarily a fishing town and most of the town’s activities and visitor interest is based around boat charters.
There is a bit of nightlife in Pelican that can be found at Rosie’s Bar, as well as the bar in the Highliner Lodge.
There is a church in town, just up the hill from city hall, that offers non-denominational services on Sunday mornings.
There is also a public library in town that offers free WiFi, located dockside next to the town’s clinic, which is served by a traveling nurse once a week.
How to Get to Pelican
There is no road access in or out of Pelican, even to other settlements on Chicaghof Island, like Sunnyside or Sitka.
The most common way to visit Pelican is through a charter float plane ride from Juneau on Alaska Seaplanes.
Pelican Seaplane Base is near the main harbor and is one of the least-used of the publicly-owned seaplane bases in Alaska, with only a few hundred passengers each year.
The Alaska Marine Highway does serve the city of Pelican, although it only runs once per month. A visit could include one way on the ferry and the return journey through another method.
It is also possible to charter a boat from Sitka or Juneau, as both are less than one hundred miles from town.
Where to Stay, Eat, and Shop
There is no campground and no RV parking, as the entire town is about one mile long and the island’s bear population makes camping unwise.
The Pelican Store stocks a few essential items, but most residents have their groceries delivered as air cargo from Juneau, resulting in a reduced market for those items.
The Visitor’s Center also offers souvenirs, gifts, and postcards, which can be mailed at the nearby Post Office.
The main restaurant in town is the Pelican Cafe, which serves a variety of burgers, sandwiches, and locally-caught seafood.
Several of the lodges also offer food as well, including a pizza kitchen inside the Pelican Inn.
There are also lovely views of the harbor and nearby mountains, although visitors are urged to use caution, as many of the town’s residents own trucks and ATVs, which they frequently drive along the boardwalk from one end of town to the other.
History of Pelican
Unlike nearly every other location in Southeast Alaska, Pelican was not known to have been used by the Tlingit people for fishing.
This is likely because the current settlement exists on a raised boardwalk, due to the uneven ground throughout town.
At both ends of the Lisianski Inlet, mining activity had taken place around the 1940s. One of these mines was owned by a man named Hjalmar Mork.
Mork had a friend named Charles Raatikainen who was interested in starting a town to serve as a cold storage facility for fish, as that was his primary financial interest.
Raatikainen had been taking fish over to Sitka for processing, but the journey took too much time and resulted in a lack of sleep. The obvious solution, he thought, was to build a town “closer to the fish,” which was reworked later as the town’s motto.
Mork took Raatikainen to the place now known as Pelican and the two decided that the location was perfect for Raatikainen’s needs.
Raatikainen then organized a corporation, had lumber and other supplies delivered by the SS Tongass, and began to build the town.
His business, Pelican Seafoods, was open for over 60 years until operations finally shut down in 2006. The city foreclosed on the property in 2008, eventually selling it to a new owner a few years later.
In 2016, Yakobi Fisheries opened and now employs both residents and seasonal workers as part of its operation.
Pelican is a beautiful town with some of the best fishing in Southeast Alaska and is proud to welcome visitors for their next charter fishing adventure!