Wrangell, Alaska

Wrangell is a city of about 2,100 people on Wrangell Island in the Alexander Archipelago in the Southeast Alaskan panhandle.

The town is named after the island, which was named after Baron von Wrangel of the Russian Imperial Navy, who served as the Governor of Russian Alaska from 1829 to 1834.

Fishing and tourism are the two largest industries in the city, with employees of both making up over half the city’s workforce.

The former city of Wrangell consisted of about 45 square miles of land, although that number increased to about 70 when water is included.

After being incorporated as a Borough (or county), The City and Borough of Wrangell is now officially listed at 3,477 square miles.

General Background

Wrangell has the unique distinction of being the Alaska city to have been under the control of four different groups: The Tlingit, Russia, The British Empire, and The United States.

The city has also had several high-profile residents in its history. The notorious and controversial lawman Wyatt Earp, a survivor of the famous Battle of the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, ran a gambling house here during the Klondike Gold Rush.

Wrangell was also home to conservationist and founder of the Sierra Club John Muir, who traveled through Alaska and lived in town for several years in the early 1900s.

The town is also famous for the Wrangell Bombardment, one of the few times that the United States military has attacked a domestic target, although several of these also took place in Southeast Alaska.

Things to Do in Wrangell

As with nearly every town in Southeast Alaska, there are many fishing charters available, including Fish Wrangell, Night N Gale Charters, and Alaska Charter and Adventures.

Wrangell is also home to the famous Nolan Center Museum, which was voted the best museum in all of Southeast Alaska.

It features numerous artifacts and details about the city’s history, starting with the early Tlingit people thousands of years ago and going up to the present day.

The Nolan Center also features a movie theatre with a single screen that runs current films, which is somewhat uncommon in Southeast Alaska.

There are also many great excursions available in Wrangell, including the Anan Creek Bear Observatory, Breakaway Adventures Tours, and boat tours of nearby glaciers.

Petroglyph Beach State Historic Site is located at the corner of Grave Street and Fifth Avenue and features petroglyphs, or rock carvings, made by the early Tlingit people that are estimated to be over 8,000 years old.

Chief Shakes Historic Site, located on an island near Wrangell Harbor, features several totem poles and Native artifacts that are believed to be some of the oldest still in existence.

How to Get to Wrangell

Since Wrangell is situated on an island, there is no road to the city. The only way to access the city is by boat or by plane, like many places in Southeast Alaska.

The city does not see much cruise ship traffic, only a few smaller ships per week visit Wrangell Harbor.

However, unlike other small cities in Southeast Alaska, Alaska Airlines does serve Wrangell Airport, although it does only have one runway.

Alaska Seaplanes also flies from Wrangell to Petersburg and Sitka, primarily as a cargo service.

The Alaska Marine Highway Service (AMHS) offers ferry service to and from Wrangell throughout the Inside Passage, from Bellingham, Washington in the south to Skagway in the north.

Where to Stay, Eat, and Shop in Wrangell

There are several traditional hotels in Wrangell, including the Wrangell Extended Stay (not affiliated with the hotel chain) and the Stikine Inn.

There are also several bed and breakfasts in town, including the Mount Dewey Sunset and the Grand View.

For more outdoorsy visitors, the Shoemaker RV offers several camping sites for those who wish to sleep in tents.

The Stikine Inn also features a restaurant that sells a rotating menu of locally-caught seafood, as well as steak, prime rib, and a comprehensive wine list.

J&W’s Fast Food at 120 Front Street serves burgers, seafood, salads, wraps, sandwiches, and Mexican food.

The Nolan Center, mentioned above, also features a gift shop that sells souvenirs and postcards, as well as hosting a monthly community market that sells handmade goods.

The Compass Line Gift Shop at 321 Front Street also sells souvenirs, jewelry, handmade gifts, and much more.

For groceries, Wrangell IGA and the Twisted Root Market downtown are around the corner from one another downtown.

History of Wrangell

Like much of Southeast Alaska, Wrangell Island was traditionally used by the Tlingit people for hunting and fishing for thousands of years.

The area currently known as the city of Wrangell was founded by the Russian-Alaska Company as one of the first non-Native Alaskan settlements in the state.

The location was used to trade furs with the Tlingit, with a fuller settlement being built in 1834.

Five years later, the Hudson’s Bay Company of England leased the fort from the Russians and renamed it Fort Stikine, after the nearby river.

The Tlingit opposed the British use of their trade routes, but after many Native Alaskans died of smallpox, the population was significantly reduced and the protests grew quieter.

After ten years of control, Great Britain abandoned the settlement after the fur trade ended due to diminishing numbers of beavers and sea lions.

After the territory of Alaska was sold to the United States, the US military built a post called Fort Wrangell on the site, which remained in service from 1868 to 1877.

The proud fishing town of Wrangell is excited to welcome you on your next Alaskan adventure!

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