The village of Hoonah, Alaska, is one of the best places in all of Southeast Alaska to learn about Native Alaskan culture, as it is one of the few remaining classic Tlingit villages in the southeast panhandle.
Most of the activity here is centered around that, as well as fishing, like most coastal Alaskan towns.
However, there are also many other activities and adventures to be had while in town, so let’s take a look at how to get to town, and then a few of the best things to do while in town.
How to Get to Hoonah
Like most of the region, boats and planes are the only way to visit Hoonah. No commercial aircraft fly here, but you can get a smaller wheeled aircraft or a float plane from Juneau, Sitka, or a few other cities nearby.
Cruise ship passengers are very common, with over 400,000 visitors expected to visit next year after the recent completion of a new, larger cruise ship dock at nearby Ice Strait Bay.
It is also served by the Alaska Marine Highway System, the state-run ferry service that runs from Bellingham, Washington, up through Prince Rupert, BC (although this may be affected by Covid-19, so you’ll want to check first), and up into Southeast Alaska.
11 Things To Do In Hoonah
1. See Whales in Their Natural Habitats
If you don’t live near an ocean and have never visited SeaWorld (maybe don’t visit SeaWorld…), you may never have had the chance to see a whale up close. Hoonah is one of the premier whale-watching destinations in the state, with tours available from the docks downtown.
You may also get the chance to see bears in shallow water eating fish on nearby islands, as well as many other types of marine life, like sea lions or sea otters.
2. Wilderness and Bear-Watching Adventures
If you want a better chance at seeing a bear (from a safe distance!), Hoonah Travel Adventures offers a wilderness exploration tour that offers a great chance to see bears in their natural habitat.
Although nearby Admiralty Island has the highest population of brown bears in the world, Chicagof Island has the highest population density of brown bears.
It is a large island, (in fact, it is the fifth-largest in the United States!) which means they could be congregated elsewhere on the island, and seeing one on one of the van tours is not guaranteed.
3. Explore Tlingit Culture
The Tlingit people have lived on the island for thousands of years, which makes Hoonah a prime location to learn more about their culture.
There are totem poles all throughout town which tell stories from both legend and the history of the Huna Tlingit. You may even see carvers working on canoes, totem poles, or any other number of things while you’re in town.
4. Take a Canoe or Kayak Trip
The Tlingit people are famous for their canoes, going back hundreds of years. By the 1850s, they had canoes big enough to fit 100 warriors and their equipment!
The canoes you’ll be taking will be considerably smaller, of course, and will only hold about 12 people at most.
A Tlingit guide will take you in a traditional dugout canoe to some of the most beautiful sights around the island and give you the opportunity to take the perfect photographs to make your friends jealous of your time in Alaska.
5. Take a Drive
If you’d prefer to look for bears on enjoy nature without a guide, Hoonah is the perfect place! There are over 150 miles of old logging roads on the island.
If you didn’t bring your car on the Alaska Marine Highway, rentals are available from the Icy Strait Lodge downtown.
You may want to pick up a physical map at the US Forest Service office in town, however, as I can’t guarantee that you’ll have cell phone service the farther you go out of town. I’ve been stuck on a road without service and I do not recommend it!
6. Go for a Walk or Hike
There are many great trails in and around town as well, although you may need to drive to a few of the trailheads.
One of my favorites is Wukuklook Beach out on Forest Service Road 8530, which connects via a half-mile-long boardwalk. It has amazing views of the water and nearby islands.
If you’re up for a bit more of a drive, about 15 miles east of town, you can walk the Lower Suntaheen River Trail.
7. Stay in a Forest Service Cabin
If you really want to enjoy nature in its purest form, the Eight Fathom Cabin about 15 miles from town is the perfect location.
There are no mattresses, electricity, cell phone service, or indoor plumbing. Heat is provided by kerosene lamps (the oil for which you’ll have to provide yourself) and guests use sleeping bags instead of beds.
It is not on the road system, however, so you’ll have to arrange a float plane or boat from town in order to access the site.
8. Take a Fishing Charter
As with nearly every town in Southeast Alaska, fishing is a large part of the local economy. Many of the local Tlingit rely on fishing as part of the traditional subsistence lifestyle of living off the land in addition to the PFD.
If you’ve never had the chance to catch your own halibut or salmon, there are lodges and independent fishing charters available from town, where a knowledgeable local captain will take you to the best spots for your first catch.
They’ll send your catch to a nearby fish processing plant, where it will be vacuum-sealed and mailed directly to your home, so you won’t have to worry about your luggage smelling like fish for the entire journey back home!
9. Visit The Shops
Downtown by the docks, you’ll find great opportunities to visit the local shops, owned by the Hoonah Tribal Authority (HTA).
You’ll find t-shirts, souvenirs, jewelry, stuffed animals, Billiken, local Native artwork, and so much more.
It is also the home office for Hoonah Travel Adventures, so if you’re going on one of their expeditions, you’ll have a chance to shop after your return!
10. Go Hunting
The Tlingit have hunted on Chicagof Island for many years, as it is a great place to find bears, muskoxen, deer, and other animals.
You’ll need your own equipment and a hunting license issued by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, as well as following all regulations and safety requirements.
You’ll need a big game tag if you’re hunting bears as well, although all regulatory requirements and more information can be found on the Fish and Game website.
11. Visit Icy Strait Point and Take the Zip Line
Icy Strait Point is one of the most beautiful places on Chicagof Island and is only 1.5 miles from Hoonah, which makes it an easy walk from the city center.
The Hoonah Cannery has been closed for several years but has now been turned into a museum with many artifacts and stories about the history of the local area.
Icy Strait Point is also home to the World’s Largest ZipRider, a zip line that will take you 300 feet above the trees and reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour!
There are also ATV and Jeep excursions available here, which last just under three hours and will allow you to take some of the most amazing photographs of the area from the mountain trails. On a clear day, you might even be able to see Glacier National Park!
Another unique experience here is Alaska’s Wildest Kitchen, which allows you to taste the freshest possible Alaskan seafood, delivered by local fishermen, and expertly prepared. If you’ve never had halibut, I highly recommend it.
Summary and Conclusion
Hoonah is one of the most fascinating towns in all of Southeast Alaska since it provides an amazing look into Alaska Native culture in a way that can only be found in a few places.
It’s also a great place to enjoy the great outdoors on a boat, a hike, a short walk, a drive, or many other ways.
Whether you’ll be in town for a few hours or a few days, you’re in for an amazing treat. The people of Hoonah can’t wait to welcome you to their home on your next Southeast Alaskan adventure!