Are you planning on or considering moving to Southeast Alaska? Well, the answer is going to depend wildly based on which city or town you’re in, but there are some things that we all have in common.
I’ve lived in Juneau for decades, but I have friends who either currently live in or at one time resided in almost every community in Southeast.
Since I like to think I have a pretty good handle on what life here is like:
It’s cold. I’m not going to sugarcoat that at all, it gets pretty cold during seasons that aren’t the summer.
It rains a lot as well, which stands to reason as most of Southeast Alaska is covered by the Tongass National Forest, which is the largest rainforest in North America.
Hunting and fishing are two of the more popular activities in Southeast Alaska, because of the abundance of wildlife that lives here.
You will have to know basic bear safety tips, as there are thousands of both black and brown bears living in the region. One of the biggest is that if you don’t provoke the bear, there’s a very good chance it’ll just walk on by.
In July of 2018, I was sitting on the bench at a local park just before midnight. I looked up from my phone to see a grizzly bear walking straight down the path, by the water.
I made no sudden movements, I didn’t make any sounds, I just sat on the bench until the bear walked 30 feet down the trail. I stood up and walked briskly but quietly back home.
In addition to bears, there are also deer, elk, wolves, and other creatures that roam the forests of the Tongass.
I’ve known several people who were driving down the road, minding their own business, when suddenly a deer jumped out right in front of them.
Almost every time, the driver had a similar experience as a passenger and was able to swerve out of the way to avoid a potentially deadly accident.
In the winter, we get snow every year in varying amounts. Some years, we only get a few feet, but it’s spread out over a few months and it doesn’t really accumulate at all.
This last year in Juneau (and I’m sure in other cities as well), we had two structures whose roofs collapsed in on themselves because the roofs had not been shoveled.
You know how they refer to Alaska as “The Land of the Midnight Sun”? Well, the trade-off is that we also get very little sun in the winter.
A common expression down here, which I have used myself many times, is “I go to work in the dark and then I come home in the dark.”
I know multiple people who routinely go three or four days without seeing sunlight a week in December because their workplace has no windows and they usually eat their lunch at their desks.
This has caused a great many Alaskans to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, which can cause depression and mood swings, among other symptoms.
This is why a growing number of people here own phototherapy lights that are designed to mimic the sun’s rays and improve the user’s mood.
Shopping is one of the big things that people often don’t think about when they think about Southeast Alaska.
Some communities, such as Pelican and Hydaburg, do not have their own grocery stores. They only have convenience stores that carry cold drinks, some staple foods, and canned goods.
In Pelican, there are multiple flights a day from Juneau, so residents can order from Fred Meyer, Safeway, or another store that has a shipping department.
In Hydaburg, the nearest grocery store is 35 miles away in Klawock, a drive that can sometimes take up to an hour if weather conditions have affected the only road between the two locations.
The Juneau Costco run is very familiar to people in these communities as well. The Alaska Marine Highway System’s schedule has been reduced as of late, due to budget cuts and COVID-19, which has proven disastrous for many small towns who relied on it.
The Alaska Marine Highway is the state ferry system that connects these communities. Normally, a person in a town without a grocery store will put their car on the ferry, travel to Juneau, load up the car with as much non-perishable food as possible, then head back home.
Some communities, like Pelican, don’t have a hardware store in town, meaning any home repairs might have to wait a few days unless your neighbor or a friend in town has the part or materials you need.
Sometimes the local store doesn’t have what you want and you can take an entire three-day vacation centered around getting out of town and buying a few things.
Geography and Scenery
All of that seems a bit negative, so I’ll counter it with The Power of Positivity and explain some things that I like.
Southeast Alaska contains some of the most beautiful sights you’ll ever take in. We have the Northern Lights, glaciers, wildlife that doesn’t live in a zoo, mountains, water, and many other things that you’d have to see in person to fully appreciate.
I’m not really a big hiker, but I have climbed Thunder Mountain here in Juneau a couple of times. The view from the top of the mountain is one of the absolute greatest sights I’ve ever seen.
…But Do You Recommend It?
Just like almost every other place to live in the world, Southeast Alaska has its good parts and its bad parts. No place I’ve ever been has ever been truly 100% good or 100% bad.
The best advice I can give is to be prepared. If you know what it’s going to be like going in, it makes it easier to manage.
If you know that you’re not going to be able to eat Taco Bell unless you go to Anchorage or Seattle and that the most important bit of bear safety is to never get between a mama bear and her cubs, it’ll make life a lot easier and allow you to spend that time focusing on the positives instead.
Southeast Alaska is an amazing place and it has been one of the greatest privileges of my life to be able to call it home.