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Somewhere over the rainbow …

A visit to the scenic falls of Wrangell

WRANGELL, ALASKA — Over time, I’ve tried to visit as many of Alaska’s small cities and villages as possible in short bursts of three-day stays. In that easier-on-the-wallet fashion, I’ve easily seen 60 Alaska locales with King Salmon, Wiseman, Hope and Sitka as my personal favorites. On this particular three-day weekend, the destination for wife Gosia and me was Wrangell.

We first studied a free visitors guide sent to us by the Wrangell Convention and Visitor Bureau (800-367 9745) nicely put together by the Wrangell Sentinel. The first known inhabitants some 5,000 (or maybe 8,000) years ago were the Tlingit, who journeyed here from the Interior via a glacier hike or by small craft on the Stikine River. By 1811, the Russian-American Company traded with the Tlingit for furs. Two decades later, the British Hudson Bay Company and the Russians competed for trade dominance. Today, Wrangell’s economy depends on commercial and recreational vessels, timber harvesting and tourism.

Being an island, Wrangell is accessible by ferry or by plane. The Coast Guard’s many-approved charter boats are listed in the visitors guide.

Gosia and I awoke in the Interior to a Fairbanks snowstorm and dressed quickly in case of blizzard issues but made it easily through unplowed streets until reaching cleared Airport Way. We boarded an Alaska Airlines flight a little after 5 a.m., arriving in Wrangell right at 3:25 p.m. after plane changes in Anchorage and Juneau. Because the Fairbanks plane had ice issues, we spent less than two minutes in the Anchorage airport and were the last passengers seated. Whew!

The Wrangell terminal was small as a cracker box, and we grabbed our single checked bag before stepping outside to walk

Rainbow Falls; Wrangell, Alaska

Stairway to Heaven: Moderate Difficulty Stairs to Rainbow Falls

A cordial rental agent warned us about large penalties for driving on gravel or bringing fish inside the Ford Explorer. (“Don’t even bring a smoked salmon sandwich inside,” the agent joked).

Gosia and I exchanged glances as two of our favorite tourist activities are exploring communities at the end of a rocky road and fishing. We scratched those off our list.

No matter, we had a lot of possibilities still listed in my travel log. We checked into a super-clean and spacious bed and breakfast on Church Street, just one block from downtown. We had full access to a single comfortable room, a large, book-lined living room with antiques, and a well-appointed kitchen.

Our hosts were good-humored Phil Powers (Philsaddre@ and his wife, Debbie.

We walked in on Phil and a niece who were busy in the kitchen carving a half-dozen farm-raised rabbits into food for their two dogs. Phil cut me a slice of tasty rabbit breast, but Gosia has an aversion to cooked bunny, technically called “Br’er Rabbit Syndrome.” Kidding!

We packed our activities into two half-days and one dawn-to-late-evening full day. After putting on warm sweaters and raincoats, we drove north on Zimvovia Highway and left the car near the pavement’s end to take an easy walk along a gravel road in a light drizzle through the sweet-smelling Tongass Forest. Views of the vast waters to the west and north made us gasp with admiration and pleasure. (We knew our vision would be limited by weather because October is the island’s rainiest month).

The next day we crammed in the brunt of our activities.

We walked along a residential neighborhood on the Stikine to visit rocky-surfaced Petroglyph Beach State Historic Site at low tide to see the carvings. Because there is an accessible boardwalk, walking to the beach was no issue. Gosia’s knees are far better than mine, and she ranged out quite a distance, along the way snapping pictures of bald eagles with beaks full of fish.

When the rain and drizzle ceased, we next spent the next three hours on a self-guided hike ranked moderate to difficult on Rainbow Falls Trail, which has a small parking lot a five-minute walk from the trail entrance. This was the first rainforest Gosia and I had visited since a pre-Covid vacation in Puerto Rico in 2019. The rainforest hike up a trail lined with man-constructed wooden steps made us feel like we were extras in a reboot of “Jurassic Park.” I loved the intense green ferns and the jays chattering from the tree tops. My knees gave me trouble after a half mile, and Gosia went on alone as I rested on a bridge above a roaring creek and regrouped for the more challenging downward hike to come. An hour later she returned after photographing the namesake falls and admiring a view of Chichagof Pass.

Our late afternoon and early evening was spent souvenir hunting in Wrangell’s quaint downtown. We visited River’s Mouth Resale thrift store (321 Front St.) where Gosia scored a name-brand

sheep coat for five bucks, and I came away with a clean, used winter hunting coat for $7.

We visited stores to see what kinds of locally produced goods were there. We saw many nice rings and necklaces made with the area’s famous garnets, and Gosia purchased a hand-painted kitchen apron at Angerman’s Inc., a gift and clothing store close to the cruise ship dock.

We were disappointed at our expectation of a gourmet meal at the Stikine Inn & Restaurant due to renovations that had shut it down.

Turns out there was nothing to be disappointed about.

Our haddock and chips with an Alaska Amber draft at Hungry Beaver Pizza and Marine Bar was quite tasty ($85 total) and offered a view of charming small craft boats. Our food was served promptly with smiles and chatter in the near-empty main room.

On Sunday, our host, Phil, treated us to scrambled eggs with his secret onion-based ingredients, sliced potatoes and an endless coffee pot.

Our return trip required only an easy dropoff of the car, then boarding our flight with a stopover in Anchorage. We were back home in winter wonderland of Fairbanks well before midnight.

Add Wrangell to my short list of favorite Alaska scenic places, dear reader. (Note: Book a room now for Phil’s busy guest place for a vacation in late June and July).

We’ll be back at least twice for Bearfest Days, for a fishing cruise, and a separate bear sighting tour.

Left: In a single weekend on the island, the Nuwers saw many eagles, raven, stellar jays and a single otter eating a fish off its belly.


Below left: he views of scenery taken in the Tongass Forest are gorgeous even on a rainy October weekend in Wrangell.


Below: The views across the mighty Stikine River are breathtaking.



Sad news on Nov. 20, 2023: Landslide on the Zimovia Highway.

November 21, 2023 – Wrangell, Alaska) – On November 20, 2023, at 8:51 pm, a large landslide was reported on the Zimovia Highway at mile 11. Emergency responders from the Alaska Wildlife Troopers, Wrangell Police Department, Wrangell Fire Department, US Forest Service, Wrangell Search and Rescue, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, and the US Coast Guard immediately responded to the site. A preliminary survey determined that three single-family residences were directly in the path of the landslide. The first responders started a hasty search to look for survivors. The body of one deceased individual was located during the hasty search. Multiple individuals are believed to have been within the slide area when the landslide occurred and are believed to be missing. The Alaska State Troopers have assumed command of the search and rescue effort.

DO NOT ENTER the slide area; the slide has been active throughout the night. Additional landslides are possible in the area. All persons living between mile 11 and the end of the pavement should evacuate into Wrangell. Water taxis are available to help those on the south end navigate to the other side of the slide area. The Zimovia Highway is closed to all highway traffic south of mile 11.