A small, unassuming timber and fishing community, Wrangell sits on the northern tip of Wrangell Island, near the mouth of the fast-flowing Stikine River—North America's largest undammed river. The Stikine plays a large role in the life of many Wrangell residents, including those who grew up homesteading on the islands that pepper the area. Trips on the river with local guides are highly recommended as they provide, basically, an insider's guide to the Stikine and a very Alaskan way of life. Like much of Southeast, Wrangell has suffered in recent years from a declining resource-based economy. But locals are working to build tourism in the town. Bearfest, which started in 2010, celebrates Wrangell's proximity to Anan Creek, where you can get a close-up view of both brown and black bears. Wrangell has flown three different national flags in its time. Russia established Redoubt St. Dionysius here in 1834. Five years later Great Britain's Hudson's Bay Company leased the southern Alaska coastline, renaming the settlement Ft. Stikine. It was rechristened Wrangell when the Americans took over in 1867; the name came from Baron Ferdinand Petrovich von Wrangel, governor of the Russian-American Company. The rough-around-the-edges town is off the track of the larger cruise ships, so it does not get the same seasonal traffic that Ketchikan and Juneau do. Hence, it is nearly devoid of the souvenir shops that dominate so many other nearby downtown areas. But the gift shops and art galleries that are here do sell locally created work, and the town is very welcoming to visitors; independent travelers would do well to add a stop in Wrangell during their Southeast wanderings.
Stikine Inn Restaurant
With views overlooking the water, the restaurant at the Stikine Inn is, easily, the prettiest place to dine in town. Considering the sparse number of restaurants in town, the Stikine could just serve a get-by menu, but the restaurant's salads, pizzas, burgers, and hearty soups go far beyond—it serves seriously tasty dishes. Portions tend to be oversized, especially on the dessert front. Consider splitting that dessert you eyeballed on the menu with at least one other person (if not two). The Stikine also has a full bar and serves good coffee drinks.
Diamond C Cafe
The big breakfasts at the Diamond C are just part of the attraction. The café also serves as the gathering place for a group of local guys and, really, it's fun to just sit back and listen. As you dig into the breakfast hash and other goodies, though, there's a chance you'll only have eyes for your plate.
Garnet Ledge, a rocky ledge at the mouth of the Stikine River, is the source for garnets sold by local children. The site was deeded to the Boy Scouts in 1962 and to the Presbyterian Church in Wrangell in 2006, so only children can collect these colorful but imperfect stones, the largest of which are an inch across. You can purchase garnets at a few covered shelters near the city dock when cruise ships are in, at the Wrangell Museum, or at the ferry terminal when a ferry is in port.
Local artist Brenda Schwartz-Yeager creates watercolor scenes of the Alaskan coast on navigational charts of the region. Schwartz-Yeager, who grew up in Wrangell, is also a boat captain and local guide who, with her husband, owns Alaska Charters and Adventures.
Chief Shakes Island
This small island sits in the center of Wrangell's protected harbor, and is accessible by a footbridge from the bottom of Shakes Street. The Tribal House, constructed in 1940 as a replica of the original 19th century structure, was completely restored by local carvers in 2012 and 2013, as were the surrounding totem poles.
Chief Shakes's Grave Site
Buried here is Shakes V, who led the local Tlingit during the first half of the 19th century. A white picket fence surrounds the grave, and two killer-whale totem poles mark his resting spot overlooking the harbor. Find the grave on Case Avenue.
Wrangell's museum moved into a building that acts as a centerpiece for cultural life in Wrangell. Exhibits provide a window on the region's rich history. Featured pieces include the oldest known Tlingit house posts dating from the late 18th century, decorative posts from Chief Shakes's clan house, petroglyphs, century-old spruce-root and cedar-bark baskets, masks, gold-rush memorabilia, and a fascinating photo collection. If you're spending any time in town, don't pass this up.Civic Center. Also in the building are the town's Civic Center, a 200-seat movie theater–performance space–convention center, and the Wrangell Visitor Center.
Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park
Scattered among other rocks at this public beach are three dozen or more large stones bearing designs and pictures chiseled by unknown ancient artists. No one knows why the rocks at this curious site were etched the way they were, or even exactly how old these etchings are. You can access the beach via a boardwalk, where you'll find signs describing the site along with carved replicas of the petroglyphs. Most of the petroglyphs are to the right between the viewing deck and a large outcropping of rock in the tidal beach area. Because the original petroglyphs can be damaged by physical contact, only photographs are permitted. But you are welcome to use the replicas to make a rubbing from rice paper and charcoal or crayons, sold in local stores.