Tongass National Forest

T\At over 16 million acres, Tongass National Forest is the largest of the U.S National forests. In fact, it’s larger than the second, third, and fourth largest forests combined—Humboldt-Toiyabe, Chugach, and Okanogan-Wenatchee. The Forest Service calls Tongass the “crown jewel”, and for good reason. Granite cliffs, spectacular vistas, and old-growth forests are spread across this massive landscape. If you want to see the Alaskan backcountry at it’s purest, Tongass is as good as it gets.

Herbert Glacier in Tongass National Park
Herbert Glacier in Tongass National Park — Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

The forest is the largest remaining temperate rainforest in the world. More specifically, Tongass is, along with the Great Bear Rainforest, considered a perhumid rainforest zone. The forests of Tongass are dominated by sitka spruce, western hemlock and western red cedar. This unique ecosystem is a haven for wildlife. Mountain goats, black bears, wolves and sitka black-tailed deer are commonplace here.

About the Forest

Tongass was created in 1907 as a result of a presidential proclamation made by Theodore Roosevelt. the following year, Tongass was joined to an existing forest, the Alexander Archipelago Forest Reserve. Later proclamations—one by Roosevelt and one by Coolidge—expanded the forest, bringing it to the 16.7 million acres it is today.

For most of it’s life, the Tongass economy largely revolved around timber production. Today, though, other sources of income have grown significantly. Subsistence food, scientific use, recreation and other “non-timber” industries all carry a much larger load. There are over 10,000 jobs in Tongass National Forest supported by tourism.

Recreation in Tongass National Forest

Tongass National Forest is huge, larger than the state of West Virginia in fact. Because of this, we can’t begin to cover everything there is to do in the forest. The US Forest Service website is an excellent resource for locating campgrounds, trails and other information.

One of five bear viewing areas are popular among visitors. There are also 19 wilderness areas in the forest. These areas offer solitude that’s hard to find anywhere else. Hike and camp in some of the most remote, untouched forests in America.

Camping

The forest has no shortage of camping locations. Because it’s so large, however, you will need to do some research to find a location that is in the area you want to visit. Tongass has quite a few campgrounds, but only of a few of them are designed with RVs in mind. you can find more information here.

Tongass has over 100 cabins available to rent. Many of these are quite remote. In fact, many of them are accessible only by plane. These cabins are a great way to experience the backcountry. For an even more rugged adventure, dispersed camping is an option. The Forest Service allows dispersed camping on nearly all of the backpacking trails.

Hiking

There are over 700 miles of trails in the forest, so you should be able to find whatever kind hike you need. For example, the Neka Hot Springs trail, is a short quarter-mile trail that leads to a hot springs hot tub. But like most of the trails here, it’s not quite that easy. Here are the directions to the trailhead: “From Hoonah go by float plane or boat 16 miles southwest through Port Frederick to Eight Fathom Dock, then by land on Forest road 8580. This single-lane road is an adventure in itself. Hike, bike, ski or drive the nine miles to the trailhead.”

Welcome to Alaska.

All the Rest

We can’t begin to cover everything there is to do in this massive forest. From water and winter sports to biking and climbing, there really is something for everyone. If you would like more information, the Forest Service has a great resource on recreation in Tongass here.

Visit Tongass National Forest

Visit the forest and see the limestone caves, misty rainforests, and glaciers and icefields. Tongass is in a class of it’s own. There’s nothing quite like it. If you have the chance to visit the forest, don’t pass it up.

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