Hoonah at Icy Strait Point

Today we visited Hoonah, a small traditional Tlingit community on Icy Strait Point.  The town is situated on Chichagof Island in Southeast Alaska and is only accessible by boat or plane.  The Tlingit are renowned for their skilled fisherman, artisans, and hunters – and this is evident throughout the area. They also boast the largest population of brown bears on earth and the longest zipline in North America.  

There is a new Adventure Center and a smokehouse when you exit the footbridge from the cruise ship.  We looked at souvenirs and then quickly walked through this area.

The Icy Strait Point Adventure Center is the first thing a cruise ship passenger sees when visiting this port.
Fred and Kayla let me photograph them in front of the coolest totem in town, which is one of two right outside the smokehouse. There are several throughout the town and in the visitor’s center area.
Fred stops to warm his hands at the fire right outside the visitor’s center.

There was a lot of gorgeous scenery right in the visitor’s area near the cruise port.  As we walked through the “touristy area”, we were inundated with beauty from all sides:  gorgeous views of the bay, colorful late-fall scenery, and moss dripping with rain in a huge pine tree.

Fred and I standing on the beginning of the long paved walkway into the town of Hoonah
On top of some posts along the walkway, we saw these small piles of carefully-laid stones. I’m not sure why they were put there, but I thought they were worth photographing.
Fred stands in yet another gorgeous area along the walk to Hoonah
A tall pine was full of moss and dripping wet from the rain.
Kayla looks up at the moss in the pine and how the light passes thorough it – she is taking notes from the natural scenes in Alaska for her upcoming comic series
A closeup of the sap on the pine’s bark. This is another reference for Kayla.

There are a few restaurants in the area close to where the cruise ship docks. The Cookhouse is one of them. These restaurants are only open when the cruise ships dock.  The menus are full of seafood dishes, but we didn’t eat at any of them.  I do know that The Fisherman’s Daughter, a restaurant in Hoonah that was unfortunately closed when we were there, uses locally-sourced salmon and shrimp (she buys it from her Dad).

A menu from one of the restaurants near the cruise ship dock

The local artisans are truly gifted.  Kayla bought a necklace with a beautiful design that was originally created for a drum.  We were able to speak to the artist, Jeffrey Skaflestad, who explained the process to us.  She really loves the necklace and it was very reasonably priced at only about $18.

Kayla holds her new favorite necklace, which was created by Jeffrey Skaflestad.

Our eyes kept being drawn out to the water and up at the beautiful trees and low fog.  This area of Southeast Alaska is just so beautiful.  It’s hard to put it into words or capture it in photographs.  Rather than missing any of the scenery, we decided to walk the mile and a half to town so we could see it all up close and personal.  Here are some of the amazing sites we saw on the way into town.

Brightly-colored kayaks are stored near the water at this building on the bay.
A small boat near the harbor
The fog hangs low over the pines in the distance.
This thing weighs over 1000 pounds and was taken from a ship. No one could tell me how it got there.

In the photo below, you can see the paved walkway and how it runs along the bay from the visitor’s center to the town.  It’s an easy walk with lots to see.  There is a shuttle bus that will take you both ways and, as of this post, it costs $5 for a round-trip ticket.

Kayla and Fred stand under the “Welcome to Hoonah” sign.
Part of the main street in Hoonah

The town itself wasn’t really all that spectacular as far as the buildings were concerned.  It was a mix of small homes that were either well-kept or very run down.  There were a few small stores and one very small & incredibly expensive grocery store.  For example, it had a bag of organic dried mangoes that I really wanted, but I was not about to pay $25 for it!  It is true that things have to be shipped in, so there is an added cost.  The same is true in Juneau, where a loaf of bread will set you back over $5.  Anyway, here are some photos of the houses.

Some of the houses that are better maintained

Other places, like this one, could use some tender loving care.

We met a very friendly hound on the main street.  Lou was on a long leash outside of one of the residences.  He was a lover boy and we all wanted to take him home with us.  We knew his name because the owner left a small plastic cup outside for tourists to leave money for Lou’s treats.  Fred thought this was a very smart money-making tactic.  It certainly worked on us, since we all desperately needed a “dog fix”.

Fred getting his “dog fix” with Lou

There were examples of local talent everywhere in Hoonah.  We saw quite a few totems and got to see one in the process of being carved.  You can also see dugout canoes, which are each hollowed out from a single spruce tree.  Plus there were benches with form-line (iconic shapes and designs associated with the Pacific Northwest) like this one in quite a few places.  Kayla’s necklace is also an example of form line.

A bench with a form line design in Hoonah
This is a totem in town. We also saw them at the local elementary school.
Canoes that are each carved from a single tree can be seen at the Yaakw Kahidi Cultural Center in Hoonah.
Visitors get a closeup of a totem being carved in Hoonah.

It was really fascinating to learn a little bit about the Tlingit culture, talk to the local people (all friendly and so welcoming), and see all of the beautiful sights in Hoonah.  I hope to return to this area one day and spend more time hiking, eating the local seafood, and just enjoying the spectacular surroundings.  It’s really a peaceful, wonderful place.