May 26, 2015

Pretty Petersburg

Known for its Norwegian heritage, Petersburg is another small town on the Inside Passage.  Unlike Wrangell, which is actively trying to woo tourism, Petersburg views tourists as a “necessary evil.”  At least, that’s how one Petersburg native described us in a movie shown at the local museum.  I’m not offended, and I actually understand where he’s coming from.

Petersburg is a pretty town and is more manicured, and wealthier, than Wrangell.  Commercial fishing has a huge presence here, and the town harbors one of Alaska’s most prosperous fishing fleets.  I was surprised to learn that this town of only 3,000 residents was ranked the seventeenth fishing port in the United States by volume and twelfth by value as of 2013.  That’s a lot of fish.  

We enjoyed our walking tour of the downtown area and sought out the buildings that capture the flavor of Alaska’s Little Norway.  One of the first we spotted was the Sons of Norway Hall, which was built in 1912.  Adjacent to the hall is the Valhalla, a replica of a traditional Viking ship.  The center of early Petersburg was Sing Lee Alley, and many of the town’s historic buildings are preserved here.

Sons of Norway Hall

The Valhalla

Sing Lee Alley

Rosemailing - A Traditional Norwegian Art Form

Low Tide

Most of the towns in Southeast Alaska hold a salmon derby at some point during the month of May, and Petersburg’s King Salmon Derby was underway during the Memorial Day weekend.  We stopped by the harbor on our walk and watched as a man presented his salmon for a weigh-in.  It was only 21 pounds, but I was still impressed.  We never did learn the final results, but the front runner seemed to be a salmon that topped 50 pounds.  

That's What a 21-Pound King Salmon Looks Like

Petersburg is visited by even fewer cruise ships than Wrangell, and only the smallest are able to dock here.  While we were wandering down by the harbor, I was surprised to see the National Geographic Sea Bird, a 62-passenger ship.  This ship reminded me of the one I sailed on when I cruised the Inside Passage many years ago.  These are expedition ships, not luxury cruise liners, and the focus is entirely on Alaska, not entertainment or gambling.  If I were ever to take another Alaskan cruise, a small ship would be my preference.

One of the Many Harbors in Petersburg

The Sea Bird

Since we had enjoyed Petroglyph Beach so much while we were in Wrangell, we wanted to visit the one here.  We had also read that remnants of 2,000-year-old Tlingit fish traps could be found on the beach.  We gathered as much information as we could find and headed to Sandy Beach during low tide.  We must have searched for an hour or more, but we completely struck out.  Oh well, we did have fun looking.

They've Got to Be Here Somewhere

On another day we drove the length of Mitkof Island on which Petersburg is located and stopped at many of the pullouts along the way.  We walked a short trail to Blind River Rapids and passed through a muskeg bog before reaching the water.  Although the rapids seemed pretty tame to me, we enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere at water’s edge.

Time for a Little Reflection

Blind River Rapids Area

Alaskan Lupines Lined both Sides of Mitkof Highway

We finally paid a visit to the Clausen Memorial Museum that provides a glimpse into the history of Petersburg.  This was your typical small-town museum, with a few exhibits and collections that were mostly donated by local residents.  The museum did have the original third-order Fresnel lens from the Cape Decision Lighthouse on display, and the docent illuminated it for us. 

We’ve met several RVers since we’ve been here, including two Australian couples who pulled into the sites next to us yesterday evening.  We seemed to run into them wherever we went today, and it’s been fun hearing about their adventures in Alaska.  Because the towns in the Inside Passage are so small, and because the ferry schedules are rather limited, many RVers tend to arrive and depart on the same ferry, and we tend to recognize each other and get to know one another.  We met another lovely couple from California at our campground in Ketchikan and took the ferry together to Wrangell, where we both had booked the same campground once again.  We finally parted ways as we got off the ferry in Petersburg and they continued on to Juneau.  It’s been nice seeing familiar faces and sharing ideas.

It’s been a pleasant stay in Petersburg, and we have enjoyed some downtime before the more hectic schedule we have planned for Juneau.  We will be catching the ferry tomorrow morning for the eight-hour ride to Alaska’s capital.  Maybe we’ll see some marine wildlife on this leg of the journey.


  1. Petersburg is beautiful. I think many in Haines feel the same way about tourists. We had two cruise ships over the last two days here. One held 3500 people. They liked to walk through the campground, some leaving us their trash. The pictures are beautiful. I now know I will have to take the ferry up the passage some day.

    1. I can't imagine 3500 people in Haines! Isn't it amazing how rude some people can be. They don't seem to care, or even acknowledge, that the campground is your home. I know you were happy to see them leave. I do think you would enjoy the ferry (or sailing your own boat). We have thoroughly enjoyed the trip.


We love hearing from you and reading your comments.

To leave a comment, type what you'd like to say and then click on the arrow next to "Comment as:". You can select "Anonymous" if you'd like. Finally, click "Publish." That's it.