With more than 2 million visitors expected in Alaska this summer and with more than a half-million of them headed to Denali National Park and Preserve, Unseen Alaska offers something enticingly different: five villages in Southeast Alaska far off the beaten path.
"Unseen Alaska offers a unique experience whether you want to fish, explore a national forest, relax in hot springs, go kayaking, hike or pick fresh berries," said Unseen Alaska's Ilona Cambron.
Take the quirky town of Tenakee Springs, reachable only by ferry or seaplane. The town of about 100 people is about 45 miles southwest of Juneau, but it is distinctly different from Alaska's energized capital city. Tenakee Springs' main street is only about 3 miles long. You will find no cars because cars are prohibited. People needing to get somewhere go on foot, by bike or four-wheeler.
Tenakee Springs, reachable only by ferry or seaplane, is about 45 miles southwest of Juneau. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Unseen Alaska
The town is named after a natural hot springs, which for centuries has been a popular stopping spot for miners, packers, trappers and prospectors desperately needing a good soak. In 1900, a log cabin was built around the hot spring and a room housing the tub was added in 1939. Not much has changed since then apart from improvements to the bath house. The water still flows at about seven gallons a minute and remains a steady temperature of about 107 degrees, even in the dead of winter.
Those visitors in town for the Fourth of July holiday are in for a treat. The townspeople pull out all the stops for the parade. Some don outlandish costumes. Others have been known to ride in appropriately decorated, claw-footed bathtubs. If hungry, the Bakery has fabulous cinnamon rolls. There's also fishing, kayaking, sailing and hiking along the many old logging roads, or just hanging out and watching for orcas and humpback whales swimming in Tenakee Inlet.
Lodging is limited and reservations should be made well in advance. Options include a cottage with lovely views of the inlet, a couple of guestrooms, a cabin rental and a lodge for larger groups.
Visitors wanting to immerse themselves in native culture can find it in Kake. The beachfront village of about 500 residents is located 100 miles south of Juneau and is home to the Kake tribe of Tlingit Indians.
Towering over the village of Kake is a 132-foot totem pole created in 1971 and raised in a traditional Tlingit ceremony. Photo Credit: Cynthia Meyer/Unseen Alaska
Towering over the village is a 132-foot totem pole created in 1971 and raised in a traditional Tlingit ceremony. Visitors wanting to learn about native culture will enjoy demonstrations of traditional dancing, storytelling, basket weaving, beading and carving.
Another popular stop for visitors is the Keku Cannery, listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1997. The cannery site still has the original worker housing, boardwalks between buildings and period machinery.
Like many Southeast Alaska villages, Kake offers fishing, hiking, whale-watching and more. But unlike some, Kake has roads. There are a few trucks to rent on the island for those wanting to explore. Some visitors also might consider renting a vehicle in Juneau or Petersburg and bringing it to Kake on the ferry. Lodging can be found at Keex'Kwaan Lodge and the Waterfront Lodge. Reservations are encouraged.