The Tongass National Forest Road Trip Guide

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The Tongass National Forest Road Trip Guide

Alaska is a bucket list trip for many people and Tongass National Forest should certainly be part of that journey.

The majestic mountains, roaring rivers, and free-roaming wildlife beckon travelers to Alaska from all over the world. And Tongass has all those in spades.

Let’s explore! 

Where Is Tongass National Forest? 

Tongass National Forest is found near Ketchikan in southeast Alaska and is easily accessible from Juneau via a 14.5-mile drive. In fact, its location makes it easily accessible and a great addition to your Alaskan tour. 

About the Tongass National Forest

As the largest national forest, Tongass covers most of southeastern Alaska. Furthermore, its easternmost section serves as an international border between Alaska and Canada. President Theodore Roosevelt initially created Tongass National Forest with a proclamation on September 10th, 1907.  In 1925, President Calvin Coolidge expanded the national forest to cover even more territory.

Why Is the Tongass National Forest Important? 

Tongass National Forest spans 5.7 million acres of raw backcountry. The massive wilderness covers almost a third of the entire forest and allows the natural ecological system to thrive.

The Tongass National Forest is especially critical to Alaska’s bear population. In fact, the forest has the highest density of black bears in the entire world. Additionally, the area is home to one of the highest densities of brown bears. This means the forest plays a significate role in the overall worldwide bear population.

Tongass sees over a million visitors each year, many of whom arrive via cruise ship to the southeastern Alaska area. The revenue created as a result of the cruise industry significantly boosts the local economy. With the industry experiencing shutdowns in recent years, though, economies like the Tongass National Forest region are greatly impacted. 

What is the Roadless Rule? 

The 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule forbids road construction or reconstruction and timber harvesting on certain national lands. At the request of the State of Alaska, and after an environmental impact investigation, the USDA exempted Tongass National Forest from this rule in 2020.

The rule has been a source of controversy for many years. The roads created in this isolated region help connect remote communities to the mainland areas and provide economic resources. However, it also allows for the logging of a national park and brings more people and machines into pristine wilderness that’s a haven for bears and other wildlife.

Pro Tip: Here’s how to drive to Alaska, safely.

How Big is the Tongass National Forest?

This magical place covers an impressive 16.7 million acres. It’s hard to fathom, but this equates to over 26,000 square miles of forest. This means that Tongass National Forest is about 1,000 square miles larger than the state of West Virginia. That’s a large forest!

Best Hikes Near Tongass National Forest 

With all of the space this forest covers, you know there’s some great hiking to be had. So, put on those hiking boots, and let’s hit a trail or two!

Nugget Falls Trail

This popular two-mile out-and-back trail near Auke Bay is not one to be missed. The Nugget Falls Trail is excellent for all skill levels, making it a great choice for families to enjoy. A lake highlights this trail, along with a few waterfalls and wildlife viewing opportunities. April to September is certainly the best time to enjoy all that Nugget Falls Trail offers. And feel free to bring a furry friend, as leashed dogs are allowed. 

Bears do frequent the trails, so be aware. Educate yourself in advance on how to respond should you encounter a bear while hiking. This is a shorter trail, so the NFS suggests not bringing snacks that could lure bears and other wildlife to your location.

Rainbird Trail

Rainbird Trail is a 2.1-mile out-and-back trail near Ketchikan with a moderate rating. This is mainly because you’ll experience a 541 feet elevation change as you navigate the path. The forest and water views throughout the two miles will leave you breathless (along with that elevation gain!) Again, leashed dogs are permitted.

Hikers report this trail can get muddy after heavy rain and snow. So prepare to jump over a few puddles during wet conditions. 

Best Campgrounds Near Tongass National Forest 

What could be better than spending a day exploring Tongass National Forest? Camping there overnight, of course! Take a look at what we’ve found to be the best campgrounds nearby. 

Glacier Nalu Campground Resort

Glacier Nalu Campground Resort is approximately 14 miles from downtown Juneau, making it the perfect base for your adventures. It rests in 12+ acres of pines and is open year-round. There are 64 full hook-up sites with 30 AMP services, all of which are back in. Bring along the pets as Glacier Nalu Campground resort is also pet-friendly. If you’re looking for a winter adventure, you’re in luck!

There are laundry facilities for campers to use should they need them. A bathhouse provides a flushable toilet and hot showers, certainly useful after a day of adventure. 

Auk Village Campground

If small campgrounds are your sweet spot, Auk Village Campground is the place for you. Located only 15 miles from Juneau, you’ll be tucked away in nature but still be close enough to the action. And with only 11 campsites, you won’t feel overwhelmed by crowds. Fishing, hiking, and wildlife viewing are all activities that campers enjoy here.

Auk Village Campground has sites that can accommodate RVs from 14’ to 35’ in length. You’ll want to come with full batteries or a power plan since all sites are non-electric. There are water spigots located throughout the area, and a dumpster and vault toilet are available, but no showers. You’ll feel at one with nature in this serene camp setting.

Is a Tongass National Forest Road Trip Worth It? 

It doesn’t get much better than an adventure in Alaska, and it’s no surprise that it tops the bucket list of many travelers. Tongass National Forest is worth a stop as you tour this great state. If you enjoy hiking through beautiful pines, taking a peek at bears, and catching a glimpse of soaring eagles, you’ll never want to leave. 

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