Off the Grid in Sitka, Alaska, a Remote Cabin Adventure in the Tongass National Forest
By Sharon Kurtz
GoNOMAD Senior Writer
It was high tide as we approached the hidden bay of our remote island getaway in the Nakwasina Sound.
The cabin, nestled in a canopy of young spruce and western hemlock at the water’s edge, seemed to float along the stunning shoreline like a mirage conjured from the mist—the reflections of the soaring trees in the smooth water of the isolated cove reminded me of a Monet watercolor.
Arriving in Sitka
Our plan to visit my brother and his wife in Sitka had been looking dicey, with Alaska requiring a 14-day quarantine upon entering the State. It was our good fortune that Alaska’s updated policy allowed visitors to forgo the quarantine period with a negative COVID test within 72 hours of arrival – we were good to go.
Our nine days of living like a local in Sitka was a welcome respite from the Texas heat, and our 2-night adventure on Halleck Island unforgettable.
Get lost in Sitka, Alaska’s natural beauty.
The town of Sitka sits on Baranof Island in the Alaskan Panhandle, made up of more than 1,100 islands running alongside the northern half of British Columbia.
The city faces west, protected from the open ocean by a chain of smaller islands and back to towering mountains.
Tucked along the Tongass National Forest’s rugged coastline, the small Alaskan community has just fourteen miles of roadway. Dubbed the “Pearl of the Pacific,” the Pacific Ocean’s cresting waves and soaring Spruce trees make Sitka, Alaska, a setting like none other. it’s nearly impossible to find a view that isn’t breathtaking.
Tongass National Forest, Alaska’s “Crown Jewel”
Comprising the bulk of Alaska’s Panhandle, The Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska is our nation’s largest National Forest. The renowned Tongass is part of the largest intact temperate rainforest system on earth. Made up of nearly 17 million acres, it has over 2,000 islands with 14,000 miles of coastline.
Visually stunning, it looks like a remnant of some long-lost world – where grizzly bears still rule and humpback whales forage in the rich coastal waters.
As part of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidential proclamation in 1902, it was initially named the Alexander Archipelago Forest Reserve.
It was renamed the Tongass National Forest in 1907, in honor of the Tongass group of the native Tlingits, who lived in the southern part of the Panhandle.
Known for its majestic old-growth spruce, hemlock, and yellow cedar trees, the Tongass’ ferns, moss, and evergreen shrubs grow lavishly below the canopy. The dramatic fjords, grandiose glaciers, and prolific runs of salmon throughout the many rivers inside the forest are just some of the wow-factors that contribute to the region, known as the “crown jewel” of Alaska.
One Million Visitors
On average, the Tongass National Forest attracts about one million visitors annually. Most arrive via cruise ship, although float planes and boats offer other suitable methods of transportation. The Alaska Marine Highway ferry system is also a popular way to enjoy the magic found inside the forest.
The public lands of the Tongass are a destination for backcountry recreation and experiences in nature and wilderness. Remote off-grid cabins offer fun off-the-beaten-path adventures to experience the real Alaskan wilderness.
Separated into eight districts, the Sitka Ranger District has 25 cabin facilities for use by reservation, all with varying special features and access levels. You can reserve cabins and campgrounds through the forest service here.
Distant and Secluded – the rustic cabin was all ours
The sheltered Cabin on the shore of Halleck Island would be our home for two nights. Socially distant from everyone, we were the only inhabitants on the Island, except for the forest creatures and soaring birds that would keep us company.
Quickly forgetting civilization, we focused on our first challenge – securing our boat to the mooring buoy. Transferring our possessions using a small inflatable Zodiac included more than a few harrowing trips between shore and boat.
Like skits from a Three Stooges movie or an I Love Lucy episode, we had a few epic fails. The small outboard motor on the Zodiac stopped working halfway to shore on the first trip – and we left the paddles on the boat.
After rectifying the paddle situation, the Zodiac started to take on water, sinking lower and lower with each trip.
Our dripping backsides hung over the low-riding edge, our rubber boot-clad feet deep in the rising water, and our supplies were soaked. Learning moment – always check the drain port to make sure it is closed tight.
Eventually, we made it to shore with all our belongings…not so funny at the time, but I’m sure the story will grow to mythic proportions with each telling.
After setting up the cabin, celebratory beer in hand, we felt like the only people on the planet, our only visitors a blacktail deer with her fawn that came to forage at the water’s edge in the evening dusk. The bears we were so worried about were too timid to show themselves, though we were always watchful, with bear spray close at hand.
Our Rustic Log Cabin Home
The Allan Point Cabin, located on a cove at the northeast corner of Halleck Island in the upper Nakwasina Sound, is about 16 miles north of Sitka. Travel time from Sitka is 10 minutes by floatplane or 30 minutes by boat, weather permitting.
Tip: If you don’t own a boat, it is possible to get to the cabin via a water taxi arranged at the Marina in Sitka. Visitors are responsible for their travel arrangements and safety and must bring all amenities required for the stay.
Two Balconies and Views
The two-story Pan-Abode-style log cabin has a large front deck and second-floor balconies on both the front and back.
The main level contains a single bunk bed, a table, benches, and cooking counters. The second level, accessed by a stairway, is an open sleeping loft with one single bunk bed and two double bunk beds.
An oil heating stove (without heating oil) and a broom are the only amenities. An outhouse is a short walk up the trail (that feels much farther in the dark).
One of our fails was forgetting to bring a lantern, our only light at night was the stubs of left behind candles and our flashlights.
Visit the cabin listing on here for more information such as directions, facility details, and book one of the 25 available cabins. Before your visit, contact the local ranger district for any current conditions and additional information.
Tongass National Forest
Sitka Ranger District
2108 Halibut Point Road
Sitka, AK 99835
Things to do on the Island
The waterways, inlets, and rivers throughout the Tongass National Forest offer some of the best cold-water fishing in the world. Halibut, rockfish, and lingcod can be caught offshore in the rich waters, as well as all five species of Pacific Salmon–the most prized being King Salmon.
It’s not uncommon to see King Salmon weigh in between 30 and 50 pounds. Fishing is regulated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Find out more about fishing here
Bird Watching & Bald Eagles
Birdwatching in the Tongass is a birder’s dream. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game report 500 bird species populate or pass through seeking breeding, overwintering, resting, and refueling sites.
Fun Fact: The concentration of bald eagles inside the Tongass is higher than anywhere else on earth. We watched Bald Eagles soaring majestically above us, or sometimes just perched nearby in dark green spruces, their brilliant white heads gleaming.
Overlooking the bay from the front porch, I often watched bald eagles swoop and glide inches above the water in search of fish. Seagulls, as well as Peregrine Falcons and other raptors, also make their home here, nesting in the massive ancient trees of the old-growth forests and migratory birds such as cranes and shorebirds like sandpipers and plovers.
Marine Animals, and Other Wildlife Sightings
While boating in the islands’ waterways, we were always on the lookout for tell-tale signs of humpback whales’ unique bubble-net feeding behavior.
Pods will work in unison to round up their prey inside a circle of bubbles they’ve created using their blowholes and consume vast schools of fish.
We enjoyed the sight of sea otters floating on their backs, frolicking sea lions and seals in the ocean waves, and grey whales foraging in their summer feeding grounds.
Grey whales are “medium-sized,” roughly 40-50 feet long and up to 90,000 pounds – about the size of a school bus.
We spied a Sitka brown bear sow with her cubs on a neighboring island foraging along the shoreline, not the least concerned with us as we motored over for a closer look.
It feels healing to walk through the woods, to be able to get away from people, get away from the news, turn off the phone (it didn’t have service anyway), and surround oneself in a beautiful landscape – a time to connect to nature.
Known as forest bathing, merely being present in nature has been found to lower your blood pressure, stress, and anxiety levels.
Roaming through the old-growth forest, with the filtered sunlight falling on a mixture of ancient and young trees, left me calm and refreshed. The standing snags and fallen moss-covered giants seemed to be prehistoric.
Our footfalls were silent on the spongy, thick carpet of organic matter, the trickling sound of small streams making their way to the shoreline an enduring memory.
Beach Combing and Tide Pooling
Exploring the tide pools was a favorite activity. In addition to the wild beauty of the rugged and rocky island coastline, there was a fantastic array of marine animals making their homes in the space between low tide and high tide.
Sea cucumbers and sponges live in low-tide zones. The mid-tide zone offers the most exciting finds, including hermit crabs, sea stars, and anemones. We found hard-shelled creatures like barnacles and mussels in the high-tide area, a variety of seaweed, driftwood, and marine debris washed ashore at the high-water mark.
Settling down on the front porch, watching the cloud formations swirl over the majestic snow-capped mountains, and observing the towering trees’ changing reflections in the still and silent bay was a balm for the spirit.
What could be better than experiencing the majesty of Alaska’s Wilderness on a remote island in the Tongass National Forest?