I have listed only a few highlights from Petersburg's wealth of outdoor opportunities. For other choices, many of them just as good as those we've written about here, or for the detailed trail and backcountry information you'll need, contact the U.S. Forest Service at the Petersburg Ranger District offices at 12 N. Nordic Dr. (P.O. Box 1328), Petersburg, AK 99833 (tel. 907/772-3871; www.fs.fed.us/r10/tongass/districts/petersburg), or the visitor information center at the corner of 1st and Fram streets (tel. 907/772-4636).
Some of the best places to go around Petersburg require a boat. Viking Travel books most of the dozen or so small charter boats that operate from the harbor at any one time, allowing them to consolidate small groups into 6- to 15-person boatloads for whale-watching, sightseeing, glacier viewing, or fishing.
A few operators have made a specialty of natural history and environmentally responsible tours. Barry Bracken, a marine biologist, offers these kinds of trips on his 28-foot vessel. Contact Kaleidoscope Cruises (tel. 800/TO-THE-SEA [868-4373] or 907/772-3736; www.petersburglodgingandtours.com). You can also set up a package with Bracken for a multiday stay in a lovely waterfront guesthouse. To get to remote cabins by air, or for flightseeing, contact Pacific Wing Air Charters (tel. 907/772-4258).
Sandy Beach -- The beach at City Park is an easy bike ride or a longish walk 1 1/2 miles up Nordic Drive, around Hungry Point at the northern tip of the island, then along Sandy Beach Road to the beach and picnic area. Return by way of the airport, coming back into town on Haugen Drive. The beach itself is coarse sand and fine gravel, and you can't swim in the frigid water, but it's a lovely spot, facing Frederick Sound on the east side of Mitkof Island.
If you go at high tide, you can beachcomb and bird-watch -- a great blue heron was hanging around on one visit -- but a better plan is to time your visit at low tide to see the remains of an ancient fish trap and view petroglyphs carved into rocks near the traps. (Ask about the occasional Forest Service interpretive walks of the beach at the Ranger District office.) Please be sensitive to the delicate artifacts so they can last another 2,000 years, being especially careful of the fish trap stakes, which are not obvious and can be trampled.
Raven Trail & Raven's Roost Cabin -- About 4 miles up the steep but spectacular Raven Trail, which begins behind the airport off Haugen Drive roughly a mile from town, the Raven's Roost Forest Service cabin sits atop a mountain with a sweeping view of the town and surrounding waters and islands. Allow 3 to 4 hours for the climb along a boardwalk, then up a steep muddy slope, then along a ridge, with an elevation gain of more than 1,000 feet. To stay at the cabin, you'll need sleeping bags, cooking gear, lights, and food. Reserve the cabin through the national system described earlier in "Getting Outside in the Tongass National Forest," and check there for information sources on the other 19 cabins in the area, most of which are reached by plane or boat.
Mitkof Island -- The Mitkof Highway, leading south from Petersburg, opens access to most of Mitkof Island, with its king salmon fishing; views of swans, fish, and glaciers; hiking trails; lakes; and many miles of remote roads for mountain-biking. The town's swimming hole and ice-skating pond are out the road, too. Anyone can enjoy a day's sightseeing drive over the island, and if you like hiking and the outdoors, you'll find days of fun. Pick up the $9 Forest Service Mitkof Island Road Guide map at the visitor center or ranger office; it shows what you'll find along the way.
The Three Lakes Loop Road intersects with the highway twice, once 10 miles from Petersburg and again 20 miles from town. From the north intersection, the one closest to town, it's 15 more miles to the level, 4.5-mile boardwalk Three Lakes Trail, which circles four small lakes, each of which contains trout, and three of which have Forest Service rowboats for public use. A three-sided shelter at the smallest lake makes a good rest or camping spot. Besides the fish, the area is abundant with wildflowers and berries, and you may see deer, beavers, bear, and many birds, including seasonal sandhill cranes.
Fourteen miles down Mitkof Highway from Petersburg, a quarter-mile wheelchair-accessible boardwalk leads across the damp, hummocky ground of the rainforest muskeg to Blind River Rapids, a peaceful spot with a three-sided shelter where you can watch and fish for king salmon in June and silvers in September, and sometimes see eagles and bears feeding on the fish. A half-mile-long loop leads farther into the forest and muskeg.
At 17 miles, somewhat hidden in the trees on the right, a bird-watching blind looks out on Blind Slough, where trumpeter swans winter. Swans normally will be gone by mid-March, but later in the year, you can see bear, salmon, and eagles.
At 18 miles, you'll reach the Blind Slough Recreation Area, where locals go to swim in amber water in the summer. Water warms in the narrow slough, more than 5 miles from Wrangell Narrows. In the winter, much of the town congregates here for ice-skating and bonfires.
At 21 miles from Petersburg, the popular Man Made Hole picnic area and swimming pond has foot bridges and a pathway; it is accessible to people with disabilities.
At 22 miles, you reach the Ohmer Creek campground ($6 camping fee in summer), with a 1-mile trail, a floating bridge over a beaver pond, and trout and some salmon in late summer. The road continues from here along the south shore of Mitkof Island, with great ocean views, to its end at mile 32.
Petersburg Creek -- The lovely, grassy Petersburg Creek area either could offer an afternoon frolic among the meadows of wildflowers that meet the water, or could be the start to a challenging 21-mile, multiday hike into the Petersburg Creek-Duncan Salt Chuck Wilderness. The fishing is exceptional: The creek contains four species of salmon and two of trout. You'll need a skiff or sea kayak, or get a charter to drop you off, as the creek is on Kupreanof Island, across Wrangell Narrows from town; the state maintains a dock there. Sea-kayaking up the creek makes a wonderful day trip, which you can do on your own or with a guide. A trail reaches two Forest Service cabins, at Petersburg Lake and East Salt Chuck, each with a boat for public use (reservations are required). The trail to the lake is not difficult, but continuing on to East Salt Chuck is tougher going, including wading some beaver ponds. At the lake, you can fish for trout, and odds are good of seeing ducks, geese, loons, trumpeter swans, bald eagles, or black bears. The Kupreanof dock also provides access to the 3-mile, 3,000-foot trail that climbs Petersburg Mountain, a challenging hike that has spectacular views from the top.
Takeout Lunch & Take-Home Fish -- The counter at Coastal Cold Storage, at Excel Street and Nordic Drive (tel. 907/772-4177; www.coastalcoldstoragealaska.com), is a good stop for seafood or paninis, fried halibut and shrimp, king crab, or chowder, and, for breakfast, a bunch of choices, including eggs or a shrimp muffin. At the same place, they sell seafood from freezers and live from tanks, offer mail order through their website, and process anglers' catches to take home. Hours are summer Monday through Saturday 6am to 7pm, Sunday 7am to 2pm; off season, Monday through Saturday 7am to 2pm. The entire menu is served at all times.
Fishing -- Besides the ocean fishing mentioned below, there are various fishing streams and lakes that you can reach on the roads, for cutthroat and rainbow trout and Dolly Varden char, and many more lake- and stream-fishing opportunities are accessible by boat or plane. Check at the visitor center, or contact the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (tel. 907/772-5231; www.alaska.gov/adfg, click "Sport Fish"). They produce updated fishing reports during the spring and summer, run timing calendars, and other useful information, all available on the website, as well as an informative Petersburg/Wrangell Sport Fishing Guide that you can download or get on paper.
The boat harbor has a couple dozen licensed charter fishing boats, mostly six-passenger vessels. As elsewhere, halibut and salmon are usually the target. You can get a list of operators at the visitor center, at www.petersburg.org, or book through Viking Travel. Half-day salmon charters cost around $200 per person, while halibut charters or longer salmon charters are $335 per day. You can rent your own boat and gear for much less, without a guide.
Sea Kayaking -- The waters of Wrangell Narrows are protected and interesting, with plenty to see. On longer trips of 3 days to a week, you can get out among the glaciers, Stikine River Delta, and even the whales -- there's as much variety here, among these rainforest islands, as anywhere in the region. It's possible to set up a kayak trip linking some of the Forest Service cabins, too, or to use one as a base camp for a few days of exploration. (Get a copy of the free handout Paddling the Petersburg Ranger District from the district office, or download it from their website.) Tongass Kayak Adventures (tel. 907/772-4600; www.tongasskayak.com) offers guided and unguided versions of each of these adventures (they rent equipment, too). Their 4-hour paddle crosses Wrangell Narrows from the harbor and penetrates Petersburg Creek, where they stop for a snack and often see bear and deer. No experience is required. They charge $95; reserve through Viking Travel. A 3-night base camp tour costs $1,180 per person, and an 8-night version begins at $2,450; reserve those trips directly with Tongass Kayak.
Whale-Watching -- Most summers, Petersburg's Frederick Sound is one of the best places in the state to see humpbacks feeding. Whale-watching charters can go any day from May 15 to September 15, but the height is midsummer. Several charter operators offer trips in small, six-passenger boats. Some, including Kaleidoscope Cruises, have hydrophones onboard, so you may be able to hear the whales' vocalizations while waiting for them to surface, if their feeding behavior and the water conditions are right. Book trips through Viking Travel or directly with one of the operators. Trips usually leave around 8am and stay out 6 to 10 hours, with several hours among the whales. Prices are $285 per person, with discounts for three or more. Viking Travel's conference room (at the corner of Nordic Dr. and Sing Lee Alley) houses the Petersburg Marine Mammal Center (www.psgmmc.org), where you can use a computer or talk to interns to learn more about whales.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.