Cross Admiralty Island Canoe Route 92 & 04

Surrounded by the rugged mountains of Admiralty Island, a series of connecting waterways and trails pass through a pristine temperate rainforest that is home to greatest concentration of Brown Bears in North America. A vast labyrinth of ancient waterways that can take months to fully explore, the Cross Admiralty Island Canoe Route stands out as one of my all time favorite wilderness destinations in Southeast Alaska.

Angoon, Kootznahoo inlet and Mitchell Bay (salt water) 1992
The village of Angoon (Pop. 459) is the only permanent settlement on Admiralty Island. Tlingít culture is evident throughout the community, from the village's ornate clan houses to its regular potlatch celebrations. Commercial fishing is the town’s main industry, and many residents continue to live a traditional subsistence lifestyle by hunting and fishing in the surrounding area. The Alaska Marine Highway provides regular ferry service throughout the year to this remote Alaskan village.

Strong tides surging in and out through Kootznahoo Inlet, gave us a narrow window of time at the ebb to make progress. Our kayaks waited patiently in the rising tide for us to continue onward.

There was an amazing variety of marine life in this area, Harbor Porpoises dancing in the swift currents of the channels, Tube Worms with their plumes billowing in clear tidal pools, which kept us scanning the world below the surface as we meandered through a maze of small islands.

At the end of the day our tent is home sweet home. Life in camp is so elegantly uncluttered compared to the complexities of modern life that it sometimes leaves me to ponder; do I really need anything more than this?

On our way through Kanalku Bay we passed a family from Angoon harvesting salmon as Tlingit people have no doubt done in this bay for many generations. Sometime later, on the short trail from the bay to Kanalku Lake, we caught a glimpse of Admiralty Island’s other long time resident fisherman. The great Alaskan Brown Bear (Xóots in Tlingit) was fishing along the river and adding to his winter food supply as well.

The extremes of tidal flow in the narrow channel between Mitchell Bay and Salt Lake actually create a set of water falls on the outgoing tide. We camped nearby so we could watch “The Falls” in action. It was amazing for us to think that only six hours earlier we had passed over this stretch of water without so much as a ripple.

Admiralty Island Lakes (fresh water) 2004
On our second trip we used a canoe to lighten our load over the five portages. Traveling rapidly on the incoming tide we passed through the Kootznahoo inlet and Mitchell Bay to make our first camp at the end of Salt Lake. The following morning we began the arduous portage to Davidson Lake. The forty-four pound Kevlar canoe passed over the five mile trail with relative ease, the eighty pound hall bag of food…. not so much.

Trout fishing in the lakes and adjacent streams was a sportsmen’s dream, we caught fish every day and on more than one occasion kept a few for dinner.

Davidson, Distin and Guerin Lakes are all connected by short portages of one quarter mile or less. On Diston Lake there are two USFS cabins available for rent, the Distin Lake Cabin is a small Adirondack style shelter built in 1936 by the CCC and the newer and more spacious Sportsmen’s Cabin can hold up to six adults.

The one point six mile portage to Hasselborg Lake ends, as all the portage trails do, with a rustic shelter for getting out of the weather having a snack and taking a well deserved rest.

At eight and half miles long Hasselborg Lake is the largest of the Admiralty Island lakes. The clearing weather gave us a look at the rugged mountains and unspoiled forest of the island’s interior. Thankfully Admiralty Island’s inclusion in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act has saved this national treasure for generations of future adventures.

There are three cabins located on Hasselborg Lake, the very small Hasselborg Creek Cabin, Little Shaheen Cabin and my personal favorite Big Shaheen Cabin. Built in 1936 it has room for up to eight people and is a classic wilderness log cabin with a magnificent view of the lake.

After passing over an easy quarter mile portage into Beaver and Alexander Lake we watched a pair of ospreys hunt for fish from the porch of the recently completed Alexander Lake Cabin. 

The final two and three quarter mile portage climbs up and over an eight hundred foot pass to end at the last shelter on the Cross Admiralty Island Canoe Route at Mole Harbor. Having finally reached salt water our journey across Admiralty Island was complete. But when the float plane finally arrived to pick us up it was with great reluctance that we packed up to returned to civilization. Even today the islands magic still entices us to return. 

"In terms of wilderness preservation, Alaska is the last frontier. This time, given one great final chance, let us strive to do it right. Not in our generation, nor ever again, will we have a land and wildlife opportunity approaching the scope and importance of this one." - Morris Udall