At more than 17 million acres in size, the Tongass National Forest located in Southeast Alaska is the largest forest administered in the overall national forest system. The Tongass is world renowned for its old growth temperate rain forests covered with enormous Sitka spruce, Hemlock fir, and Yellow cedar. These forests protect the watersheds that represent some of the best and most productive fisheries habitat anywhere. Like all national forests, the Tongass is managed for multiple uses and outdoor recreation is key component among these varied opportunities.
The Tongass National Forest Trail System
One of the best ways to see the special and unique places of the Tongass is to take a day hike or backpacking trip on one of the forest’s many trails. Working from Misty Fiords in south to Admiralty Island at the northern reaches of the Tongass, there are no less than 103 developed trails available for public use.
As it is a temperate rain forest, the Tongass is covered with many ecologically sensitive areas. Wetlands and muskeg meadows are easily damaged by foot traffic and have prompted the construction of some unique trails in Southeast Alaska. Many trails on the Tongass are constructed of treated lumber, creating boardwalk trails that pass on for miles. This raised trail systems protect the environment and make life for hikers much easier.
Trail conditions on the Tongass National Forest vary widely with available maintenance funding and public use. Access to trailheads can take many forms, automobile, boat and floatplane. Many of the forest trails are barrier free.
Hiker Safety Practices
- Hikers should exercise a few common sense precautions when making a trip into the Tongass.
- Ensure all members of the group are in adequate physical condition for the planned route
- Wear proper footgear and bring equipment appropriate for wet weather conditions
- File a trip plan with friends or local resource agencies
- Beware of Devil’s Club, a prickly plant widespread on the Tongass
- Practice good bear safety practices
- Exercise good environmental stewardship and leave nothing behind in the forest
Hiking and backpacking on the Tongass provides many recreational opportunities for visitors in addition to enjoying the scenic beauty of the land. Some trails are equipped with three sided “Adirondack” style shelters that are free for use. Many trails were established to provide access to exceptional natural features like view points, fish passages, bear and wildlife observatories, picnic spots, and campgrounds.
Trail conditions can change quickly, check with local Forest Service officials prior to starting a hike.
This article was first seen at Suite101.com Copyright © 2013 by Alan Sorum