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Alaska

Tongass National Forest

Anyone who is planning to go on excursions during Alaska cruises should get to know Tongass National Forest. It dominates land activities during most of a cruise.

This massive forest of 17 million acres, the largest national forest in the United States, surrounds most of the Alaska cruise ports, covers most of the southeast coastline and is the location of most of the land excursions. It’s hard to miss.

Tongass spans more than 500 miles from top to bottom and is home to 32 communities, 70,000 people and 80 percent of southeast Alaska, according to the Alaska Travel Industry Association. Including islands, the forest has 11,000 miles of coastline.

It contains 19 wilderness areas, including the Russell Fjord Wilderness, along with Admiralty Island National Monument and Misty Fiords National Monument.


Tongass surrounds or borders the Haines, Hoonah, Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka and Skagway cruise ports. The main forest lies just south of Glacier Bay and Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. A smaller section of Tongass lies just to the north of Glacier Bay and surrounds the remote seaside city of Yakutat.

It also is the world’s largest temperate forest and home to some of the biggest and most popular glaciers including Mendenhall and Hubbard. Mendenhall near Juneau is the most popular glacier in Alaska and Hubbard is the longest tidewater glacier in the world. Despite being called a forest, almost half of it is covered by ice, water, rock and wetlands, the ATIA says.

Cruise excursions in Tongass or along the coast include hiking, kayaking, canoeing, glacier visits, bear viewing, whale watching and boat tours.

Tongass got its name from the Tongass Clan of the Tlingit Indians. President Theodore Roosevelt first designated the area in 1902 as the Alexander Archipelago Forest Reserve. The federal government expanded and renamed the forest in 1908.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

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February 06, 2019

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