They call this place “Little Norway.” Believe it.
Norwegian-language novels show up at the town’s thrift store and at local bars, fishermen arrive in pewter-buttoned, traditional Scandinavian sweaters. The public high school’s team mascots are the Vikings and Valkyries and local families vacation in Norway, visiting relatives in the old country. Outside of Alaska’s Native villages, you won’t find another enclave quite like this one.
Though thoroughly Alaskan, the town exudes a Scandinavian sensibility of neatness and functionality. Storefronts and sidewalks are decorated with rosemaling and you don’t see much junk or run-down buildings found elsewhere on the Last Frontier. Even the sagging and aging boathouses of Hammer Slough are well kept.
Downtown is busy with locally owned stores and shops and guests stay at the Scandia House hotel.
Visitors wondering where all this wealth comes from need only take a stroll by the beefy fishing boats that crowd the town’s harbors. Petersburg fishes, and not only for salmon or not just in local waters. Petersburg fishermen show up in fisheries all over Alaska, many of them working year-round, harvesting multiple species of fish and shellfish. More than 45 million tons of fish are landed here annually.
Because much of the town is out fishing and large cruise ships don’t stop here, Petersburg is an unspoiled spot for outdoor adventures. Tucked into the heart of Southeast at the intersection of Wrangell Narrows and Frederick Sound, Mitkof Islanders are all about boating and fishing, but the area also features many parks, hiking trails, cabins and campgrounds, and proximity to the Stikine River Wilderness area.
With more than 200 miles of roads, the island is an ideal place for biking and mountain biking. Besides the 34-mile long, paved Mitkof Highway and the hard-packed 21 miles of Three Lakes Loop Road, there are more than 150 miles of gravel logging roads.
On the water, visitors can use a hydrophone to hear humpbacks singing on a Frederick Sound whale cruise, hire a fishing charter, or sidle up next to the Nortern Hemisphere’s southernmost tidewater glacier in LeConte Bay 25 miles south. Two-story icebergs that break off LeConte Glacier wash up at Sandy Beach Park, a little more than a mile from Petersburg’s downtown.
There are 19 public use cabins maintained by the U.S. Forest Service within the boundaries of the Petersburg Ranger District.
For more information, check out the town’s visitor center or go to the U.S. Forest Service Petersburg Ranger District Office.
For adventures out the Mitkof Road, the Forest Service provides a printed guide available at the ranger office and town visitor center.