Misty Fiords National Monument
The Misty Fiords of Alaska
Remote and wild, Misty Fiords National Monument supports many nearly untouched coastal ecosystems and covers about 3,570 square miles. Several major rivers and hundreds of streams are fed by misty rain and snow each year, as well as by meltwater from glaciers that begin near the Canadian border. Mineral springs and volcanic lava flows add to the unique geological features. Located in the southernmost part of southeast Alaska, Misty Fjords National Monument extends from Dixon Entrance to beyond the Unuk River. The western boundary is 22 miles east of Ketchikan. Misty Fjords is about 680 air miles from Seattle. The Forest Service manages the area for public use.
Behm Canal, a deep, long waterway of the northeastern Pacific Ocean, leads to the heart of the Monument. Picturesque areas such as Walker Cove and Rudyerd Bay are surrounded by rock walls jutting 3,000 feet (900 meters) above the ocean. Flightseers, boaters, and hikers may photograph, fish, hunt, or view the long, deep, narrow fjords and steep-walled canyons- enjoying the outstanding scenic beauty and rugged terrain of Misty Fiords.
Created on December I, 1978 by presidential proclamation, the Monument encompasses 2,294,343 acres within the Tongass National Forest. In 1980, Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) and designated all but 151,832 acres as Wilderness. Monument status protects ecological, cultural, geological, historical, prehistorical, scientific, and wilderness values. Congress designated the non-wilderness portion to accommodate the development of the Quartz Hill molybdenum deposit. Strict controls on mine development will supposedly minimize the operation’s impact on the surrounding wilderness.
Recreational activities such as camping, hiking, photography, hunting, fishing, boating, continued use of public and private cabins, air access, and outboard motors are all happen within the Monument. Misty Fiords is a major producer of coho, sockeye, pink and chum salmon and king salmon. Numerous other saltwater, fresh water, anadromous fish species and shellfish are plentiful in this area.
Commercial services such as outfitters and guides are allowed, under permit, to provide basic public services in keeping with Monument designations. The Forest Service and the State of Alaska manage fish and wildlife habitat cooperatively.
Misty Fiords Ecosystem:
The park’s wildlife is as varied as its landscape. Mountain goats, moose, bears, wolverines, marmots and other mammals have re-established themselves on a thin life zone between marine waters and icefield’s frozen edges. Bald eagles nest in the tops of spruce and hemlock trees. A summer burgeoning of life occurs in the fjords. Steller sea lions haul out on rocky islands at the entrances to Aialik and Nuka Bays. Harbor seals ride the icebergs. Dall porpoises, sea otters, and gray, humpback, killer, and minke whales ply the fjord waters. Halibut, lingcod, and black bass lurk deep in these waters, through which salmon return for inland spawning runs. Thousands of seabirds, including horned and tufted puffins, black-legged kittiwakes, common murres and the ubiquitous gulls, seasonally inhabit steep cliffs and rocky shores. Devils Club
Misty Fiords National Monument is an unspoiled coastal ecosystem with extraordinary geological features including fiords, steep sea cliffs, active glaciers and natural canals. These features provide rich and fertile marine and freshwater environments. Wildlife, waterfowl, and bird populations are diverse and nearly every ecosystem in Southeast Alaska is represented within Misty Fiords.
Misty Fiords is known for the number and size of fish found in its lakes and streams. It provides habitat for all five northeastern Pacific species of salmon as well as grayling, Dolly Varden char, and brook, rainbow, steelhead, and cutthroat trout. Nearly half of all king salmon spawning and rearing streams in southeast Alaska are located within Misty Fiords.
Most wildlife common to southeast Alaska may be found in Misty Fiords. Bald eagles nest in large trees near rivers and shorelines, where pairs share the raising of young during summer.
Alaska’s famous brown bears, black bears, Sitka black-tailed deer, wolves, and mountain goats are the most common large mammals in Misty Fiords. Beaver, mink, marten, wolverine, and river otter are common small animals. In Behm Canal and nearby ocean waters, porpoises, whales, sea lions, and seals are often sighted.
Extending along the Pacific Rim from northern California to Cook Inlet in Alaska is a segment of coastal temperate rain forest. At first glance the rugged mountainsides appear to be covered with unbroken conifer forests from the water to timberline. From the air, however, you can see the forest is a mosaic of various densities, subtle colors, and diverse species. Most of the forest consists of old-growth timber stands undisturbed by man.
The forest of Misty Fiords is primarily western hemlock and Sitka spruce, with scattered western red cedar and Alaska cedar. Between forest stands are openings called muskegs. Muskegs are bog plant communities growing on deep peat and dominated by sphagnum mosses, water-loving plants such as sedges and rushes, and shrubs which adapt to acid soils. Tree growth is sparse within the muskegs and consists mostly of hemlock and lodgepole pine in scrub form. Muskegs provide suitable habitat for many plants, give welcome scenic viewpoints for the foot traveler, help regulate streamflow, and provide homes for wildlife.
Above timberline (generally 2,500 to 3,000 feet in elevation), the alpine zone is dominated by heaths, grasses, and other low plants. Plants such as deer cabbage cover wide areas and provide excellent summer forage for deer. Occasional trees occur, often with stunted or shrublike form due to adverse growing conditions in this zone.
A notable feature of southeast Alaska is the abundance of plant life. Except for steep cliffs, scarcely any area remains devoid of vegetation. Even rock, which in a drier climate would be bare, is soon colonized by mosses, small plants, shrubs, or trees.
The maritime climate of southeast Alaska has a great influence on the plants and animals of Misty Fiords. The temperature is moderated by adjacent seas and abundant moisture derived by the air mass lifting over the coastal mountains. Summers are cool and winters moderate, with considerable year-round precipitation, heavy snowfall at higher elevations, and. frequent cloudiness.
During the summers average temperatures vary from 46 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Winter temperatures average between 32 and 42 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of the moist air, you can count on rain during your stay in Misty regardless of the time of year you visit. Although the frequency of rain is about the same throughout the Monument, the intensity varies significantly. Yearly precipitation at different sites averages about 160 inches.
Some of the unique features on the north end of the Monument were caused by the interaction of active glaciers and volcanoes. Less than 150 years ago a liquid-like molten rock, called basalt, partially filled two of the U-shaped valleys: the Lava Fork of the Blue River and the Blue River. A volcanic eruption ejected small particles of dark volcanic rock into the air. These particles, called scoria, rained down on surrounding ridges and glaciers and can still be seen today. The basalt lava flowed from the upper Lava Fork river valley to the Unuk River. Trees lining the Blue River valley drowned as the lake formed. Today, only their stumps remain. In the Lava Fork valley, other trees carried along by the flood of lava now lie on their sides, frozen in place within the flow.
The island called “New Eddystone Rock” is a pillar of basalt. Sometime during the last 5 million years, the basalt came from fractures in the floor of Behm Canal. The broken, haphazard texture of these basalts indicates that New Eddystone Rock was part of a volcanic vent where magma rose repeatedly to the surface of the earth.
When in its molten state, the basalt was very liquid, so that it spread out over a large area, like pancake batter on a griddle. These flows cooled from both the top and the bottom forming the hexagonal columns which are visible on several of the islands surrounding New Eddystone rock. After the basalt flows covered the floor of Behm Canal, another glacial advance scoured away much of the flow, leaving behind New Eddystone Rock and some of the islands to the northeast.
Rock rubble left by the retreating glaciers on several of the New Eddystone Islands consists of large boulders and cobbles which differ in composition from the basalts. Because these boulders and cobbles were not derived from the basalt-covered islands, they are called glacial erratics.
As with other Forest Service areas in Alaska, Misty Fiords National Monument maintains and operates a system of recreation cabins available for public use. Cabins are located in a variety of forest settings, providing users a choice of rustic opportunities ranging from open ocean beaches to high alpine lakes. The twelve cabins located on freshwater lakes usually have a skiff available. The two located on salt water have mooring buoys nearby. There are an additional six mooring buoys in convenient locations in the Monument.
Recreation cabins are available to the public on a reservation basis for a fee. Reservations may be made up to 180 days in advance, and are booked on a first-come, first-served basis.
Four Adirondack-type (one side open) shelters are available at no charge. They do not require reservations but are available on a first-come, first-served basis. They are located at Manzanita Bay, Nooya Lake, Punchbowl Lake, and Winstanley Lake. The Manzanita Bay shelter is adjacent to salt water. The others are on freshwater lakes and are accessible by trail from salt water.
All areas on the Monument are open to camping, but, with the exception of cabins and shelters, campsites are not established. There are no other facilities, so be sure to buy your food and camping supplies before going to Misty Fiords. Ketchikan is the closest city offering a complete selection of supplies.
Cabin reservations may be made by mail or in person at the Forest Service office in Ketchikan.
Few marks of human activity are apparent to the casual visitor in Misty Fiords. Evidence of Tlingit and Haida Indian societies and of early American occupation may be found in a few places.
Many of the geographic names of the area originated from Tlingit and Haida native names as well as from early explorers from Russia, Spain, America, and Britain. George Vancouver, the famous British Captain, named many places and special features of Misty Fiords. For example, he put Behm Canal and Eddystone Rock on the map and it is believed that he named Portland Canal after the Duke of Portland. Because he so fully described and mapped Alaska’s coast and this information was published, most of the names remain unchanged today.
A number of southeast Alaska place names recall English civil engineers, structures, and well-known people. Eddystone Reef off the coast of England was a source of inspiration for many of the names Vancouver and others gave to coastal areas in Alaska. Winstanley Island, Smeaton Bay, and Rudyerd Bay were all named for men who had built lighthouses on the treacherous English reef.
The Tlingits who originally inhabited Tongass Island called the island”Kut-tuk-wah.” Following the U.S. purchase of Alaska from Russia, a fort was established on the island. During the summer of 1868, a small tent encampment housing 50 men and 10 officers became Fort Tongass and the first custom house upon entering Alaska.
Access to the Misty Fiords National Monument:
Misty Fiords National Monument may be reached by floatplane or boat. No permanent roads exist. Ketchikan is the closest city with frequent commercial air service but air charters are also available from Wrangell and Petersburg. Those not familiar with boating conditions in southeast Alaska should be cautious about taking their own boat through the unpredictable waters of Behm Canal in Misty Fiords. Storms can come up quickly, causing serious risks for those without knowledge of the area or who are not properly equipped. Flying time from Ketchikan to Rudyerd Bay is about 30 minutes; boating distance is about 50 miles.
Depart the Ketchikan waterfront and immediately enter the lush wilderness of the Misty Fiords National Monument with an experienced Alaska bush pilot. Whether you want to land on a mountain lake, fly over fjords, view glaciers and wildlife or just enjoy the phenomenal and breathtaking beauty of the last frontier. Scheduled services are also available to Prince of Wales, Metlakatla, and Hyder.