Misty Miracles

The Misty Fiords National Monument in Alaska is home to pristine natural beauty and diverse wildlife.

Rugged, remote and primeval—these words best describe the Misty Fiords National Monument, one of the world’s most beautiful and expansive pieces of land. It is located in Alaska. Misty Fiords, as part of the nearly seven million-hectare Tongass National Forest, covers above 840,000 hectares which, to this day, is mostly untouched by humans. Within Misty Fiords, visitors find rich coastal ecosystems, dense rain forests, mineral springs and volcanic activity. Thanks to its remote location, those who make the journey into this remarkable landscape are rewarded with outstanding views, pristine waters and endless possibilities of viewing rare and endangered wildlife. The monument is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Created in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter, the status of being a national monument allows for ecological, historical, scientific and wilderness protections.

Visiting Misty Fiords requires an adventurous spirit and a stomach for water or air travel as the monument can only be reached by floatplane or boat. Visitors are advised to take guided boat tours, as opposed to setting out alone, as the waters are quite unpredictable and storms can arise quickly. Behm Canal leads to the heart of the monument, passing through long, deep, narrow fjords and steep-walled canyons. The waters are a mixture of salt and fresh waters, allowing for abundance of diverse marine and bird lives.

Misty Fiords offers recreational activities like camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, boating and kayaking. Visitors can rent cabins located in a variety of different settings, including ocean beaches and high alpine lakes. Whether lodging at a lake or ocean cabin, visitors will find skiffs available to float around the monument or buoys to anchor rentals. Cabins must be reserved up to 180 days in advance.

In addition to cabins, tourists who don’t mind more rustic accommodations can stay, for free in shelters located along several lakes and bays in the monument, including Manzanita Bay, Nooya Lake, Punchbowl Lake and Winstanley Lake. These, like the cabins, are available on first-come-first-serve basis, but do not require a reservation.

Visitors can also camp at the monument, but there are no established campsites with bathrooms, running water or fire pits. It is essential to buy supplies in Ketchikan, the closest town, before making the journey into the heart of Misty Fiords, especially if camping or finding a shelter sounds the more appealing options.

As the name implies, Misty Fiords is moist, with considerable year-round rain, heavy snowfall in the winter and frequent fog, making it a damp and green place.

Given the climate and the distance from the nearest town, it is not surprising that the monument is teeming with wildlife. Visitors see bald eagles nest near the shoreline, raising their young babies in clear view of passing boats. Land animals like brown and black bears, deer, wolves and mountain goats are regularly seen. In the waters, porpoises, whales, sea lions and seals are often sighted. Numerous other saltwater and freshwater fish species can be found in the area as well.

For those who prefer to explore the land, there is no shortage of flora in the rainforests of Misty Fiords National Monument. Western hemlock, Sitka spruce and cedar trees dominate the prolific vegetation and can be explored via different hiking trails in the area.

It is said that Alaska is the last frontier of unexplored, unspoiled waters and land in North America. Embarking on a journey into the Tongass National Forest and, specifically, Misty Fiords National Monument, is truly like venturing into the infinite expanse of nature’s purest creations.

Megan McDrew is a professor of sociology at University of California, Santa Cruz, and Hartnell College. She is based in Monterey, California.