Hike Location: Totem Bight State Historical Park
Geographic Location: northwest of Ketchikan, AK (55.42124, -131.77154)
Length: 0.4 miles
Difficulty: 0/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: July 2011
Overview: A very easy hike featuring Tlingit totem artwork.
Park Information: http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/totembgh.htm
Hike Route Map: https://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=723729
Directions to the trailhead: Ketchikan, AK is accessible only by boat or seaplane. From downtown Ketchikan, take the North Tongass Highway north 9.2 to the park entrance on the left. The hike starts at the Visitor Center.
The hike: Located just north of Ketchikan, Totem Bight State Park has its roots in a 1930’s effort by the United States Forest Service (USFS) to preserve and restore decaying totem poles originally erected by the Tlingits. The totems, an American Indian art, had been left to decay in Alaska’s forests after the Tlingits moved to cities to find work. By using money from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), in 1938 the USFS hired skilled Tlingit carvers to restore the totems and recreated a Tlingit village on Mud Bight to put the totems in their historical context.
By the start of World War II, a clan house and 15 totems had been restored on this land, and the bight’s name was changed to Totem Bight. (Side note: a bight is an inlet of a larger body of water, the Pacific Ocean in this case.) When
Alaska became a state in 1959, title to the land passed from the federal government to the state’s new Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. Thanks to the USFS’ and CCC’s efforts, visitors today can admire the restored totems by hiking the short, flat, gravel trail described here. I hiked this trail as part of a shore excursion on my Alaska cruise and had a fun time learning about and admiring the totems.
|Eagle totem outside Visitor Center|
|Entering the totem exhibit area|
At the center of the totems lies the reconstructed clan house, a wooden structure in which one Tlingit clan would have lived. Original clan houses had only one small front door. In case of attack, the clan could retreat into the house. Any invader trying to enter the house would have to crawl to enter. Thus, an invader would be in no position to fight when he made it to the interior. Fortunately, a larger side door permits easier access for visitors today. Step through the door to see the clan symbols on the inside of the clan house.
|Front of clan house|
|Tallest totem in park|
|Boardwalk with views of Totem Bight|