Distant from the cruise ship routes, the quaint village of Petersburg, Alaska is a wonderful stop for family travelers seeking a bit of local culture and simple kid fun. Located in southeast Alaska on Mitkof Island, in beautiful Frederick Sound, Petersburg has managed to stave off the hordes of visitors who frequent other Inside Passage communities, wholeheartedly embracing their Norwegian heritage. Oh, and Petersburg is right in the middle of the summer feeding ground for humpback whales, not to mention hiking trails, and fabulous seafood. No fooling – families who visit southeast Alaska should make tracks for Petersburg with their youngsters for some real-time 49th state fun. Here’s why:
Petersburg is easy to find. On the Alaska Marine Highway route, passengers who choose to sail the Inside Passage will be treated to gorgeous scenery and a dose of Alaska culture as locals also utilize one of the few ways to get in or out of town. Alaska Airlines provides jet service to Petersburg, too, handy for picking up the ferry or a charter en route to other Alaska adventures.
Petersburg is chill. Not equipped for large cruise ships, Petersburg maintains small-town allure, with residents going about their business of fishing and canning, happily stopping to chat with visitors. Some small cruise lines, like our favorite Inner Sea Discoveries, call into port, but other traffic is generally private. Founded in 1890 by Norwegian pioneer Peter Buschmann for the business of ice packing and canning the tons of fish products caught each year, Petersburg’s census tops out today at just over 3,000, and it’s a super place to wander without a whole lot of planning. Plus, there’s a lot to see.
Petersburg is fun. For such a little place, Petersburg packs an adventure punch for those so inclined. Halibut fishing, salmon fishing (and a healthy dose of dock fishing at the boat harbor, too), whale watching, hiking, and kayaking are just a few of the kid-friendly activities awaiting your family; check out the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce for a complete listing of available recreation. We loved hiking Hungry Point trail where the north end of Wrangell Narrows meets Frederick Sound and offers some great views and interesting landscape. Sandy Beach picnic area is another great place to visit for its ancient fish trap, petroglyphs, and excellent tidepooling. A paved walkway extends the length of town, too, from Nordic Drive all the way to Hungry Point in one direction, and to Sandy Beach and Overlook Park in the other.
Walking downtown Petersburg is a lesson in Norwegian culture and small-town cohesiveness. From the boat harbor, wander Nordic Drive and see the architecture of Sons of Norway Hall and Wikan Memorial Park, or hang out in Sing Lee Alley books (907-772-0410) before eating lunch at Coastal Cold Storage. Yes, really, eat in a packing facility; best fried fish, ever (307 North Nordic Drive, 907-772-4177).
If you have older kids, they might enjoy the Clausen Museum, a little space on Fram and 2nd streets. With Petersburg’s rich Tlingit indian history and fishing industry it becomes rather important to know how the two met in the middle toward the end of the 19th century, and the Clausen explains it well. Allow about an hour, and plan on running around with little kids outside by the fountain on the lawn. Open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. $3/pp, kids under 12 free.
Don’t forget about Petersburg’s many community festivals, either. Oktoberfest runs all month, featuring go-kart races, a triathlon, fun run, and lots of eating! The holidays are just around the corner, too, and Petersburg embraces traditional Norwegian customs during the Christmas season, just one of the reasons why this small Alaska community keeps a lot of spirit within “Little Norway.”