Unlike almost everywhere else in Alaska, there are no bears on Annette Island, a relief to those who fear encounters with bruins. A short hiking trail runs from the corner of Milton Street and Airport Road on the southeast edge of town along Skaters Lake, a large pond where native plants and ducks can be observed.
Yellow Hill, a 540-foot-tall fragment of 150-million-year-old sandstone, is unique in Southeast Alaska. The rock is rich in iron and magnesium, giving it a lovely desert-like yellow color set off by gnarled old lodgepole pines. An easy boardwalk trail (20 minutes each way) leads up to its summit, where you can catch panoramic vistas of the western side of Annette along with the snowcapped peaks of nearby Prince of Wales Island. Get there by walking or hitching 1.5 miles south from town on Airport Road to the signed trailhead on the right side. Some people claim to see George Washington’s profile in a nearby mountain visible from Yellow Hill.
Two trails access alpine lakes in the mountains east of Metlakatla. The Chester Lake Trail starts at the end of the road, 0.25 mile beyond the ferry terminal. From the trail there are views over the impressive Chester Lake Falls, which first attracted Duncan’s flock to Annette Island. The trail climbs steeply up steps and a slippery path along a waterline used for power generation. Plan on 45 minutes to reach beautiful Chester Lake, where there’s a small dam. From this point, the country is above the tree line and it’s possible to climb along several nearby ridges for even better views. Good camping sites are available, but be careful coming up the steep slippery path with a pack.
Farther afield and not quite as scenic is the Purple Lake Trail. Take Airport Road four miles south of town and turn left near the Quonset huts at the unmarked Purple Mountain Road. Follow it two miles to the power plant. The unmarked trail heads directly up a steep jeep road. After a 30-minute climb you reach a saddle, and from there you can head up adjacent ridges into the alpine area or drop down to Purple Lake (10 minutes). Another place worth a look is the aptly named Sand Dollar Beach on the southwest end of the island. Ask locally for directions.
The flat country around Metlakatla contains a labyrinth of dirt roads built during World War II, and if you have a mountain bike or car, they’re well worth exploring. You’ll find abandoned structures of all types: huge communications towers, strangely quiet empty hangars, old gun emplacements, and a major airport with no planes. From the south end of the road network are excellent views of Prince of Wales and Duke Islands, as well as the open sea beyond Dixon Entrance. This is the southernmost road in Alaska.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition