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Visiting Ketchikan, Alaska: Views of Pennock Island, Overlooked by the Mountains of Gravina Island

Updated on November 18, 2020
Flag of Alaska
Flag of Alaska | Source
Tongass Narrows with Pennock and Gravina Islands
Tongass Narrows with Pennock and Gravina Islands | Source

Few people but long history

[This visit to Alaska was conducted in 2019.]

Pennock Island in Alaska's strait known as Tongass Narrows, is named for gold prospector Homer Pennock, who came to Alaska in the late 19th century, recalling a period of rapid growth in Alaska's European settlement when many enterprising individuals came to seek a fortune.

Homer, on Alaksa's Kenai Peninsula, is also named for Homer Pennock (1).

The island is easily visible from Downtown Ketchikan, Alaska's First City, as it is known — and, indeed, from neighbouring Saxman. While there are many houses and boat sheds on Pennock Island, these are sometimes used by a seasonal rather than a permanent population. In 1980 there were 90 people recorded as resident on Pennock Island but since then statistics are unclear.

The island is approximately 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) long and 0.25–0.625 miles (0.402–1.006 kilometers) wide.

Pennock Island is known for its annual 'Pennock Island Challenge': a popular swimming race. (However, this race is not for the faint of heart or for the inexperienced swimmer: the waters of Tongass Narrows can be cold even in midsummer, when the event takes place.)

Heavily wooded, the Island is known for a Native Alaskan totem pole, called 'The Pointing Figure', visible through the trees by visitors venturing from the shoreline.

A rather flat island, it thus contrasts sharply with Gravina Island beyond it, to the west of the Tongass Narrows; the mountains of Gravina Island thus appear from certain angles to tower over Pennock Island.

The island contains traditional burial grounds of the Taan ta Kwaan / Tinglit and Sanyaa Kwáan / Cape Fox Native Alaskan peoples (3).

A project to link Ketchikan International Airport on Gravina Island with the City of Ketchikan by a bridge via Pennock Island was shelved a number of years ago, amidst much local discussion.

March 31, 2020


(1) Homer Pennock was also active in Colorado. See also: ; the Village of Pennock, Chicago, Illinois, is likewise named for Homer Pennock; see also:

(2) I have read various, short articles about the personality for whom the island is named; but what Native Alaskan peoples thought of this personality is not recorded in any of the sources with which I am familiar. I do sense that his was a strong, driven personality; and his lifetime was undoubtedly set against a background of sometimes widely divergent visions between European settlers on the one hand and Native Alaskan peoples on the other.

Some sourcing: Wikipedia

Gravina Island across the Tongass Narrows from Ketchikan, Alaska. Pennock Island is to the left.
Gravina Island across the Tongass Narrows from Ketchikan, Alaska. Pennock Island is to the left. | Source

Also worth seeing

In Ketchikan itself, visitors to the city often frequent the many gift stores specializing in Native Alaskan and other artwork; First Lutheran Church in Newtown was built in 1930 principally on account of the city's Norwegian population; St. John's Episcopal Church dates from 1904; the city is well known for its totem poles; 'The Rock' is a remarkable, historical sculpture by Dave Rubin; nearby Deer Mountain overlooks the City.

Misty Fiords National Monument (distance: 64 kilometres / 40 miles), governed by the US Forest Service, consists of 9,246 km2 / 2,294,343 acres of often near vertical glacial valleys, some of which rise to 600 to 900 metres / 2,000 to 3,000 feet above sea level and descend to 300 metres / 1000 feet below it; boat and floatplane tours [NB: Please check the FAA status of these floatplane tours] are organized from Ketchikan.

How to get there

Alaska Airlines and Delta Connection fly to Ketchikan International Airport, (distance — travel via ferry — from Downtown Ketchikan: 2 kilometres / 1.43 miles) from Seattle/Tacoma, WA, with wide North American connections; Princess Cruises and other cruise companies offer services to Ketichikan, often on a seasonal basis; some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada

Map location of Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Alaska, United States
Map location of Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Alaska, United States | Source

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