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Ella lake, located in the Misty Fjords National Monument, will always be dear to me – specifically the Ella Narrows Forest Service cabin.  For my 10th and 12th birthday, my mother rented the cabin for me and some friends for a few days, and my father or one of his pilots flew us out.  My 12th birthday was especially memorable because my father, operating Twin-Otter seaplanes at the time, was able to pack me, my brother, our labrador Gunner, six friends and a chaperone into one plane for the 20-minute flight to the lake.  The cabin is designed to hold six guests on the two single and two double bunks, but we made it work.  Upon arrival, we hit the beach like we were storming Omaha and raised general hell for four days; 8 kids, a cool chaperone, bags of fireworks, and plenty of axes to go around.

All USFS cabins, at least the four or five that I’ve been to, follow the same 12 X 14’ design.  Half the room is occupied by two bunks with a table in between.  There is a window/refrigerator (shelves built outside the window, surrounded by a cage, allow you to keep the food you don’t want at room temperature protected from varmints but at hands-reach).  One wall has shelves built along it with cupboards overhead, and there is a wood burning stove taking up the remaining space.  The bunk/table situation is pretty cool as the bottom bunks are extended to provide sleeping room for two (top bunks are singles unless you’re very friendly or kind of tiny), but also double as seating for the table located between.  A lot gets done in a very small space with these cabins, and if you’re willing to cram a couple people under bunks on the floor they can accommodate more than just the six sleepers they’re designed for.

To either side of the Ella Narrows cabin you’ll find, in my opinion, one of the two best sections of beach in all the world.  To the East is a roughly 200’ long stretch of what Alaskans call sand, something in short supply in our area, but the beach to the West is my favorite.  Although the beach is made of rocks ranging from D1 to basketball-sized, by and large, they’re weather-worn smooth, so you can navigate without shoes on and not lose any blood.  Extending into the icy waters off this beach, however, is a good basketball court-sized area of shallow water.  Sediment deposited from the mountain run-off has created a 2-4 foot deep area of water that warms a bit during the day.  By no means “comfortable” by bathing standards, it does maintain a temperature high enough that you can play a few downs of tackle football before catching hypothermia.  (Side note: there is an even larger flat like this at the inlet of Lower Mirror lake, but if you want to spend a weekend camping there you’ll need a tent.)  During my 12th birthday camping trip, we spent a lot of time at this beach.  There are some large dead Alder trees near the beach, so we axed a couple down and had a roaring fire going for most of our stay.  This allowed us the uncommon opportunity to spend the days soaked to the bone without turning mostly blue.

Besides swimming and hewing our way through the dead Alders, we spent a lot of time playing with fire.  My birthday is in June, so our trips to Ella were punctuated by the whistling of bottle rockets, the boom of artillery shells, and the frantic screams of pre-teens noticing a lit 50-pack of Blackcats arriving near their location.  When we weren’t trying to blow ourselves up, we spent a lot of time seeing how large we could make our beach fires.  My brother, ever the arsonist and envelope-pusher, even tried to burn down our cabin at one point.  With most of us out in the boat putting around trying to catch cutthroat on the lake, I noticed a flashback toward the cabin.  Once we arrived back, we noticed that Jack had decided to… mop the outside deck?  Apparently, he’d been playing with some lighter fluid, scorched some supplies on the porch, and covered it up by dumping a bunch of soap and our drinking water all over the place.  Compared to jumping out of a tree and puncturing an artery in his thigh with a stick, years prior, or rolling our Dad’s Land Cruiser on a pre-licensed joyride, this didn’t really even make the top-ten list of “What was he thinking?”

Forest Service cabins provide a modicum of civility to even the uncivilized.  Anyone planning a trip to Alaska would be wise to consider spending a night or two in one of these rustic but comfortable chalets.  They come stocked with firewood, they have a boat with oars, and they’re serviced every year by crews that ensure a safe, clean environment for you and your family to enjoy a few nights in the Alaskan wilderness.  Guests can visit Tongass Trading Company for any camping gear they don’t bring with them.  Many of the cabins are located on alpine lakes in the Misty Fjords National Monument, so chartering a seaplane flight from any of our air-taxi’s is recommended.  Others, such as Winstanley or Alava Bay cabins can be reached via boat.  Whatever your desires for a rustic getaway, the United States Forest Service has a location and cabin built just for you.

Tags: Misty Fjords overnight trips forest service cabins
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