Tongass National Forest

Paddling - Honker Divide Canoe Route

On Prince of Wales Island.

The Honker Divide was used by trappers on Prince of Wales Island. Local legend has it that a trapper, Crist Kolby, was killed by wolves near Thorne Lake in the 1930's. A speculative account was written by W.R. Selfridge and published in The Alaska Book, 1960. It was written several months after Mr. Kolby's disappearance and Mr. Selfridge and three others discovered what appeared to be Mr. Kolby's remains. While not proven conclusively that Mr. Kolby met an untimely death at the jaws of wolves, the legend has become standard campfire lore in the area.

This trail provides a primitive remote experience. There is a concentrated bear use around the Thorne River Falls during salmon runs. A canoeist is also likely to encounter eagles and swans. The route requires strong cross-country canoeing and woodsmanship skills. The route provides access to a Forest Service cabin.

The route is very strenuous. When water levels are low it is necessary to line the canoe through a number of sections. Thus the best time to traverse the route is high water or the day after a rain. The portages are brushed and marked but otherwise undeveloped. Numerous logjams, difficult footing over some portage areas, the Thorne River Falls, and some rapids at high water flows contribute to the difficulty factor. The logs across the streams provide important habitat for young salmon.

Food and supplies for at least five days, insulated clothing, rain gear, and rubber boots are essential safety items. Potential campsites are numerous along lake shores. The Honker Lake cabin mar is an excellent stopover point. Check with the Thorne Bay Ranger District recreation department for reports on the most current area conditions.

Trail Begins: Hatchery Creek Bridge
Recommended Season: May-Sept.
Difficulty: Most Difficult
USGS Quad Map(s): Crg D3, C3, C2
One Way Trip Time: 3-4 days
Trail Ends: City dock at Thorne Bay
Length (one way): 30 miles
Access: Canoe/kayak
Condition: Primitive
Elevation Gain: 150

Trail Profile & Water Level: The route begins at 150' elevation and rises 150' to the Honker Divide and then drops 150' feet over the next 22 miles to sea level at Thorne Bay.

Section 1: Trailhead (Hatchery Creek Bridge) to Hatchery Lake
Trailhead - The trail begins at the bridge over Hatchery Creek on FDR #30. A rockpit 1/4 mile west of the bridge is a good parking area. Launch near the bridge and head upstream. Several shallow sections will require lining of the canoe at lower flows. If the first 100 yards upstream from the Hatchery Creek Bridge are too shallow to paddle, other shallow sections will be encountered and you should consider waiting for a day of rain.

Section 2: Hatchery Lake to Butterfly Lake
A rapids is encountered one mile above Hatchery Lake requiring lining of the boat.

Section 3: Butterfly Lake to Honker Lake
This section is shallow and fast flowing. Approximately 70 percent of its length must be lined. The Honker Lake Forest Service cabin is located on its shores, about 7-1/2 miles or an 8-hour paddle from the trailhead. With the long days of spring and summer, this is the ideal location for the first overnight stop.

Section 4: The Honker Divide Portage (1 mile)
The Honker Divide Portage brings the canoeist from the Hatchery Creek drainage into the Thorne River drainage. The portage begins where the slough that flows into Honker Lake becomes shallow. It leads one mile east across wet soils, though old growth forest, and then along the edge of a muskeg to Twin Lakes.

Section 5: Twin Lake to Thorne Lake
This section of the route presents the first downstream paddling. There are numerous large rocks to be avoided, but overall this stretch is pleasant, very floatable, and good time can be made. Thorne Lake is a logical point for a second night camp. The lake offers many good campsites, the most scenic site is on the large island in Thorne Lake.

Section 6: The Thorne Portage - Lower Thorne Lake to the confluence of the Thorne River and Control Creek
The reach of the Thorne River from Thorne Lake to the confluence of the Thorne River and Control Creek (about 2.5 miles) is split midway by the Thorne River Falls, a cascading 30-foot waterfall, which is impassable. This entire reach is very difficult to pass in a canoe. The segment above the falls is rocky, fast water and is unfloatable at low flows and suitable only for the experienced canoeist at high flows. Extreme care must be taken through this section. The segment below the falls is dangerous at any flow with boulders, small falls, rock overhangs and log sweepers, and should be avoided in any case. The portage bypasses these hazards. It begins on the southern shore of the small lake just south of Thorne Lake.

Section 7: The Thorne River - Control Creek confluence to saltwater at the town of Thorne Bay (12 miles)
The river is wide and relatively slow as it passes through the large spruce of the lower Thorne Valley. Shallow water will present a problem only after the most prolonged drought. There are many good campsites along the shore of the river. Safe for canoes in all but the worst storms, it is a 30-minute paddle across Thorne Bay to the public boat dock at the town of Thorne Bay. This is the most convenient take-out point; there are various services available, including groceries, gas, and telephone.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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