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U.S. Forest Service

Alaska Region Viewing Area


Aerial photo map of the Balls Lake Trail and Wildflower Viewing Area. Aerial photo map of the Balls Lake Trail and Wildflower Viewing Area.

Bog laurel and its bumblebee pollinator. Bog laurel and its bumblebee pollinator at the muskeg near the Balls Lake picnic area. Photo by Mike Ausman.

Western columbine. Western columbine flowering at Control Creek. Photo by Mike Ausman.

Fireweed. Fireweed in full flower at Control Creek. Photo by Mike Ausman.

Balls Lake

Forest: Tongass National Forest

District: Thorne Bay Ranger District

Description: Balls Lake Trail and Picnic Area is located near the center of Prince of Wales Island. A boardwalk and natural tread trail encircles Balls Lake. The natural tread trail portion does have wet sections and rubber boots are the recommended footwear. Otherwise, visitors can take an easier section by staying on the elevated boardwalk trail and connecting to Control Creek.

The trail begins at the Picnic Area parking lot and leads to the Balls Lake Picnic Shelter area. Just beyond the Picnic Shelter, visitors will follow a narrow boardwalk through open muskeg. Taking a left at the lake and heading west, the trail continues on natural tread and sections of boardwalk, through a western red cedar (Thuja plicata) and western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) forest. The trail then cuts up to the Information Board for the Eagle’s Nest Campground, and then heads toward the boat launch. From there visitors can follow the elevated boardwalk to Control Creek and circle around the interpretive site to learn about the connection between the salmon and the large Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) trees.

Wildflower Viewing: Starting out in the muskegs near the Picnic Shelter, note the bog laurel (Kalmia polifolia) its deep pink flowers bloom during the early summer. Several different species of blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) grow in this open muskeg and surround the Picnic Shelter. Seek out the dwarf blueberries (Vaccinium caepitosum). They might be small, but they are delicious. Look carefully for round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) and their tiny flowers. These small plants are carnivorous, the sticky tentacles fringing the leaves catch small bugs.

By the time you arrive to the first stretch of forest, look for plants common on the forest floor, including bunchberries (Cornus canadensis), twisted stalk (Streptopus roseus), and fern leaved goldthread (Coptis aspleniifolia). Keep an eye out for the round-leaved orchid (Platanthera orbiculata). This rare orchid is growing at the northern extent of its range. Use extra caution in the area if you do see a round-leaved orchid. Orchids have a symbiotic relationship with a fungus. This makes them very vulnerable to trampling and disturbance; in addition, these orchids are not suitable for transplanting.

Once you make your way to the elevated boardwalk along the lake, you will see the common slender bog orchids (Platanthera stricta), northern geranium (Geranium erianthum), and floating in the lake, the yellow pond lily (Nuphar luteum). Once you arrive at Control Creek, look for western columbine (Aquilegia formosa) and fireweed (Chameriom angustifolium). Enjoy your walk.

Safety Tips:

  • Rubber boots, rain gear, and insect repellent are recommended.
  • Be respectful of others; keep your pets under control.
  • Do not feed or approach bears.
  • Water for consumption should be treated or boiled.
  • Use only fire rings provided by the Forest Service.
  • Discharging firearms is prohibited within 150 yards of buildings, campsites, developed recreation sites, or occupied areas.
  • Fireworks or other explosives are prohibited.

Directions: Balls Lake Trail and Picnic Area is located two miles east of Control Lake Junction along State Highway 929, in the middle of Prince of Wales Island.

More Information: Visit the Balls Lake Trail and Picnic Area web page.

Ownership and management: USDA Forest Service, Tongass National Forest, Thorne Bay Ranger District (907) 828-3304.

Closest Town: Thorne Bay, Prince of Wales Island, Alaska