For those seeking Alaskan treasures natural, cultural and historical, Sitka is your treasure island. Rated in 2013 by “Smithsonian Magazine” as the ninth best small town to visit in America, Sitka is a beautiful seaside town with views of island-studded waters and stately spruce forests reaching to the water’s edge.
This area was once the ancestral home of Tlingit Indians, who were captured by the Russians and then sold to the Americans. While this fascinating heritage is well documented in local museums, such as the Sheldon Jackson Museum, Sitka’s ancestry isn’t found only in shelved archives and artifacts. Sitka is home to 24 attractions listed on the National Register of Historic Places, seven of which are National Historical Landmarks. Visitors won’t find a lack of explanation for these incredible sites, whether embarking on one of several walking or vehicle tours, or chatting with long-time residents.
An exceptionally developed trail system invites exploration among towering trees and frequently breaks into alpine meadows. Trails are for all skill levels, and the views can be the most rewarding feature of any hike. The 107-acre Sitka National Historical Park, easily accessible from downtown, has well-maintained totem-studded trails and is a national treasure for all ages.
Sitka is in the middle of the finest sea kayaking country in the world. All skill levels can enjoy Alaska’s pristine waters, forest islands and remote secluded bays. Kayaking is also an excellent way to see marine life and experience the ultimate outdoor adventure.
Sitka has more than 200 hotel rooms, charming bed and breakfast options, lodges and vacation rental opportunities, as well as several campgrounds and RV facilities. Many campgrounds are available and designed for those with or without vehicles, as camping is a special ways to experience the beauty of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. City- and privately-managed RV parks offer water and electric hook-ups, as well as other amenities. Outlying remote wilderness cabins can be reserved for an adventure into the heart of the area’s wilderness, and access to these cabins can be scheduled through a local water taxi service.
Sitka is a historic fusion of the Tlingit intermingled with Russian-American influences. This robust duality emanates from the local galleries, art, downtown architecture, dance performances and local museums. Discover age-old stories of Alaska’s Tlingit people at Sitka National Historic Park and learn about Russia’s little-known colonial legacy in North American during the early 19th century. While San Francisco was only a sleepy cow town, Sitka’s opulence had already earned it the distinction as the “Paris of the Pacific.” A casual downtown stroll will reveal such gems as St. Michael’s Cathedral, an active Russian Orthodox Church whose onion-shaped domes have graced Sitka’s skyline for nearly two centuries.
A flightseeing trip provides a bird’s eye view of the brilliant Baranof Icefields, home to 53 named glaciers—more glaciers than any island in the world.
Sitka rests in the shadow of the dormant Mount Edgecumbe volcano, with the last known eruption 5,000–6,000 years ago. The 3,202-foot symmetric cone, named last by Captain James Cook in 1778, bears resemblance to the snow-covered Mount Fuji volcano in Japan.
The only place in southeast Alaska where you can drive to the top of a mountain is Harbor Mountain. This hairpin mountain road is home to an annual mountain bike race and run, as well as a hiking trail located at the top.
Stroll throughout Sitka’s easily accessible shops and galleries to find unique items to fit a variety of budgets. Traditional Tlingit designs hand-made in silver, totem poles, carvings, masks and woven baskets; Russian lacquer boxes, amber jewelry, nesting dolls, icons and paintings; contemporary Alaskan artwork, sculpture and wearable art; gold nugget and hand-made jewelry; canned smoked salmon or halibut and local wild berry delicacies; all await your discovery in Sitka’s shopping district. A variety of dining styles and meals are available to please anyone’s palate, including authentic wild Alaskan seafood and Northwest cuisine.
In Alaska, where fishing is legendary, Sitka is simply an angler’s paradise. The halibut frequently weigh more than 100 pounds and the salmon are among the biggest in the world. Fishing charters allow visitors to take advantage of the waters surrounding Sitka, boasting the highest King Salmon saltwater catch rate in southeast Alaska. While the deep-sea lure of saltwater fishing is irresistible, freshwater stream and lake fishing are also a popular pasttime. Local processors can smoke or seal any catch, readying it for your return home. Whether rod and reel or fly-fishing is your style, Sitka is a fisherman’s dream.
Sitka abounds with year-round wildlife. An ocean tour provides a means to capture on film one of the world’s most striking assemblies of marine wildlife: humpback whales, sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, seabird rookeries and, occasionally, orcas and porpoises.
Baranof Island, located in the heart of the Tongass National Forest, provides cover for brown bear, mountain goat and Sitka black-tailed deer. Located at the mouth of Sitka Sound, St. Lazaria Island, part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, is home to hundreds of thousands of seabirds in summer. Bald eagles can be seen year-round, but the Alaska Raptor Center offers an up-close encounter with the majestic eagle, as well as other raptor species. The center combines veterinary expertise and volunteer efforts to nurse injured or sick birds of prey back to health.