Last Updated on February 27, 2023
Sitka is considered Alaska’s most beautiful seaside town where the fish is fresh, culture is celebrated, and wilderness beckons steps from your door.
Perched on Baranof Island, within Alaska’s Inside Passage, Sitka is nestled at the foot of magnificent glacial-carved mountains facing the Pacific Ocean. Thick spruce forests line the perimeter of the coast and the water of the calm Sitka Sound glimmers under the vast Alaskan sky.
Walking the streets of Sitka, you may find it hard to believe that this quiet coastal community was once a hub for the West Coast. Originally settled by the native Tlingit tribe over 10,000 years ago, they ceded control to Russian fur traders in the early 19th century after several fierce battles. It was then that this area was designated the capital of Russian America and named New Archangel.
Even after the Russians sold Alaska to America in 1867, their influence lives on. The blend of Russian and Tlingit past gives the city a unique feel.
Whether you are visiting Sitka on a cruise shore excursion or more extended visit, you will find plenty of sights and activities to enrich your stay in Alaska’s oldest and fourth-largest city.
- Sitka Historical Park–Totem Park
- Alaska Raptor Center
- Fortress of the Bear
- World-Class Fishing
- The Best Trails for Hiking in Sitka
- Dining With a View in Sitka
- St. Michaels Cathedral
- Russian Bishops House
- Sheldon Jackson Museum
- Sitka Sound Science Center
- Baranof Castle State Historic Site
- Island Artists Gallery Cooperative
Sitka Historical Park–Totem Park
A visit to Sitka isn’t complete without a walk through the Sitka National Historical Park. As you walk through the temperate rainforest along the one-mile trail, you’ll see the gorgeous Haida and Tlingit totem poles standing along the coastal path. The park also preserves the battle site between the indigenous Tlingit people and Russian traders who invaded the land.
The visitor center provides impressive exhibits and interpretive areas with resident artists and guided ranger tours.
Alaska Raptor Center
For decades, the Alaska Raptor Center has served as a rehabilitation center, housing raptors, and other birds in need from across the state. The only full-service avian hospital in Alaska, the center treats and releases bald eagles and others back into the wild. Their mission is to educate the public on raptors and conservation and further bald eagle research.
Visitors can watch bald eagles soar around the Flight Training Center and feast on locally-sourced fish. You’ll get close encounters with the owls, ravens, and the protected bald eagle, while learning about them from the knowledgeable and professional staff.
Wander a quarter-mile trail to experience the diverse Southeast Alaska habitat in the form of marshy muskeg, temperate rainforest, and a river system where salmon run upstream to spawn.
Fortress of the Bear
A little farther from the center of town is Fortress of the Bear, an educational rescue center that brings in orphaned bears from all over the state of Alaska. The long-term goal is to pioneer a rehabilitation-and-release program for the State of Alaska where, one day, orphaned cubs can be returned to their natural home in the wilderness.
The creatively re-engineered and repurposed abandoned facility allows you to view native brown and black bears in their natural habitat from a viewing platform above, and hear from passionate and knowledgeable naturalists about the large mammal. A trip through the Fortress gift shop lets you comb the shelves for teddy bears, jewelry, t-shirts, and more, all patterned with art created by Alaskan artists.
Whether you prefer saltwater or freshwater fishing, Sitka has everything you need to experience the adventure of a lifetime. The waterways, inlets, and rivers throughout the Tongass National Forest offer some of the best cold-water fishing. Halibut, rockfish, and lingcod can be caught offshore in the rich waters, as well as all five species of Pacific salmon–the most prized being the king salmon.
Sitka offers a variety of fishing options from a few hours on the water to multi-day packages. Subject to restrictions, some airlines permit passengers to bring the catch home in frozen, leak-proof containers.
The Best Trails for Hiking in Sitka
With over 50 miles of maintained trails in and around Sitka, there is no shortage of hiking opportunities. My top three picks are:
Sitka’s Cross Trail is a broad, accessible, gravel trail perfect for year-round walking and biking. Benches can be found frequently along the trail, allowing visitors to sit back, take in, and enjoy Sitka’s mountains and multiple ecosystems. Rated easy.
The Beaver Lake/Herring Cove Trail Loop is a popular trail loop that skirts Beaver Lake with vistas of nearby rugged mountains and muskeg ecosystems. Docks, picnic pads, and fishing platforms are available for use at Beaver Lake. Rated moderate.
Mosquito Cove Trail follows the beach and forest fringe along Mosquito Cove before curving back through the forested hillside. It offers excellent views of the dynamic coastline. The Mosquito Cove Trail is a gravel-paved trail with some wooden stairs, excellent for bird watching. Rated moderate.
Dining With a View in Sitka
Ludvig’s Bistrois, is where rich, rustic Mediterranean dishes are infused with Alaska’s finest fresh seafood locally harvested from the pure waters of Sitka Sound. The chef mixes the elegance of fine dining with a flair of exotic cuisine. Tucked unassumingly along Sitka’s historic Katlian Street, it has stellar views of the town’s bustling harbor.
Chef and owner Colette Nelson spent three summers salmon fishing in the Gulf of Alaska where she fell in love with knowing where her food came from. Chef Nelson enjoys combining her passion for cooking with her advocacy for fishing. The seafood paella is to die for.
Open May through September, it is a popular place. Plan ahead and make a reservation as seating is limited.
Ludvig’s Chowder Cartis located next to the Sitka Sound Science Center. The little sandwich and gift shop sits on the waterfront near the Totem Park. The clam chowder is fantastic. The chowder is spicy (the magic ingredient being chorizo) and loaded with fresh and tender clams; it’s so flavorful it will make you want to lick the bowl. You can sit outdoors at a picnic table overlooking the sound while you eat. You will want to linger long after the chowder is gone.
St. Michaels Cathedral
In the heart of town, St. Michael’s Cathedral, with its green onion domes and golden crosses, rises over all other buildings. Built in 1848, the Orthodox cathedral is a fitting symbol for the town as the first Russian church built in America.
The current building is an exact replica of the original that was destroyed by fire in 1966.
Fortunately, the townspeople were able to save most of the precious Russian icons and artifacts inside.
Russian Bishops House
The Russian Bishops House, part of the Sitka National Historical Park, is one of the few buildings left standing from Russia’s brief colonization of North America. This log structure was originally part of the Russian Orthodox Church, the home and office of the first bishop of Alaska.
Today, visitors can take a free tour of the restored building to see what it was like to live in Sitka during the Russian-American period.
Sheldon Jackson Museum
This small museum in the old college building showcases a range of stunning historical artifacts from Alaska, including totems, masks, baskets, and traditional clothing.
Most of the collection was donated by Rev. Dr. Sheldon Jackson, a Presbyterian missionary who made annual trips to Alaska in the 1890s. During this time, he collected more than 5,000 items, many of which can be seen in the museum. Highlights include a Tlingit dugout canoe and the black argillite carvings, which are part of the collection of material from the Northwest Coast Indians of Alaska.
Sitka Sound Science Center
The Sitka Sound Science Center is a non-profit marine learning and research facility, housed in the historic Sage Memorial Building. Located on the waterfront of Crescent Bay within the National Historic Landmark District, it is dedicated to the education and research of Alaska’s terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
Today it is home to an aquarium showing off diverse creatures that thrive in the local waters, a wet lab, an onsite fish hatchery, and a library. The Science Center is a fantastic place to learn, have fun, and see new things!
Baranof Castle State Historic Site
The Baranof Castle State Historic Site is a National Historic Landmark and State Park. The hill, providing a commanding view over the city, is the historic site of Tlingit and Russian forts. Later, Russian Buildings occupied the site, including Baranof’s Castle, home to the Russian Governor.
In 1867, this was the location where Russian Alaska was formally handed over to the United States, and where the 49-star U.S. flag was first flown after Alaska became a state in 1959.
The area is more of a hilltop park than a castle; however, the location is a landmark for Alaska and today flies the flags of both the United States and Alaska.
Island Artists Gallery Cooperative
Owned by a cooperative of local artists, the Island Artist Gallery shows many excellent examples of locally produced art for viewing and selling. There is a broad range of creations from more than 20 artists, including scenic photographs, handmade jewelry, fine art, and wooden- and clay-sculpted masks.
If you are looking for an authentic souvenir of your travels to Sitka, the Artist collective provides an excellent opportunity to find home-quality handmade items from your Alaskan adventure.