Located on the outer coast of the Alaska Inland Waterway, Sitka is the center of the vast Tongass National Forest.
The blend of Russian and Tlingit pasts gives the city a unique feel, rich in history, and it’s also where the handover ceremony took place after the U.S. purchased Alaska from the Russians.
Only accessible by air or sea, Sitka has a lot to offer its visitors. Upon arrival, you’ll be amazed at the incredible landscape against the backdrop of the deep green of the forest and jagged glacial mountains.
It’s a great place to enjoy the great outdoors, with fishing, hiking, and wildlife watching among the most popular.
But there’s a lot to do. Twenty-two buildings in Sitka are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That alone is amazing. Then add it to the amazing items found in the museum and of course the beautiful totems found here.
With so much to do in this Alaskan seaside town, here are some of the top 15 things to do in Sitka.
1. Sitka Park Totem Park
Blending history with nature, this park is a fun place for everyone.
You can see native totem poles from all over Alaska as well as historical influences from native Tlingit and Russian fur hunters. See the totems up close and stand next to them to admire the intricate artwork.
Then in the visitor center, you’ll learn about the meaning behind the totems and the history that surrounds them.
There are also many hiking trails that you can do in different levels of difficulty. You can even catch a glimpse of salmon leaping in the river, which is an amazing sight.
2. Bear’s Fortress
A rescue center that provides protection and care for orphaned and rescued bears, Bear Castle hopes to educate visitors about these amazing creatures.
The three-quarter-acre habitat next to the Tongass National Forest offers visitors the opportunity to observe the bears that live here from 25 feet away.
Your guide will tell you all about each bear and its personality, so you’ll feel better connected to the animals that live here.
The center tries to keep the environment as natural as possible, so opening hours vary by season, and there are no set feeding times to prevent bears from sticking to the routine.
If you want to observe bears safely in a learning environment, this is definitely a great place to visit.
3. Alaska Raptors Center
Bald Eagle Rescue Center and Hospital, which recovers, releases injured birds and cares for those that cannot be released.
The center provides medical care to up to 200 injured bald eagles and other native birds each year. The center shows how rescue and release efforts in Alaska work.
You’ll get up close and personal with beautiful birds and learn a lot about them from the knowledgeable and professional staff. Trainers will introduce you to different birds such as owls, ravens, eagles and protected bald eagles.
Behind the center, you’ll find a small nature trail, giving you a chance to enjoy the area after your visit.
4. St Michaels Cathedral
The Russian Orthodox Church found on Lincoln Street and Mazotov Street in Sitka is famous for being the first Orthodox cathedral in the New World.
The original building caught fire in 1966, but has been rebuilt as it was, with some structural updates.
Inside the cathedral, however, you’ll still find artifacts, paintings and icons that were rescued from the fire. These are displayed inside the church and are very important from a heritage point of view.
A visit will not only allow you to see a lot of interesting things, but also give you an insight into the Russian history of the town.
5. Sheldon Jackson Museum
This small museum in an old university building on University Drive displays an amazing collection of historical artifacts from Alaska, including totems, masks, baskets, and traditional clothing.
Much of the collection was donated by Rev. Sheldon Jackson, a Presbyterian missionary who traveled annually to Alaska in the 1890s. During this time, he collected more than 5,000 objects, many of which can be seen in the museum today.
Highlights include Tlingit canoes and black mudstone carvings that are part of materials collected by Indians on the northwest coast of Alaska.
6. Russian Bishop’s Palace
Many visitors are surprised how much Russia’s past has influenced Sitka and Alaska today. At the Russian Bishop’s House, you’ll learn about the fascinating history of the city and all of Alaska.
The house is located in Sitka National Park and if you want to make the most of our visit, guided tours are a great way.
On the first floor, you’ll find exhibits dating back to Russian America, including sea otter skins, a teapot, and a replica of a Russian property plaque found in Old Sitka.
The second floor gives you a chance to see what the original house might have looked like. Here you can see the Annunciation Hall, guest rooms, dining room and formal reception room.
7. Sitka Sound Science Center
Alaska has a diverse natural environment that is constantly changing. At the Sitka Sound Science Center, this work is devoted to education and research in Alaska’s terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
Located in the Saints Memorial Building on Lincoln Street, the centre features an aquarium, hatchery and library for visitors to explore.
Learn how salmon is produced in hatcheries and the relationship between commercial fishing and hatcheries today.
Then, the aquarium gives you a hands-on experience with the touch tank, a 60-foot-deep tank to see deep-water marine life and other aquatic habitat exhibits from across Alaska.
If you’re interested in native marine life and want to learn more about research, this might be for you.
8. Baranof Island Brewing Company
This local microbrewery is a great way to sample Sitka’s home-made beers.
They pride themselves on glacier-fed Alaskan water and a delicious blend of malts and hops. This unfiltered recipe will give you a great local tasting beer.
You can find the brewery on Sawmill Creek Road, when you visit keep in mind that it’s just a tasting venue. By law, you can only buy up to 36 ounces of beer per person while at the brewery.
9. Baranov Castle National Historic Site
This historic site is where the American flag was first raised in Alaska in 1867 when the Russian flag was lowered.
The area is more of a hilltop park than a castle, but the area is an Alaskan landmark, and today the flags of the United States and the state of Alaska fly.
Walking to the top of the mountain is also a great way to enjoy the panoramic view of Sitka, which is a great place to take pictures.
10. Herring Bay Trail
Follow the well-marked trail through the woods of Sitka to find your way to Beaver Lake. It’s easy to start off on Sitka Road, but it gets steeper and more difficult as you progress.
For a relatively fit person, the entire hike takes about 2 hours back and forth. This is a great way to go straight into the wilderness from the city.
There’s a chance of encountering wildlife, including bears, so you should be prepared, but loud crowds often prevent them from getting too close.
11. Wildlife Cruise
Alaska is rich in wildlife, and the area around Sitka is no exception. You can choose from a range of tours offered here, most of which have a very ethical take on how to see wildlife and educate visitors.
Whale watching is a popular tour where you will see amazing marine life in their natural habitat, as well as native birds. If you are an avid wildlife photographer, you will be very pleased with the sights you see here.
Many tourists like to combine their boat tour with a visit to the aforementioned centers for a full day tour.
12. Island Artists Gallery
Co-owned by 25 local artists, the Island Artists Gallery showcases a selection of locally made art for viewing and sale.
A range of different objects are on display, including landscape photographs, handmade jewellery, light catchers and masks carved from wood and clay.
If you are looking for authentic souvenirs of your Sitka trip, this is a great place to start. You’ll find art galleries and shops on Lincoln Street in Sitka.
13. Kayaks and Canoes
You can really get as close to nature as possible when you canoe or kayak on the rivers, lakes or shores near Sitka.
Either visit or rent a boat and go on an adventure. If you decide to go alone, make sure you listen to all the advice and that you know exactly where you are going and your route.
With a guide or group, you’ll be safer and less likely to get lost, but whatever you decide to explore, you’re sure to see some amazing sights.
14. Alaska Native Fraternity Hall
Native Americans tell their cultural stories through dance and gesture and candidly tell guests about their traditions.
You can watch traditional dances performed by Tlingit families of all generations, and the presentations are informative and entertaining.
These stories offer an alternative history, from the perspective of the Alaskan Natives who inhabited the land, before Europeans, Russians, and Americans claimed sovereignty. These demos, while hilariously endearing, will give you a good message of what really happened here in the past.
15. Starrigavan Play Area
Get out of the wilderness and hike one of the two hiking trails found here, the Ben Grussendorf Trail and the Mosquito Cove Trail.
This area offers some of Sitka’s most famous incredible views, lush rainforest, beautiful ocean views and natural wildlife.
It’s also a great place to camp if you want to spend more time outdoors during the warmer months. On your hike, you’ll have the chance to see bears, wild salmon and eagles soaring overhead.
If you’re looking to get out of town for a few days, camping at the Starrigavan Recreation Area is a great way to explore Sitka’s great outdoors.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Sitka, Alaska (AK)
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