Sitka is the only Inside Passage community that fronts the Pacific Ocean, hugging Baranof Island's west shore in the shadow of the impressive Mount Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano with a graceful cone reminiscent of Japan's Mount Fuji.
About Sitka (Tlingit: Sheet'ká)
Located on Sitka Sound, the city of about 9,000 residents is marked by the picturesque remnants of its Russian heritage, including the onion-shaped domes and gold colored crosses of the beloved Saint Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral. The city and borough limits include most of Baranof Island, where the city of Sitka is located, along with south Chichagof Island and many other small, forested islands along the coast.
Although first inhabited by Native Tlingit Indians, Sitka is recognized as the heart of the Russian influence in Alaska. The Russians arrived by 1741 and in 1804 attacked a Tlingit fort. The region’s most famous battle eventually led to the creation of Sitka National Historical Park. Originally established as New Archangel, Sitka became the capital of Russian America in 1808. When Russia sold Alaska to the United States on October 18, 1867, the transfer ceremony took place on Sitka’s Castle Hill.
Things to do
Pick up a map from the Visitor’s Center in Harrigan Centennial Hall offering several walking tours that highlight the city’s history and culture including the Russian Blockhouse, Russian Bishop's House, Princess Maksoutoff’s Grave and Castle Hill to name a few, that date back to the Russian era. There are 22 buildings in Sitka on the National Register of Historic Places, so there’s plenty to see on a walk through town. Downtown features numerous art galleries, a fine bookstore and gift shops, several lodging options, and restaurants with great views and local seafood, all nestled between the mountains and the ocean. The city’s main event during the summer is the Sitka Summer Music Festival.
Centennial Hall, the community’s civic and convention center, is also the venue for the spirited New Archangel Dancers, who perform Russian folk dances using authentic music, choreography and costumes. Sitka National Historical Park features a remarkable collection of totem poles carved by Tlingit and Haida artists that are placed along a well-maintained trail in the forest. Near the park is Sheldon Jackson Museum, one of two official Alaska State Museums. The museum's impressive collection represents many different Alaska Native cultures.
Sitka offers superb hiking with trails that begin in the lush rainforest that surrounds the city and often end up high in the mountains. The Tongass National Forest Sitka Ranger District Office can provide information and maps to more area trails for hiking and camping information. Other popular outdoor activities include kayaking, flightseeing, whale watching, and fishing. Freshwater fly fishing in lakes and rivers, ocean charters for world-class salmon and halibut fishing, and lodges featuring multi-day fishing itineraries can all be found in Sitka.
For the nature lover, Sitka is home to a number of attractions that will amaze and educate visitors. These wildlife-oriented destinations include the Alaska Raptor Center and Fortress of the Bear. The Alaska Raptor Center rehabilitates injured birds and releases them back into the wild. The few who don’t regain flight remain housed at the center and visible to guests. Fortress of the Bear features a three-quarter-acre habitat for orphaned brown bear cubs complete with covered viewing areas.
Getting to Sitka
Sitka is not on the road system and is therefore accessible only by air or boat. Alaska Airlines offers daily flights from Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Ketchikan, and Seattle. In the summer, many visitors arrive in Sitka on large and small cruise ships exploring the Inside Passage. Sitka is also a year-round port of call for the state ferry on the Alaska Marine Highway System.
Staying in Sitka
Several national and locally-owned hotels and inns can be found in and close to downtown Sitka. There’s a variety of specialty lodging including bed & breakfasts, cabins, vacation rentals, and cottages for a more intimate experience. Sitka is also home to a wide selection of oceanfront lodges that offer fishing charters.