Sitka, Alaska, is one of the region’s less traveled and most beautiful destinations. Its located on the outer coasts of Alaska, on Baranof island southeast of the state. This seaside town holds interesting and important history as well as an intriguing cultural diversity.
Surrounded by the Tongass National Rain forest and facing island-studded waters of Sitka Sound. Not forgetting the gorgeous view of Mt. Edgecumbe sitting right across the sound, Sitka is blessed with beauty beyond expression.
Cruisers can enjoy a wide variety of things in Sitka, from culture, history, nature, and wildlife. Are you cruising to Sitka and don’t know what to do? Then check out these 18 things to enjoy in Sitka, Alaska.
Sitka Cruise Port
Cruise ships visiting Sitka, dock at the Old dock at Halibut Point, 5 miles outside Sitka town. From here shuttles are available to take you into town where they stop at Harrigan Centennial Hall.
If your ship anchors offshore, you get tendered into town. The tender drops you off at Harrigan Centennial Hall, where there are restrooms, a tourism information desk, and free high-speed Wi-Fi.
You can read more details about the port right here.
During summer, this Hall showcases Alaska native dance performances (check it out if you can). If you have booked an excursion with a local tour company, this is where the tour starts from.
Sitka is very walkable. Just take Lincoln Street where all the historic places are within walking distance.
1. Take a Tour of the Town
Sitka has a small historically rich town area that is easily explored by foot. The concentration of historic sites is in the central town area.
Lincoln Street is the major street that cuts across most of the town’s historical landmarks. Walk along this street and visit St. Michaels Cathedral, an old Russian church that will stun you with its architecture, history, and importance.
Then pass by the Sheet’khan community and learn something about Sitka music. Along the way explore the Russian Bishop’s house and pop into the Sheldon Jackson Museum to learn a thing or two about the Tlingit people and the history of Sitka.
You can do this tour on your own but a guided tour offers a lot of information you otherwise wouldn’t learn by yourself. So, if you are looking for a more detailed tour and discovering the island’s hidden and intriguing stories, a guided walking tour of the town might do this trick. Here are some tour operators.
2. Visit the Tlingit Clan House
Tlingit Indians are the original inhabitants of Alaska. They were grouped into clans. A nice place to experience their history, culture, and heritage come alive is at the Tlingit Clan House.
This place showcases a culturally-rich, live-music-performance done by the different tribes of the island. Here the Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Dancers perform a set of native Alaskan dances. A detailed explanation of each dance if offered before it commences.
The hall is also filled with delightful scents of burned cedar to enhance the experience. Enjoy the atmosphere and the amazing drum beats.
In the end, you might even get a chance to join in on a dance around the fire pit. The clan house itself is beautifully designed and has the largest hand-carved screen in all of Alaska.
3. Admire the Icons in St. Michael’s Cathedral
St Michael’s Cathedral located downtown Sitka along Lincoln street is perhaps the most popular landmark in Sitka. Denoted by green domes and golden crosses, the small compact church is actually much more spacious and beautiful on the inside.
The church is of high significance in the history of the region being the first Orthodox church to be built in America in 1848 by St. Innocent. Inside the well-preserved church are numerous beautiful icons.
St. Michael still holds live services and is a good place to visit and learn the history of the church while exploring and taking in the beauty of the place. You can also enjoy a sermon there. There is a $5 entry charge.
4. More Icons and Art at the Russian Bishops House
While still on Lincoln street, combine the visit to St. Michael’s Cathedral with a tour of the Russian Bishop’s house located at the junction of Lincoln and Monastery streets. This house was built for the Russian bishop of St. Michaels Cathedral in 1843. It has two storeys and a schoolhouse.
The Russian Bishop’s House is the perfect example of Russian Colonial Architecture in Alaska. Its interior is intricately designed and full of great art exhibits, showcasing paintings, icons, and artifacts. You can also take a guided tour of the upstairs to see the beautifully furnished rooms and more art. The guided tours are done half hourly.
Being a national historic landmark run by the National Historic Park, this house is free to visit and tour.
5. Sheldon Jackson Museum
Visit the first concrete building of Alaska which houses the Sheldon Jackson Museum on Lincoln Street. This 1985 Museum is located between Harrigan Hall and the national park.
Started by Dr. Rev. Sheldon Jackson in 1885, the museum features a large collection of artifacts from original native inhabitants of Alaska, and the Northwest Coast cultures. The museum has interesting exhibits of masks, toys, tools, boats, carvings, garments, and many things used by the original inhabitants of Alaska. It charges a $7 entrance fee.
6. Wander About at the National Historic Park
Visit the oldest national historic park in Alaska at Sitka National Park. This 113-acre park was launched to commemorate the battle for Sitka that took place in 1804. It commemorates both the Russians and Tlingit people who battled for Sitka at the site.
The main attractions in Sitka National Park are twenty totem poles erected around the park. Other attractions include the intriguing visitor center where you can learn more about the history of the Tlingit and Russians.
A favorite past time here is to hike the parks nature trails. There are a couple of hiking trails, the Russian memorial loop, the totem pole trail, and the river view trail. You can take self-tours or guided tours to enjoy an in-depth explanation of the park’s flora and fauna. Sitka National Historic Park charges $4 entrance fee.
7. Hike the Harbour Mountain Trail
Enjoy incredible views of Sitka up Harbour Mountain. The Harbour Mountain Trail located 4-miles from Halibut Point near where cruise ships dock is the place to go for the best views of the island.
The trail is 6-miles long and well maintained in the lower sections. Gravel is spread out on the trail from the start to the picnic areas at the top. You can hike or drive to the picnic area then hike the rest of the way to the peak. Expect to have beautiful views of Sitka Sound and the numerous islands on it. Or great views of the town below.
There are observation decks, picnic benches, tables, a parking lot and shelter at least 2.5-miles up the mountain. The hike can be moderately challenging and gains altitude fast, rising to about 2000-feet above sea level.
However, it’s well worth it. At the top, you can take the flat wooden staircase of Gavan Hill Trail back to Baranof street near the marketplace.
Hiking this beautiful Alpine South East Alaska will be one of your highlights of visiting Sitka Alaska.
8. Watch Whales from the Whale Park
Whale park located 6-miles south of downtown Sitka is another great attraction especially from September to December. Here you can go watch humpback whales under the comfort of a gazebo picnic area.
The gazebo has spotting scopes where you can check out Humpback whales on their way to Hawaii to calve. You can also be regaled by the songs of whales at the Hydrophone. Or snap a pic or two while riding, sliding, sitting or just by the whale sculptures in the park.
9. Go Fishing
Sitka has arguably the best fishing in Alaska. It’s positioning on the inside passage and on the outer coast makes this town an anglers paradise. The waters of Sitka Sound are fertile with Baitfish in the summer which attracts king and silver salmon.
On a fishing trip from Sitka, you can expect to catch plenty of king salmon in June and a huge catch of silver salmon in August. In between, you will catch halibuts, rockfish, and lingcod. Fishing on Sitka sound surrounded by ice-capped mountains and wonderful vistas of the Alaska wilderness also makes for a pleasant outing.
Check out some of the most highly recommended fish charters here.
10. Marine Tours
Explore Sitka’s beautiful scenery on a marine wildlife excursion. There is plenty of marine life to explore in Sitka including sea lions, sea otters, seals, whales, porpoises and over 200 bird species.
Charter a luxury catamaran sail on the waters of Sitka and experience a guided tour around the island, learning a great deal about the North Pacific’s marine life and the surrounding wilderness. You can book such an excursion by clicking here.
11. Go Sea Kayaking
Sitka is probably the best place to do sea kayaking in the entire world. The island-studded waters of Sitka provide a scenic and interesting environment to see various kinds of wildlife from breaching whales to bears, bald eagles above and jellyfish beneath.
Most cruise lines offer this three-hour excursion as well as local tour companies. Your trip involves taking a motorboat out to a floating kayak cabin, where you are issued with all the necessary equipment and then your adventure starts.
Kayaking Sitka Bay is probably one of the most tranquil experiences ever had. Enjoy the beautiful scenery of the surrounding mountains and the soothing calmness of the still waters.
12. Taste Sitka
Alaska is no doubt the place to enjoy the best Salmon and Sitka probably offers the best of the best. Sitka waters are fertile ground for various species of salmon. There is nowhere else in Alaska where there are such huge numbers of this fish.
Dining in Sitka gives you a variety of fish and seafood dishes. From gourmet seafood dishes to smoked salmon, king crab, clam chowder and reindeer hot dogs. Enjoying the taste of Sitka can be a highlight of your trip there.
Right at the cruise ship is Halibut Point Crab and Chowder but one of the most recommended restaurants in Sitka is Ludvig’s Bistro. Their clam chowder is a must try. They have a stand at the Mill Building and Harrigan Centennial Hall if you are pressed for time.
Sitka is a land of diverse cultures and has many keepsakes to remember the place by. From Tlingit silver work, masks, carvings, garments to Russian icons, nesting dolls, and lacquer boxes — the variety of souvenirs in Sitka is incredible.
You can also carry home food items such as salmon, other fish cuts and berries. Shopping outlets are available at the cruise ship dock, and in every museum, park or site that you visit. This way you can carry a part of Sitka home.
14. Observe Bears at Fortress of the Bear
One of the most popular places to visit while in Sitka is Fortress of the Bear. This rescue park for orphaned brown and black bears is set against the beautiful Tongass National Rain Forest on a ¾ acre piece of land.
Here you get to see bears in a naturalized environment, as they play, feed, swim and sleep. The Fortress has raised, covered observation decks where you can watch this bold-beautiful animal in its habitat.
There are guides who give plenty of information about the bears, how they are rescued, their behaviors and more.
Fortress of the bear is 5-miles from the town center and there are bus shuttles to drop you off. City busses charge $2. The park is not govt funded and relies on donations to keep the place going. Adults are charged $15, children $5 and it’s free for kids under 7years.
15. Explore History at the Baranof Castle State Historic Site
This historical site otherwise known as Castle Hill has seen three exchanges of government, from the Tlingit who were the original inhabitants of Alaska, to the Russians who occupied Alaska between 1804 and 1867 and finally to the United States of America the current residing government.
This is the most historically important point in all of Alaska. Here is where the Alaskan Flag was first flown in 1867 after the Russians handed over the island to America in a historic event. The event involved the lowering of one flag (Russian) and raising of another (American).
This site is easily accessible on a walking tour of Sitka. It’s found on Harbour Road behind the town’s business center. The views up the hill alone are worth the visit. Learn plenty of interesting historical facts about the place which was used as a fort by both the Tlingit Indians and Russians.
The hill has an ascending walkway accessible even by wheelchairs. There are plaques at the top describing the history of the area.
16. Sitka Sound Science
Visit Sitka Sound Science near the Jackson museum. Sitka Sound Science Centre is where you can learn about the marine life of the sound.
They have three large touch tanks, where you can touch large starfish, sea cucumbers, sea anemones, and sea urchins. They also have a salmon hatchery where they offer an interesting talk about how and why salmon is hatched. Another interesting resident of this small marine center is the large Octopus housed in an aquarium.
It’s a nice place to learn about the marine habitat of Sitka and the terrestrial aspects of the land as well. Admission is $7 adults, $5 kids and free for kids under 3.
17. See Bald Eagles at Alaska Raptor Centre
Visit the Alaska Raptor Centre found at the edge of Tongass National Rainforest, some 20-minutes away from town. This park rehabilitates injured birds of prey such as Eagles, Falcons, Owls, and Hawks. There are other birds too but the main birds of interest are the 4 raptors.
Set in a 17-acre park, the center receives close to 200 sick or injured birds annually. It then nurses them back to health and trains them to fly again. Once a bird is recovered it’s released to the wild in a big event held in May and September.
Those birds whose injuries were too severe and can’t return to the wild are made permanent residents of the center. So far there are 25 permanent residents at the Raptor Centre who help to educate about birds.
Go observe the bald eagle in its environment or wonder at the full-head-rotation of owls. You will learn all the birds flying, feeding and nesting behaviors and come out knowing a thing or two about birds of prey.
18. Celebrate Alaska Day in Sitka
If you are lucky enough to be in Sitka during their annual Alaska Day Celebration, then you are in for a treat. Held every 18th Day of October, the Alaska Day celebrations commemorate the handing over of Alaska to America from the Russians in 1867.
This is the day you get to experience the diversity of the town from its various cultures. You get to meet and mingle with the locals in a leisurely festive mood. On this day, a parade comes out showcasing the town’s history, culture, and heritage.
Every business comes out to showcases and often give free samples of their product or service while children choirs and matching bands regal you with entertaining tunes.
Many competitions are also hosted and some of the best are salmon and pie cook-offs. Tip: you get to sample the products. If this sounds like something you would want to experience, then make a point of visiting Sitka during such celebrations.
Your Turn to Enjoy Sitka, Alaska!
There you have it, 18 things to enjoy in Sitka, Alaska. This is not an exhaustive list, you can also go flightseeing, golfing and hunting. The town also has events all year round including music festivals, adventure runs, art camps, food festivals and more.
As they say in Sitka, Curiosity is always encouraged. This statement could not be any truer of Sitka, Alaska. Go enjoy, be curious and let the outside in. That’s it from us here. Happy Cruising!!