The best Tourist Attractions in Sitka, Alaska

The best Tourist Attractions in Sitka, Alaska

The best Tourist Attractions in Sitka, Alaska

Sitka has such a rich legacy of Native, Russian and American artifacts and traditions that this town of 9,000 people has 19 listings on the National Register of Historic Places. But don’t spend all your time touring historic buildings also has an abundance of wildlife. Humpback whales frolic in the bay. 

Sheltered by Mt. Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano rising 3,200 ft/975 m from the Pacific Ocean, Sitka is the ancestral home of the Tlingit people. In the 1800s, the town was also Russia’s major Pacific port and headquarters of the Russian-American Co. The Russians sold Alaska to the U.S. in 1867. (At the time, the deal was often referred to as “Seward’s folly” and the state as “Seward’s icebox.”)

1. The best Attractions & Things to Do in Sitka, Alaska

Harrigan Centennial Hall  in Sitka, Alaska

The town’s diverse heritage is visible everywhere from the onion-shaped dome of the Russian Cathedral to the old totems that line the walking trails through the Sitka Historic National Park. You can take a guided historical walking tour, offered by Sitka Tours. Or just follow the walking-tour map available at the Harrigan Centennial Hall visitors center. 

Isabel Miller Museum in Sitka, Alaska

Take time to visit the Isabel Miller Museum in Centennial Hall. The museum contains a scale model of Sitka as it looked in 1867, when the U.S. bought Alaska from Russia. The New Archangel Dancers (Russian folk dancers) and the Sheet’Ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Dancers (Native dancers) perform regularly in the building.There are exhibits on Tlingit culture and a gift shop.  Outside, you can admire a hand-carved. 50-ft/15-m canoe a replica of the ones used by the Tlingits for special ceremonies.

St. Michael’s Cathedral in Sitka, Alaska

In the heart of town is St. Michael’s Cathedral, whose onion dome and cross-topped steeple symbolize Sitka’s Russian history. Though the original building, built in the 1840s, burned in 1966, it was rebuilt according to the original designs. The interior is dark and sparsely furnished (churchgoers stand during the service), but it contains several treasures, including a tabernacle made by Faberge and icons painted by Russian artists. 

Russian Blockhouse in Sitka, Alaska

Nearby are two other sites that are probably of interest only to serious students of Russian history. the Russian Blockhouse, a replica of the blockhouse that separated the Russian and Tlingit sections of town in the early 1800s, and the Russian Cemetery, which contains the grave of Princess Maksoutoff, the wife of Alaska’s last Russian governor. Both sites are located on Katlian Street, behind the Pioneers Home.

Totem Square in Sitka, Alaska

Across from the home is Totem Square, which contains an old Russian cannon and a totem pole with a double-headed eagle, symbolizing Sitka’s Russian heritage, that was carved by a local artist. If it’s a clear day, consider climbing Castle Hill, now a state park near Totem Square. The hilltop was the home of the first Russian governor; it’s also the site where Alaska was officially transferred from Russia to the U.S. in 1867. About all that’s there now are some stone walls, but the sweeping views of the sound make climbing all those steps (100, we think) more than worth it.

Sitka National Historic Park in Sitka, Alaska

Farther east, on the way to the Sitka National Historic Park, is the Sheldon Jackson Museum. The oldest museum in Alaska, it has one of the state’s best collections of Native artifacts. The items, many of which belonged to Sheldon Jackson, a missionary in the late 1800s, include dogsleds and umiaks (Eskimo boats) as well as Native carvings and clothing. 

Whale Park in Sitka, Alaska

About 6 mi/10 km south of downtown is Whale Park, one of the best places on land to view the giants of the sea in the spring and fall. Also south of town are the ruins of Japonski Island’s bunkers and gunning sites. The island was the headquarters for U.S. military forces based in Sitka during World War II.

Sitka National Historic Park

Sitka is surrounded by natural beauty, and because the city is small it doesn’t take much effort to get out in the woods. Our favorite place for a leisurely walk is the Sitka National Historic Park, which is less than a mile east of the pier.

Sitka National Historic Park

Stop first at the park’s visitors center where there are displays of Russian and Native Alaskan artifacts and demon strations of Native crafts when we were there, a silversmith was etching an eagle on a bracelet and wood carvers were working on totem poles

Louisiana Purchase in Sitka, Alaska

A one-mile trail winds through dense second-growth spruce forest along the sound. The first quarter-mile of the trail is dotted with totem poles, many of which are replicas of poles collected for the 1904 celebration of the Louisiana Purchase.  Don’t rush through the park you’ll want to spend time contemplating the intricately carved poles.

Battle of Sitka in Sitka, Alaska

The trail also takes you past the site of the Battle of Sitka between the Russians and Tlingits in 1804 (the Russians won). You’ll also cross a bridge over the Indian River (it was teeming with spawning salmon when we visited). 

Raptor Rehabilitation Center in Sitka, Alaska

From the park, it’s a 10-minute walk on an adjoining trail to the Raptor Rehabilitation Center, where dedicated volunteers and veterinarians nurse injured or sick birds of prey back to health so they can be returned to the wild.  A recent patient was a feisty bald eagle nicknamed Schwarzeneagle, who had suffered a gunshot wound.

Sitka’s challenging mountain trails in Sitka, Alaska

More ambitious hikers or those with more time may want to try one of Sitka’s challenging mountain trails. The U.S. Forest Service Ranger District office north of town sells a guide called Sitka Trails.

Stellar Wildlife and Exploring

 If you don’t take an organized wildlife tour, you may still be able to find someone to take you on a boat ride around the area. Sea otters are abundant, and you can sometimes see humpback whales. Stellar Wildlife and Exploring offers wildlife and whale-watching trips. A wildlife biologist with Sitka’s Secret Charters also gives aquatic tours. Guided kayaking tours are available from Baidarka Boatsand Sitka Ocean Adventures.