Are you planning a day trip to Sitka during a vacation or port visit? No other town in Alaska has Sitka’s charisma. To wander through its historic downtown is to appreciate how three cultures — Tlingit, Russian and American — uniquely mesh together here.
Majestic peaks rising straight from sea level, including the dormant Mt. Edgecumbe volcano, and towering spruce and hemlock forests all provide the backdrop for a community many Alaskans themselves consider the most charming and historic in the state.
For a rare blend of centuries-old history and vibrant cultural highlights, head to the onion-dome spires of St. Michael’s Russian Cathedral (see below) . Or, if you'd like to encounter brown bears, bald eagles and humpback whales in close proximity, Sitka offers a stunning diversity of wildlife — plus some of the finest fishing anywhere in the world! The town also enjoys a rich arts and culinary scene.
Here are six fun things for you to do in Sitka, Alaska:
Discover the Mt. Edgecumbe volcano
The only place to see part of the Pacific ring of fire in Southeast Alaska, dormant Mt. Edgecumbe volcano rises 3,200 feet above Sitka Sound. You can explore with an ATV tour up a nearby cinder cone, check out volcanic caves on an ocean raft adventure, beachcomb miles of black sand beaches, buzz the crater lake via a flightseeing excursion or hike the summit trail with a knowledgeable local guide.
Explore local history
Venture inside the active St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church to discover a remarkable collection of religious art, with pieces believed to date from the 17th century. Then step back in time with a visit to the National Historical Park’s Russian Bishop’s House, one of the only remaining examples of colonial Russian architecture in the Western hemisphere. Looking much like it did at its commencement in 1842 with period furniture and ornate iconography, this building served as the seat of the colonial Russian Orthodox Diocese, which spanned from California to Siberian Kamchatka.
Experience Sitka’s wild side
Are you up for the wild side trifecta? Visit the Alaska Raptor Center to see injured bald eagles being taken care of by trained staff. Discover orphaned brown bears at the Fortress of the Bear Sanctuary. Enjoy aquarium touch-tanks and a working salmon hatchery at Sitka Sound Science Center.
See Alaskan Natives perform
Massive totemic panels stand watch outside the Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi, a theater built in the style of a Tlingit community clan house. Inside, the stage backdrop is fashioned from giant cedar panels that have been adorned with hand-carved totemic designs and painted in traditional colors. A central fire pit and tiered seating creates an unforgettable setting for the Naa Kahidi Dancers, who offer stirring performances of ancient songs and dances of the Tlingit people — you may even learn a bit of the Tlingit language.
Wander through ‘Totem Park’
At Sitka National Historic Park, locally called “Totem Park,” wander through the lush forest along scenic paths where totems depict the rich culture of the Tlingit people. Take guided tours covering topics such as edible and medicinal plants, the lifecycle and traditional uses of various salmon species, and rainforest ecology. Discover the park’s Visitor Center featuring local Native artists along with both ancient and modern displays, and view a fascinating audio-visual presentation on Sitka’s history.
Shop Sitka’s authentic Alaskan Main Street
Sitka boasts all independent, locally owned shops with nary a chain in sight. The tender tinkle of the bell as you enter a quaint mom-and-pop store still happens here from craft knitting and quilting shops to ye old time fountain counter and in-house coffee roasting at one of many local java joints. A wide range of artisan food from sea-salt to locally brewed beer compliments vibrant galleries filled with Made in Sitka items. Sitka is also blessed with a wealth of dining options, many of which serve locally caught wild seafood such as salmon and halibut.
Have any questions? Drop Sherry a line at [email protected]. This article has been updated.