Rich in history, with stunning vistas and majestic wildlife, there is a wealth of breathtaking things to do in Sitka Alaska. It’s truly a gem in the Alaskan Southeast.
Wondering what to do in Sitka Alaska? Thee’s something to do for everyone, ranging from the history buff to the outdoor enthusiast, Sitka is most certainly a place the whole family can enjoy!
Sitka, Alaska: The Basics
Located on the western coastline of Baranof Island in the Alexander Archipelago, Sitka is a city in Alaska that is home to about 8 640 people. Air and sea are the only methods of access to the city.
Initially inhabited by the Tlingit native people, Sitka has a rich and diverse history. Sitka boasts an impressive 22 sites featured in the National Register of Historic Places.
Russians joined the Tlingit people and placed their own mark upon the land. Aleksandr Baranof was the first Russian governor of Alaska, and Baranof Island was named in his honor.
Sitka itself was established in 1804 when Baranov relocated the headquarters of the Russian-American Company there from Kodiak.
When the US purchased Alaska from Russia in the late 1860s, the transfer ceremony occurred in Sitka, which in turn became Alaska’s first capital.
During WWII, Sitka was host to a naval air base, which increased the population to more than four-fold of what it is today. The US Coast Guard now utilizes the base.
What Is Special About Sitka, Alaska?
Sitka, Alaska, offers stunning vistas of Mount Edgecumbe, a historically active volcano. Sitka’s history is certainly something to write home about, from its fascinating Tlingit heritage to its Russian roots.
The southern part of Baranof Island comprises a segment of the Tongass National Forest, which is the largest national forest in the US. Close to the borders of the Tongass National Forest, a habitat for bears called Fortress of the Bear offers unparalleled views of three types of these majestic creatures.
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There are many ways to pass a pleasant day in Sitka, chief among them visiting the Russian Bishop’s House, the oldest surviving Russian building in Sitka. These historic sites are aplenty in Sitka, which, paired with its natural wonder, makes it truly a magical place.
What To Do In Sitka Alaska In A day
A delightful day in Sitka can be spent visiting the two wildlife centers and then going to meet native Tlingit and watch their storytelling and dancing performances.
Wildlife Activities: Fortress of the Bear
Another excellent way to spend a few hours is to visit the wildlife rehabilitation centers. The Fortress of the Bear, as previously mentioned, is a bear sanctuary about 5 miles from the center of Sitka. This fantastic organization cares for bears that are orphaned or become sick. You can find several independent excursions for this sanctuary.
Tours last around 30 minutes, and you are welcome to linger a little longer to view the bears on your own and visit the souvenir shop. There is also a coffee shop. Just note that this sanctuary is closed from November to March for the hibernation of the bears.
Note that there is a $15 entry fee for adults and $5 for youth from 8-18. Kids 7 and under enter for free.
Wildlife Activities: Alaska Raptor Center
Near the center of Sitka, the Alaska Raptor Center resides, where around 200 birds receive medical treatment yearly. Raptors are the focus, but all birds are helped. Birds that will not be able to be released are used as Raptors-in-Residence.
The Center was established in 1980, starting with one bald eagle and slowly but surely expanding until 1991, when it moved to its present location. Raptors-in-Residence like owls, falcons, hawks and bald and golden eagles are used for teaching purposes.
During an excursion to the Alaska Raptor Center, you will learn about the Center’s rehabilitation program that assists hundreds of birds each year, and you’ll be able to see the raptors up close.
Please note that there is a $15 admission fee. Children aged 12 and under are charged $6—children five and under may enter for free.
Explore Indigenous Tlingit Culture
Immerse yourself in the Tlingit culture at the Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Tribal Community House. This half-hour performance includes five traditional songs and a story. There is also a gift shop here with stunning Tlingit artwork for sale. It’s definitely a good way to spend an hour; it is worth the $10 per adult and $5 per child.
Top Historical Attractions
You can visit the Russian Bishop’s House which has been restored to its former glory. Within walking distance is St Michael’s Cathedral, which was North America’s first Russian Orthodox church and was rebuilt after a fire occurred in 1966.
The Russian Bishop’s House is part of Sitka National Historical Park, which preserves the site of a battle between the Tlingit and the Russian traders who wanted the land for themselves. The inordinately interesting Tlingit totem poles mark the park’s entrance.
You can get a tour of the Sitka National Historic Park, which will enlighten you on Sitka’s early history. The park museum also includes 1167 E.W. Merrill glass plate negatives, illustrative of the early 20th century Sitka.
The Sheldon Jackson Museum is the creation of Reverend Doctor Sheldon Jackson, who traveled widely with his aim to spread Christianity throughout the US in the late 1800s. Along the way, Jackson collected artifacts from all around, and the museum was founded as a result.
There is an extensive collection in the museum of Aleut, Athabascan, Eskimo, and Northwest Coast cultures. The museum features jewelry, carvings, tools, boats, clothing, totem poles, and toys. If you’re looking for, more specifically, Sitka history, the Sitka History Museum serves just that purpose.
Near the Sheldon Jackson Museum is the Sitka Sound Science Centre, which consists of a hatchery, an aquarium, and a field station. The aquarium even has touch tanks where you can touch a starfish, anemone, or even an urchin. A 15-foot killer whale skeleton also graces the Science Center.
More Activities in Sitka For Families
The Tongass National Forest is home to 700 miles of trails and has hiking trails for all fitness levels. You can visit the Sitka Ranger District Office for maps and information about hiking trails in and around Sitka.
Another great activity for families is kayaking. You can rent a kayak yourself or join a guided tour that includes kayaking instruction. You might even be lucky enough to see humpback whales and sea otters!
If you don’t feel like the exercise, you can relax in a private yacht or a sea vessel for your own whale-watching tour.
Between September and January, Whale Park is a great place to view whales from the land and is a cheaper alternative to boat tours. The park has a picnic area, a boardwalk, and free viewing binoculars.
While it may be a small town, you’re sure to find an abundance of things for your family to do in Sitka Alaska. Whether you’re taking in its majestic natural beauty, or visiting historical and cultural attractions, you’re sure to make lasting memories of Alaska in Sitka.