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Sitting in southeast Alaska where the the panhandle plunges into British Columbia, seaside Sitka is a quaint destination spread across several islands in the Inside Passage. Sculpted by nature, the city is famous for its stunning landscape featuring verdant forests and snow-capped mountains—most notably Mount Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano roughly 16 miles (26 km) off the coast of downtown. The city itself has an undeniable charm, with well-preserved remnants from its both its Russian Alaskan and Native American heritage. Outside of town in Tongass National Forest, the majority of Sitka is uninhabited, save for a small number of cabins that are only accessible by floatplane or boat.
Downtown — Though home to less 9,000 people, the city of Sitka boasts dozens of attractions, from historic sites and museums to aquariums and zoos. In downtown, on and around Lincoln Street, find the Sheldon Jackson Museum, Sitka Sound Science Center, and Baranof Castle Historic Site, the hill upon which Alaska was officially transferred from Russia to the United States. Down the street, the city’s history as Russian Alaska’s former capital can be felt at the 19th-century Russian Bishop’s House, one of the few surviving examples of Russian colonial architecture in all of North America. Just as important to the city’s heritage is the culture of the Tlingit people, and wooden totem poles from the indigenous group can be seen throughout Sitka National Historical Park. While small, downtown is home to a tempting selection of shopping and dining options, with unique boutiques selling one-of-a-kind treasures and a mix of rustic restaurants, old-timey saloons, and international cuisine. Sitka also boasts a thriving arts scene, with galleries, festivals, and stage shows held at the Sitka Performing Arts Center. Roughly 5 miles (8 km) east of downtown, the Fortress of the Bear is an educational rescue center for hurt and orphaned bears. From March through October, during non-hibernation months, guests can observe the personalities of these distinctive bears while learning about the center’s efforts from a naturalist guide.
Halibut Point Recreation Site — 5 miles (8 km) north of downtown, the Halibut Point Recreation Site is exactly that—a place with picnic shelters, rocky beach, a half-mile (.8-km) hiking trail, and sites to catch fishing charters out into the sound. Just up Granite Creek Road, the Sea Mountain Course offers golf aficionados 9 regulation holes and a driving range.
Kruzof Island — To the west of downtown in Sitka Sound, Kruzof Island is an unspoiled piece of land and home to the Mount Edgecumbe volcano. Accessible only by water taxi from the Sitka harbor, a trail takes you up a steep slope to the summit for breathtaking views over Sitka and into the impressive crater. A complete roundtrip hike can take anywhere between 8 to 12 hours, so visitors should plan accordingly. While the rest of the island is uninhabited, overnight accommodation can be arranged in advance at Fred’s Creek Cabin, located just 50 yards from the trailhead.
Tongass National Forest — Spanning 17 million acres (6.9 million ha), Tongass is the largest national forest in the US, running from the top of the panhandle to the southeast end of the state. Made mostly of temperate rainforest, the area is filled with fjords, glaciers, mountains, muskegs, and waterfalls. Numerous hiking trails are accessible from Sitka roads such as Sawmill Creek and Indian River. Throughout the forest, find an abundance of wildlife including brown bears, mountain goats, and black-tailed deer.
Scope out the most majestic sights of Sitka and its surrounding landscape on a spectacular sightseeing flight aboard a seaplane. From a dock on Japonski Island, soar into the air over glistening icefields and verdant forests filled with hemlock and spruce. In a window seat, marvel at bird’s-eye views of ancient glaciers and granite mountains, swooping low over the cliffs to catch sight of mountain goats and bears. Snap photos of the glassy waters of an alpine lake or an emerald fjord before touching back down at the dock.
Uncover the city’s most amazing natural sights with a wildlife boat tour through Sitka Sound. Numerous companies near the harbor offer customized tours that bring you close to the city’s most famous residents in their natural environment. See silly sea otters, soaring eagles, humpback whales, and Steller sea lions. Cruise around the island of St. Lazaria Wildlife Refuge to scope out puffins, cormorants, and peregrine falcons nesting on the volcanic rocks.
For even more adventure, embark on a guided kayaking tour through the pristine waterways around Sitka’s islands, or choose to rent a bike at the cycle shop for a ride over rugged roads to enjoy ocean views. If you feel the need for speed, Sitka Alaska Outfitters offers thrilling ATV tours through the forest on Kruzof Island. Opt to pair your ride with time for fly fishing or an expert-led hike to the mountain’s crater.
To gain a better understanding of the city’s rich history, pay a visit to the eclectic Sitka Historical Museum to see artifacts, art, and archival documents. At the Sheldon Jackson Museum, the oldest museum in Alaska, exhibits feature everything from native drawings and pottery to old weapons and tools. The city’s unique culture can also be seen in its locally made projects. Join the Taste of Sitka Seawalk Tour for a guided stroll to 6 businesses along Lincoln Street. Meet the artisans and hear about their inspirations as you shop for goods such as pure sea salt, rich chocolate, handmade jewelry, and all-natural soap.