12 Things To Do In Sitka, Alaska

Last Updated on March 6, 2024 by Emily Johnson


Sitka is a picturesque seaside town located on the west coast of Baranof Island in southeast Alaska. With its rugged natural beauty, Russian heritage, native Alaskan culture, and abundant wildlife, Sitka offers plenty of interesting and unique things to see and do for visitors.

Activity NumberDescription
1Explore a national historical park.
2Take a wildlife-focused boat tour.
3Hike through diverse terrains.
4Visit a museum dedicated to local history.
5Enjoy world-class fishing.
6Attend a unique local festival.
7Cycle around the scenic locales.
8Kayak in the tranquil waters.
9Savor the fresh, local seafood.
10Shop for unique local arts and crafts.
11Participate in a cultural event or ceremony.
12Relax and unwind at a local brewery.

From exploring historic attractions to kayaking alongside sea otters to hiking through temperate rainforests, Sitka has an adventure for every type of traveler. The best time to visit Sitka is during the summer months between June and August when the weather is mildest. However, visitors in shoulder seasons can take advantage of fewer crowds and lower prices on tours and accommodations.

Stroll Through Totem Square and Sitka National Historical Park

Name and Location: Stroll Through Totem Square and Sitka National Historical Park, located in the heart of downtown Sitka.

History and Significance: Sitka National Historical Park preserves the site of a battle between invading Russian traders and indigenous Tlingit people in 1804. The park features a collection of Tlingit and Haida totem poles, as well as a cultural center and museum.

What to Expect: Visitors can take a self-guided walking tour through the park’s scenic coastal trails, exploring the towering totem poles and learning about the rich cultural history of the area. The park also offers ranger-led programs and demonstrations of traditional art and crafts.

Visitor Information: The park is open year-round, with extended hours during the summer months. Admission is free, and parking is available near the visitor center. The park is easily accessible on foot from downtown Sitka.

As the site where the transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States took place in 1867, Sitka National Historical Park commemorates the history of Russian America and early American settlement. Totem Square, located within the park, displays a collection of intricately carved Tlingit and Haida totem poles representing native legends.

Visitors can join a ranger-guided walk to hear the stories behind the towering totem poles and learn about Tlingit culture. The park also offers a self-guided tour with plaques describing historic attractions like the Russian Bishop’s House and the Sites of the 1804 Native Battle. Don’t miss the Visitor Center to check upcoming activities and view Tlingit artifacts.

See Wildlife and Nature on a Cruise of Sitka Sound

Name and Location: See Wildlife and Nature on a Cruise of Sitka Sound, departing from Crescent Harbor in downtown Sitka.

History and Significance: Sitka Sound is a pristine wilderness area home to a diverse array of marine life, including whales, sea lions, and countless species of birds. Cruises of the sound have been a popular tourist activity for decades, offering visitors a chance to experience Alaska’s natural beauty up close.

What to Expect: Cruises typically last 2-3 hours and take visitors through the sheltered waters of Sitka Sound, with opportunities to spot wildlife such as humpback whales, orcas, and bald eagles. Many cruises also feature onboard naturalists who provide commentary on the area’s ecology and history.

Visitor Information: Cruises depart daily from Crescent Harbor during the summer months, with multiple departure times available. Advance reservations are recommended, and warm, waterproof clothing is advised. Many cruise operators offer hotel pickup and drop-off service.

A cruise of Sitka Sound gets visitors up close with the area’s famously abundant and diverse wildlife. Several operators like Allen Marine Tours and Sea Life Discovery Tours offer 2-3 hour wildlife cruises departing daily from Sitka Harbor. Knowledgeable guides spot marine mammals, seabirds like puffins and rhinoceros auklets, brown bears fishing for salmon along the shore, and more.

Most tours head north toward Saint Lazaria National Wildlife Refuge, home to some 40,000 seabirds representing 30 avian species. With luck, guests may catch views of humpback whales breaching during summer months. Expect opportunities for photographing beautiful fjords and islands along the way. Bring warm layers and binoculars for the best wildlife viewing experience.

Hike in Alaska’s Largest State Park

Name and Location: Hike in Alaska’s Largest State Park, the 4,857-acre Fort Rousseau State Historical Park, located just outside of Sitka.

History and Significance: Fort Rousseau was built during World War II as a coastal defense installation, and the state park preserves many of the fort’s original structures and artifacts. The park also offers miles of hiking trails through temperate rainforest, rocky beaches, and alpine tundra.

What to Expect: Hikers can choose from a variety of trails ranging from easy nature walks to challenging backcountry treks. The park’s scenery includes lush forests, cascading waterfalls, and sweeping ocean views. Wildlife such as black bears, deer, and bald eagles are commonly spotted along the trails.

Visitor Information: The park is open year-round, with trail conditions varying depending on the season. A small parking area and trailhead are located at the park entrance, and a trail map and information are available at the nearby visitor center. Sturdy hiking shoes and rain gear are recommended.

At over 3,000 square miles, Sitka’s Saint Lazaria National Wildlife Refuge comprises Alaska’s largest state park with a huge variety of landscapes. Ambitious hikers can tackle a full-day, 17-mile trek to Thimbleberry Lake for a rewarding backcountry experience surrounded by mountain scenery. More leisurely routes like the 4-mile Marmot Trail loop offer excellent bird watching.

For those with limited time, the beautiful Sguiwan Trail – accessed from a connecting trail across the road from Sawmill Creek Campground – follows along a salmon stream past giant spruce and hemlock trees draped in emerald moss. Late August visitors may catch sight of hundreds of thousands of salmon swimming upstream to spawn.

Visit Alaska’s Premier Fur Trading Post

Name and Location: Visit Alaska’s Premier Fur Trading Post, the Russian American Company Magazin, located in the heart of downtown Sitka.

History and Significance: The Russian American Company Magazin was established in the early 1800s as a fur trading outpost and served as the economic and administrative center of Russian America for several decades. Today, the building houses a museum showcasing the history of the fur trade and Russian colonization in Alaska.

What to Expect: Visitors can explore the museum’s exhibits on the Russian fur trade, including artifacts such as trading beads, furs, and tools. The museum also features a recreated trading post interior and a short film on the history of Russian America.

Visitor Information: The museum is open daily during the summer months, with reduced hours in the shoulder seasons. Admission is $5 for adults, with discounts for children and seniors. The museum is located in the heart of downtown Sitka, within walking distance of many other attractions.

Located on Katlian Street in downtown Sitka, the Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi community house offers visitors insight into Tlingit culture. Authentically constructed to reflect a 19th century clan house, the site hosts traditional dancers, craftspeople, and storytellers to showcase Southeast Alaskan tribal customs and heritage.

Guests can take tours of the hand-carved totem poles surrounding the clan house while learning about their symbolic meanings. The on-site center also operates a gift shop selling authentic Alaska native art like silver jewelry and woven spruce root hats created by Tlingit artists. It’s both a cultural institution and important symbol of resilience for the Sitka tribe’s dance, language, and traditions nearly erased after Russia’s colonization.

Tour Alaska’s Russian Heritage

Name and Location: Tour Alaska’s Russian Heritage at the Russian Bishop’s House, located in downtown Sitka.

History and Significance: The Russian Bishop’s House was built in the 1840s to house the first Bishop of Alaska and served as the center of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America for many years. Today, the building is a National Historic Landmark and museum showcasing the history of Russian colonization in Alaska.

What to Expect: Visitors can take a guided tour of the Bishop’s House, led by knowledgeable docents in period dress. The tour includes the Bishop’s living quarters, a chapel, and exhibits on Russian Orthodox art and culture. The House also features a gift shop with unique Russian-themed items.

Visitor Information: Tours of the Bishop’s House are offered daily during the summer months, with reduced hours in the off-season. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance online. Photography is permitted in most areas of the House, and the tour is accessible to visitors with limited mobility.

As Alaska’s former colonial capital under Imperial Russia, Sitka embraces its Russian history. The Russian Bishop’s House (c.1842) exemplifies the city’s Russian architectural legacy with its ornate woodwork and distinctive octagonal cupola. Visitors can see Russian Orthodox icons, vestments, and religious artifacts as they learn about Sitka’s role as the hub of the Russian American Church.

For more history, the Sitka History Museum located downtown manages a top regional collection covering 10,000 years from Tlingit carvings and Russian colonial artifacts to WWII-era photos. Fans of Russian architecture will also enjoy simply strolling past well-preserved examples in sites like the Russian Cemetery and St. Michael’s Cathedral.

Charter a Fishing Trip

Name and Location: Charter a Fishing Trip with one of Sitka’s many experienced fishing guides, departing from Crescent Harbor or Sealing Cove.

History and Significance: Fishing has been a way of life in Sitka for thousands of years, and the waters around the town are home to a bounty of salmon, halibut, and other prized catches. Sitka’s fishing guides have decades of experience navigating these waters and know the best spots to land a trophy fish.

What to Expect: Fishing trips typically last a full day and include all necessary gear, as well as lunch and snacks. Guides will take you to their favorite fishing spots and provide instruction on techniques for landing the big one. Many guides also offer fish processing and shipping services to get your catch home.

Visitor Information: Fishing trips can be chartered year-round, with peak season running from May to September. Prices vary depending on the length of the trip and the size of the group. Advance reservations are strongly recommended, and all participants must have a valid Alaska fishing license.

Fishing enthusiasts travel far and wide to cast their lines in Sitka’s famously bountiful waters. Visitors can arrange a guided salmon or halibut fishing adventure through Sitka charters and outfitters. These 4-6 hour trips include all the necessary gear plus filleting and bagging of the catch.

Most captains have decades of experience navigating Sitka’s premier fishing holes around the Sound, Olga Strait, and Chatham Strait. June-August offers peak opportunities to reel in a prize king salmon or monster halibut, some topping 100-400 pounds!

Non-anglers will appreciate opportunities to spot whales, otters, seals, eagles bald eagles and more. Per Alaska state law, non-residents age 16 or older need to secure an appropriate fishing license before their trip. When back on land, check downtown’s fish markets to buy some of Sitka’s famed seafood.

Attend a Summer Concert or Festival

Name and Location: Attend a Summer Concert or Festival, held at various venues around Sitka.

History and Significance: Sitka has a vibrant arts and culture scene, with a variety of music and arts festivals held throughout the summer months. These events showcase the diverse talents of local and visiting artists and celebrate the unique culture and history of Southeast Alaska.

What to Expect: Festivals and concerts feature a range of musical genres, from classical to folk to indie rock, as well as dance, theater, and visual arts. Many events are held outdoors in scenic locations such as Totem Square or Harrigan Centennial Hall, taking advantage of Sitka’s long summer days.

Visitor Information: Summer events are typically held from June through August, with dates and schedules varying from year to year. Many events are free or low-cost, with tickets available at the door or in advance online. Visitors should check local listings for upcoming events during their stay.

Culture continues thriving in Sitka, with numerous annual events celebrating the arts, Alaska native traditions, and community. The Sitka Summer Music Festival during June hosts dozens of classical concerts featuring renowned global musicians. The whole town turns out for July 4th festivities like a parade, salmon bake in the park, and fireworks over Crescent Harbor.

Later in July, the Sitka WhaleFest involves marine mammal science presentations, kids’ activities, concerts, and more – all to honor Sitka’s whale heritage. August brings the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood annual convention to celebrate Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures. Before leaving, visitors should check the schedule at Centennial Hall downtown or the Sitka Convention and Visitor’s Bureau online.

Explore Sitka By Bike

Name and Location: Explore Sitka By Bike, with rental shops located throughout downtown Sitka.

History and Significance: Biking is a popular way to explore Sitka’s scenic coastal roads and trails, offering a slower-paced and more intimate experience than driving. The town has a growing network of bike lanes and paths, making it easy and safe to get around on two wheels.

What to Expect: Bike rentals typically include a helmet, lock, and map of local bike routes. Visitors can choose from a variety of bike styles, from cruisers to mountain bikes, depending on their planned route and terrain. Popular rides include the scenic coastal road to Silver Bay and the forested trails of the Indian River Valley.

Visitor Information: Bike rentals are available daily during the summer months, with hourly and daily rates available. Advance reservations are recommended for large groups or during peak season. Riders should wear appropriate safety gear and follow all traffic laws and trail etiquette.

Sitka’s relatively flat and compact downtown area offers picturesque scenery along a paved coastal bike path perfect for summer cycling. Visitors can rent bikes by the hour or day from outfitters like Yellow Jersey Cycle Shop, conveniently located downtown. Popular 6-8 mile routes include the scenic ride out to Rotary Beach along the Cross Trail linking downtown attractions near Totem Square before winding through industrial boat harbors and along coastal waters.

More adventurous riders can take the 9 mile ride to Starrigavan Bay on technically demanding dirt trails offering beautiful views of mountains and inlets around Mosquito Cove once the destination is reached. Sitka’s long summer daylight hours mean plenty of time for pedaling out to photographic vistas before looping back into town for dining and shopping.

Go Sea Kayaking

Name and Location: Go Sea Kayaking in the protected waters of Sitka Sound, with guided tours departing from Crescent Harbor.

History and Significance: Kayaking has been a means of transportation and subsistence for the Tlingit people of Southeast Alaska for thousands of years. Today, kayaking is a popular way for visitors to explore the region’s stunning coastal scenery and abundant marine life.

What to Expect: Guided kayaking tours typically last 2-4 hours and include all necessary gear and safety equipment. Tours are led by experienced guides who provide instruction on paddling techniques and safety, as well as commentary on the area’s natural and cultural history. Tours may include stops at remote beaches or islands for snacks and wildlife viewing.

Visitor Information: Kayaking tours are offered daily during the summer months, with morning and afternoon departures available. Tours are suitable for all skill levels, but participants should be comfortable on the water and able to paddle for extended periods. Advance reservations are recommended, and all participants must sign a liability waiver.

Paddling through Sitka’s protected inlets or around nearby islands allows visitors to quietly explore the colorful intertidal zones and scout for bubble-net feeding humpbacks. Day trips through operators like Sitka Sound Ocean Adventures depart right from downtown’s Crescent Harbor, with options for single or double kayaks as well as stand up paddleboards. Guides lead groups south to more isolated spots like Horse Island or north up the Kasnyku Bay Estuary depending on tides, winds and interests. Most tours average around 4-5 miles of paddling round trip.

For the best wildlife viewing, experienced paddlers can book multi-day expeditions like those through Alaska Discovery that base camp on remote islands like the Khaz Peninsula. Pack raingear, binoculars, and a spirit of adventure when heading out through Southeast Alaska’s winding waterways.

Treat Yourself to Fresh Seafood

Name and Location: Treat Yourself to Fresh Seafood at one of Sitka’s many seafood restaurants, located throughout downtown and along the waterfront.

History and Significance: Seafood has been a staple of the Alaskan diet for centuries, and Sitka’s restaurants take pride in serving the freshest and most flavorful catches from the surrounding waters. From succulent king crab to buttery halibut, Sitka’s seafood is renowned for its quality and variety.

What to Expect: Sitka’s seafood restaurants range from casual fish-and-chip shops to upscale bistros, but all share a commitment to using the freshest ingredients and traditional recipes. Many restaurants also offer stunning views of the water and local artwork on the walls.

Visitor Information: Seafood restaurants are open year-round, with extended hours during the summer months. Prices vary depending on the type of seafood and preparation, but visitors can expect to pay a premium for the freshest catches. Reservations are recommended for popular restaurants during peak season.

On an island renowned globally for its seafood industry, Sitka offers outstanding dining opportunities for visitors. Downtown favorites like Ludvig’s Bistro craft a seasonal menu highlighting regional fish, shellfish, game meats, and produce. Their signature king crab mac and cheese delivers a local twist, while housemade pasta and carrot ginger soup round out a totally Alaskan meal. Locals also repeatedly recommend the halibut fish and chips served dockside at the Harbor Sushi spot.

Another tip is to simply keep an eye out daily for fresh seafood specials, since the inventory rotates quickly based on that day’s catch. And for the ultimate local experience, seafood fans may want to check the schedule for Salmon Tasting 101 workshops – held periodically at Sheldon Jackson College’s culinary teaching kitchen during summer – that feature insider tricks for cooking Alaska salmon plus hands-on practice.

Shop for Local Art & Souvenirs

Name and Location: Shop for Local Art & Souvenirs at one of Sitka’s many galleries and gift shops, located throughout downtown.

History and Significance: Sitka has a thriving community of local artists and craftspeople who draw inspiration from the town’s natural beauty and cultural heritage. From traditional Tlingit carvings to contemporary pottery and jewelry, Sitka’s galleries and gift shops offer a wide range of unique and authentic souvenirs.

What to Expect: Visitors can browse a variety of locally made items, including wood carvings, beadwork, textiles, and paintings. Many shops also offer demonstrations or workshops with local artists, allowing visitors to learn about traditional techniques and materials.

Visitor Information: Galleries and gift shops are open daily during the summer months, with reduced hours in the off-season. Prices vary depending on the item and the artist, but visitors can expect to find a range of options to fit any budget. Many shops offer shipping services for larger items.

From native Alaskan crafts to work by local artists, Sitka offers many options for sourcing unique keepsakes and gifts during a visit. Centrally located downtown, the Sitka Rose Gallery exhibits prints, jewelry, knitwear, sculpture, and Yupik masks while providing opportunity to meet and support Southeast artists. The Alaska Raptor Center’s gift shop stocks logo apparel along with wings and talons found in nature to benefit their wildlife rehabilitation efforts.

For authentic Alaska Native artisan wares, stop into the Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi community house gift shop or the smaller Tribal Tours gift shop in Totem Square. Visitors can watch weavers create spruce root and cedar bark crafts while also selecting from drums, masks, woven hats, silver bracelets, soapstone figurines, prints, and more crafted traditionally by Alaska Natives. Prices stay reasonable compared with larger cities’ stores, and purchases directly support Sitka tribe members sustaining cultural heritage and traditional livelihoods through their work.

Unwind at a Local Brewery

Name and Location: Unwind at a Local Brewery, such as Baranof Island Brewing Company or Harbor Mountain Brewing Company, located in downtown Sitka.

History and Significance: Sitka’s brewing scene has grown in recent years, with several local breweries crafting unique and flavorful beers using Alaskan ingredients such as spruce tips and berries. These breweries have become popular gathering spots for locals and visitors alike, offering a taste of Sitka’s laid-back and friendly vibe.

What to Expect: Visitors can sample a variety of locally brewed beers, from classic styles like IPAs and stouts to more experimental brews featuring local flavors. Many breweries also offer light snacks or partner with local food trucks for heartier fare. The taprooms often feature local artwork and live music, creating a welcoming and festive atmosphere.

Visitor Information: Brewery taprooms are typically open daily during the summer months, with reduced hours in the off-season. Most offer flights or tasters for sampling multiple beers, as well as growler fills for taking beer to go. Visitors should note that some breweries may have limited seating or may not allow children during certain hours.

Following outdoor adventures, walking tours, wildlife spotting and other Sitka activities, visitors can kick back with craft beer from the town’s only microbrewery. Located in a rustic wooded setting 5 miles north of downtown, Baranof Island Brewery serves at least 8 brews on tap daily along with housemade pizzas baked in their Italian wood-fire oven.

Flagship beers to try include Halibut Point Rye IPA, Peril Straits Peanut Butter Porter, and Shoals White Ale, along with seasonal options like their Måsse Møl fruited sour series. Outside seating lets guests relax surrounded by nature – occasionally even glimpsing bears or deer wandering past – with their pint of beer in hand. It’s an idyllic place to end an unforgettable day exploring Sitka’s natural attractions and cultural heritage.

Conclusion


Boasting sled dog races in winter and endless summer daylight for adventuring, Sitka provides uniqueyear-round appeal any Alaska traveler will appreciate. Visit Sitka to get a quintessential mix of wildlife encounters, rich indigenous traditions, Russian colonial landmarks, incredible seafood, and true off-the-beaten-path Alaskan. hospitality.

Whether tackling a few top attractions or immersing into the outdoors and cultural experiences over several days, Sitka invariably makes its mark as a highlight for those lucky enough to visit southeast Alaska’s “Paris of the Pacific.”

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