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    What to see in Sitka: visit to the historic Russian city in Alaska

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    Joel Fulleda

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    The capital of Alaska hasn't always been Juneau, and the most important port in the state hasn't always been Anchorage. It was Sitka, before Alaska passed from Russia to the United States, the nerve center of Alaskan administrative and commercial life. Although today the political-economic centers are others, Sitka remains one of the essential destinations for those who want to discover the history of Alaska in depth, as well as being an excellent stop to include in their itinerary for naturalistic attractions. It is no coincidence that we have chosen to include it in the top 10 places to visit in Alaska.


    • How to reach us
    • Climate and temperatures
    • City tour
      • Museums and parks
      • Whale Watching e Whale Fest
    • Around Sitka
    • Where to sleep in Sitka

    How to reach us

    Getting to Sitka is not a given. Geographically, it is located in the archipelago that creates, with the southeastern coast of the state, the so-called Inside Passage: a large system of canals and fjords that allows ships to move safely from south to north. Not surprisingly, all the towns in the region overlook the interior of the canal. All except Sitka, which was instead built facing the open ocean. Here are the ways to get there.

    • Airplane. Sitka Airport is connected to the capital Juneau by rapid (40m) Alaska Airlines flights. There are also other air connections with Anchorage (3h10m), Ketchikan (1h) and Seattle (4h). The plane is certainly the means faster and more comfortable to reach the city.
    • Ship. Sitka has always made the sea its fundamental resource. Reaching it by ship is therefore one of the most obvious choices. Given its off-the-beaten-path position, not all cruises that cross the Inside Passage stop here, but if you move independently, you can take advantage of the ferries of theAlaska Marine Highway System. The ferry has the disadvantage of timing compared to the plane (from Juneau it takes almost 10 hours), but the great advantage that this sea area nestled between islands and mountains offers some of the most evocative views in the state. Furthermore, the sighting of some whales is not to be excluded along the way. Finally, if you are making a trip on the road, the ferry allows you to load your car on board.

    Climate and temperatures

    As already detailed in the article on when to go to Alaska, the southeastern coast of the state is mild compared to the Alaskan hinterland and this favors the visit throughout the year. If the temperatures are never too cold, however, there is a 'high rainfall during all twelve months. Moreover, Sitka, compared to the cities facing the Inside Passage, is more exposed to oceanic disturbances, not having the natural shelter of the archipelago.

    The warmer months are July and August, with night lows around 11 ° and average highs around 15-16 °. The temperatures in June and September are slightly lower, with daytime highs often being below 15 °. May and October are very similar to each other: the highs are on average just over 10 ° and the lows around 5 °. The true mid-season is perceived in April and November, months in which there are normally highs fluctuating between 6 ° and 10 ° and minimums that are stationed just above 0. Winter, from November to February, is never harsh. During the day it almost always remains between 5 ° and 6 ° and at night it can drop just below zero.

    City tour

    Sitka Municipality is the one with the largest territorial extension of all the United States. A record that one would never expect from a village of less than 9 thousand inhabitants located on an island. The city itself, as you can guess from the number of residents, is really small and can be visited in a short time, but it is also one of the most interesting in Alaska. Here they still breathe, united together, the traditions of the natives and those of the Orthodox Russians who had placed the capital of Alaska here, then called Novo Arkhangelsk.

    The center develops around Lincoln Street, under the shadow of the Baranof Castle Hill State Historic Site: the place where in 1867 the Russian flag was lowered in favor of the US one. Right on Lincoln Street is the Russian Bishop’s House: one of the oldest Russian structures left in America. There are still original objects and clothes from the XNUMXth century. To rediscover the Russian soul of the city, a visit to the Cathedral of San Michele, the main Orthodox church of the city which, despite the fire of 1966, has been rebuilt almost identical to the original and furnished with objects saved from the fire.

    One of the places not to be missed in the center is the Sheet'ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Tribal Community House: what we could define as a modern one home of the native Tlingit clan. During the summer, traditional dance and song performances take place daily (Address: 200 Katlian Street).

    A part of the city center, which develops around a green area along Lincoln Street, is now defined Sitka National Historical Park. This institution is due to the memory of the bloody battle between the natives and the Russians in 1804. In addition to some of the aforementioned points of interest, the Totem Trail: a walkway with 18 totems.

    The port it is still the liveliest area of ​​the city which, despite its size, sees the comings and goings of hundreds of fishing boats every day. As it faces west, it is also the ideal spot to admire the beautiful sunsets over the monte Edgecumbe, only 16km away on the neighboring island Kruzof. This extinct volcano with its snow-capped tip is very reminiscent of Japan's best known Mount Fuji and photographers can take home no less evocative shots.

    Sitka Sightseeing Tour

    Museums and parks

    The town offers various alternatives to those wishing to spend one or more days there, both from a naturalistic and a museum point of view.

    • Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center. This small museum houses artifacts from both cultures that lived here (Tlingit and Russian), to tell the stories of the two peoples before and after the bloody battle that saw them rivals in 1804 (Address: 106 Metlakatla St).
    • Sitka Historical Museum. A small museum exhibition, interesting above all for the large and detailed model of what the city was like in 1867 and for the historical photographs. (Address: 330 Harbor Drive).
    • Sheldon Jackson Museum. Instead, this is one of the largest collections of indigenous art in Southeast Alaska. It was created in the late nineteenth century by the Reverend Sheldon Jackson, from whom the museum takes its name. It exhibits terrifying shamanic masks, weapons and tools of all kinds. (Address: 104 College Drive).
    • Artist Cove Gallery. It is a small gallery that exhibits works by local artists and natives from other areas of the coast. (Address: 241, Lincoln Street).
    • Alaska Raptor Center. Numerous birds, mostly birds of prey, are cared for and released into the wild. It is the ideal place to get to know the birds through the explanations of those who take care of them every day. (Address: 1000 Raptor Way).

    Whale Watching e Whale Fest

    Sitka is one of the best places to see whales, so much so that the Whale Fest takes place here every year, which animates the city at the beginning of November with events related to marine giants. Conferences and talks, exhibitions and workshops, but above all sea excursions to spot cetaceans make a visit to Sitka unforgettable during this period.

    In addition to the Whale Park, where it is possible to spot cetaceans from the mainland, there are numerous Boat tours to get closer to the whales. You can book them on site, but in the fall period sightings are so simple that seats on the boats are snapped up by tourists, ready to jump on the first boat as soon as they get off the cruise ship. If you don't want to risk being sold out on the dock, I recommend booking a tour in advance.

    The Sitka Strait is one of the best areas in Alaska to see marine life, from whales to small mammals that inhabit the shores. A good place to start understanding this complex ecosystem is the Sitka Sound Science Center, where you can find an aquarium, a salmon hatchery, a research center and various educational activities, especially interesting for families with children.

    Whale watching excursion

    Around Sitka

    The island of Baranof, on which the city is based, is full of points of interest, for which it is worth staying in Sitka for a few days.

    • Starrigavan Recreation Area. The whole city is surrounded by the Tongass National Forest and the Starrigavan Recreation Area (11km north of downtown along Halibut Point Road) is the ideal starting point for visiting this natural area. From here there are 3 freely walkable trails, but it is also possible to take part in excursions with a guide, referring to the volunteers of the non-profit organization Sitka Trail Works. The Forest and Muskeg Trail is 1,2km long and passes through a pine forest and walkway over a bog rich in moss and carnivorous plants. The Estuary Life Trail is a 400m walkway that allows you to visit the marshy area where numerous water birds and Sitka black-tailed deer are home to, endemic to these areas. The Mosquito Cove Trail is a 2km loop that runs along the shores of Starrigavan Bay and Mosquito Cove, then entering the depths of the forest.
    • Whale Park. In spite of the name, Whale Park is not a real park, but simply a walk along the seafront (5km from the center along the Sawmill Creek Road), recognizable by the silhouettes of some whales that emerge from the ground. This area is one of the best places to spot whales from the mainland when, especially between September and December, they come to feed in these plankton-rich waters. Thanks to special underwater microphones, it is possible to hear the song of whales from the mainland.
    • Fortress of the bear. If you really want to spot a bear, but are afraid to encounter it in the wild, head to the Fortress of the Bear. 8km from the center of Sitka, along Sawmill Creek Road, is this rescue center for orphaned bears. It happens that the puppies lose their mother, killed by poachers or for other causes. The center takes care of these young bears, making them grow up in complete safety.

    Where to sleep in Sitka

    Aspen Suites Hotel Sitka
    Longliner Lodge and Suites
    Sitka Hotel

    Sitka is very small then there aren't very many alternatives to spend the night. Therefore, especially if you go here in the busiest periods of tourism (summer and autumn), I strongly recommend that you book your accommodation in advance. Here are some suggestions.

    • Longliner Lodge & Suites. If you are looking for a comfortable accommodation that feels like home, here you will be at ease. The common room with fireplace and board games is a perfect match for the cozy rooms.
    • Aspen Suites Hotel. The Aspen chain, quite new but already present in other cities, also opened in Sitka in 2017. The rooms are all equipped with microwaves: it is a good accommodation if you are looking for comfort but also practicality.
    • Sitka Hotel. A Victorian style hotel, where you still feel like in the time of the gold rush.

    Here you can see all the other available accommodations by clicking on the link below.

    Look for accommodation in Sitka

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