Sitka is located in Southeast Alaska on the west side of Baranof Island, 95 air miles southwest of Juneau; 185 air miles northwest of Ketchikan; 2 hours flying time from Seattle, WA.
Visitor Information: Year-round visitor information center is located at 104 Lake Street; phone 907-747-8604; website: www.visitsitka.org. Summer information desk—open when cruise ships are in port—is located at Harrigan Centennial Hall, 330 Harbor Dr.
Sitka’s beauty is renowned and it draws thousands of visitors each year. Facing the Pacific Ocean, Sitka is protected by smaller islands like Kruzof Island, where 3,201-foot Mount Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano, is situated. O’Connell Bridge connects Sitka with Japonski Island. The 1,255-foot-long bridge was the first cable-stayed, girderspan bridge in the United States, dedicated August 19, 1972.
Originally occupied by Tlingits, Alexander Baranof, chief manager of the Russian– American Co. (headquartered in Kodiak) built a trading post and fort (Redoubt St. Michael’s) north of Sitka in 1799. The Tlingits burned down the fort in 1802. Baranof returned in 1804 for the Battle of Sitka, which was the last major armed conflict between the Native population and the Russians. By 1808, Sitka was capital of Russian Alaska; Baranof was governor (1799–1818). Remnants of Sitka’s Russian past are found throughout the community. Artifacts from its Tlingit Alaska Native heritage are on view at Sheldon Jackson Museum and Sitka National Historical Park.
Salmon was the mainstay of the economy from the late 1800s until the 1950s, when a pulp mill was established at nearby Silver Bay and operated from 1960 to 1993.
History-rich Sitka has many important historic sites, meaningful in Alaska’s history. The first American flag raised in Alaska, after the U.S. purchased Alaska from the Russians in 1867, was raised in Sitka at what is now Baranof Castle Hill State Historic Site.
Secretary of State William H. Seward signed the Alaska purchase treaty on March 30, 1867. Seward’s Day is an observed Alaska holiday on the last Monday in March. Russia transferred Alaska to the U.S. on Oct. 18, 1867, now Alaska Day, and also an observed state holiday.
Sitka’s natural beauty attracted the attention of Hollywood when it was named as the hometown of a character in the movie “The Proposal.” However, Sitka’s location proved too expensive for the producers to actually film here. The film was shot in Boston and Rockport, MA, and the snow-capped peaks were added digitally. Plus, the eagle that grabbed the dog in the movie was an Australian Wedged-tailed Eagle, not a Bald Eagle.
Healthcare, government, tourism and commercial fishing are among the economic mainstays here. Herring eggs, or roe, are one of many fisheries in Sitka. The herring move into the waters of Sitka Sound between late February and early April to spawn along the beaches, laying egg clusters on rocks, pilings and kelp.
Sitka Summer Music Festival
The Sitka Summer Music Festival, is an annual event featuring the best in chamber music performed by world-famous artists. Scheduled throughout the month of June, chamber music concerts are presented Friday and Saturday evenings in Harrigan Centennial Hall, with additional concerts and special events taking place during the festival. Advance tickets are a good idea; the concerts are popular. Children under 6 years not admitted. Contact Sitka Summer Music Festival, P.O. Box 3333, Sitka, AK 99835; phone 907-747-6774; https://sitkamusicfestival.org.
Harrigan Centennial Hall
The Harrigan Centennial Hall (pictured above), hosts the Summer Music Festival and houses the Sitka History Museum (description follows). It is located on Harbor Dr. along the waterfront. Information desk (open only when cruise ships are docked) with free maps and visitor information in summer.
Sitka History Museum
Sitka History Museum provides a great overview of Sitka’s rich Tlingit, Russian and American past through displays, photographs and artifacts and is a great first-stop to orient visitors to Sitka. The main gallery opened in 2018 and the museum also includes a gift shop featuring a selection of historical books about Sitka, locally created Tlingit art and other gifts. Free city maps, available at the museum, guide visitors to Sitka’s Historic Sites. The museum is located at 330 Harbor Dr., inside Harrigan Centennial Hall. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. most days in summer; $5/adults, under 16 free; visit www.sitkahistory.org.
Naa Kahidi Native Dancers
The Naa Kahidi Native Dancers perform regularly during the summer at the Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Tribal Community House at 200 Katlian St. The tribal house is built in the style of a Tlingit clan house and boasts the largest hand-carved house screen in the Pacific Northwest, as well as large, carved exterior house panels. For dance performance schedule, go to www.sitkatours.com or phone 907-747-7137.
New Archangel Dancers
The New Archangel Dancers are a group of local women who perform authentic Russian folk dances in traditional costumes. When large cruise ships are in port, the dancers are usually performing at Harrigan Centennial Hall auditorium at 330 Harbor Dr. For dance performance schedule, call the Russian Dance Hotline at 907-747-5516; website: www.newarchangeldancers.com.
Alaska Day. Oct. 18 commemorates the transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States. The Alaska Day Festival, featuring a period costume ball and a parade, takes place in Sitka the week prior.
Walking tour of Sitka
Downtown Sitka is home to over 15 historically recognized landmarks. One of the most noticeable landmarks, St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, is located in the center of Lincoln Street downtown. Originally built in 1844–48, then rebuilt after it burned down in 1966, this is the focal point of Sitka’s history as the capital of Russian Alaska. Visit http://stmichaelcathedral.org.
Another popular stop is the Russian Bishop’s House across from Crescent Harbor, built in 1842. Tours are available at Russian Bishop’s House from National Park Service rangers.
The Sitka Pioneers’ Home at Lincoln and Katlian streets was built in 1934 on the former Russian Parade Ground. Pioneers’ Homes are also located in Fairbanks, Palmer, Anchorage, Ketchikan and Juneau. These state-supported homes offer housing and care for Alaskans who are at least 65 years old. The Sitka Pioneers’ Home has a gift shop on the first floor featuring handicrafts made by residents. The Prospector, a 13.5-foot clay and bronze statue in front of the Pioneers’ Home, was sculpted by Alonzo Victor Lewis and dedicated on Alaska Day in 1949. The model for the statue was real pioneer William “Skagway Bill” Fonda.
Building 29 (Tilson Bldg.), at 206 Lincoln St., is a National Historic Landmark. Built in 1835 of spruce logs, with sawdust insulation, it is one of the only surviving structures in Sitka—along with the Russian Bishop’s House—from Alaska’s Russian era. Next door at 208 Lincoln St. is the centuries old Russell’s Building, one of a handful of Alaska retail businesses in continuous operation for more than a 100 years, with records dating back to 1897.
The Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) Hall on Katlian Street is another landmark. Built in 1914, it serves as a Tlingit community center and houses Sitka’s Farmers Market during the summer growing season.
Baranof Castle Hill State Historic Site (pictured above) is where Alaska changed hands from Russia to the United States on Oct. 18, 1867. Graduated walkway is located on south side by the bridge (look for sign) or stairs on north side off of Lincoln Street. Good photo op of the harbor and town.
Totem Square, has a double-headed eagle totem that reflects Sitka’s Russian heritage. This park is a grassy, open area with benches. The Russian Blockhouse, located behind the Pioneers’ Home, is a replica of the blockhouse that was part of the stockade wall that separated Russian and Tlingit sections of Sitka after the Tlingits moved back to the area approximately 20 years after the 1804 battle.
Sitka Lutheran Church contains artifacts from the original 1843 Finnish Lutheran Church, including a Kessler Organ. Free tours by volunteers on limited days from mid-May to mid-September. Princess Maksoutoff, first wife of Alaska’s last Russian governor, Dimitri Maksoutoff, is buried in the Lutheran cemetery.
Crescent Harbor Park runs between Lincoln Street and Crescent Harbor. The park strip offers the Sitka Sea Walk, with benches, picnic shelters, basketball and tennis courts, a playground and views of Crescent Harbor. The largest shelter is referred to as “the net shed,” where fishermen repair their nets, and is often the location of special events like concerts and craft markets. Ramps below the shelter are used for tour boat pick-ups.
Sheldon Jackson Museum
Sheldon Jackson Museum, 104 College Dr., on the Sitka Fine Arts Campus. The museum contains some of the finest Native arts and crafts found in Alaska. Built in 1897 and occupied since, it is the first concrete building built in Alaska. The majority of artifacts were collected between 1888 and 1899. The museum has an Alaska Native Artist Residency Program in summer and early fall, and visitors can watch these Alaska Native artists at work as well as talk with them about their work.
Open in summer (mid-May to mid-September), 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Closed holidays. Summer admission fee to the museum is $9/adults, $8/seniors (65 years and older), free for under 18 years old. Winter hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; closed holidays. Winter admission fee is $7/ adults, $6/seniors, 18 and under free. Please call to confirm hours. Phone 907-747-8981 or visit www.museums.alaska.gov.
Walk around the Sheldon Jackson Campus, a Historic Landmark that was founded in 1878 and was the oldest institution of higher learning in Alaska. The campus was designed by the famous New York architectural firm Lundlow and Peabody, designers of Time Square and the New York Times building in New York City. The campus was transferred to Sitka Fine Arts Camp in 2011. This vibrant year-round arts program sponsors classes and camps for all ages. Check with their office for various entertainment events or visit www.fineartscamp.org.
Sitka Sound Science Center
Sitka Sound Science Center, at 834 Lincoln St., is located on the waterfront on the way to the Sitka National Historical Park. The Science Center operates an educational salmon hatchery and the Molly Ahlgren Aquarium, where touch tanks provide an up-close view of the organisms found in local tide pools. A special fish tank features an observation bubble for children to crawl into and enjoy a different view of the fish.
The Science Center welcomes visitors in the summer Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (limited hours/days in winter). Tours of the hatchery are available; call for tour times. Admission fee charged. The Center also offers regular natural history lectures on topics such as commercial fisheries, fish, wildlife and forest ecology. Phone 907-747-8878, or visit www.sitkascience.org.
Alaska Raptor Center
Visit the Alaska Raptor Center, located on Raptor Way, 0.7 mile south on Sawmill Creek Road from downtown. This unique facility treats injured eagles, hawks, owls and other birds. The Raptor Center is open daily in summer. Tour the outside displays and enjoy views of eagles inside the building through one-way glass. Informative guides are on site. Large group tours may be possible with advanced notice. Summer hours are typically 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily; call for winter hours. Phone 907-747-8662; www.alaskaraptor.org. Admission $15 for adults, $6 for children.
Sitka National Historical Park
Sitka National Historical Park reflects both the community’s rich Southeast Alaska Native heritage and its Russian-American past. Its Visitor Center is open daily in summer 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The 113-acre park consists of 2 units—the Fort Site, located at the end of Lincoln Street, a half-mile from town, and the Russian Bishop’s House, located on Lincoln Street near Crescent Harbor. Built by the Russian–American Co. in 1842 for the first Russian Orthodox bishop to reside in Alaska, the house was occupied by the church until 1969, and was added to Sitka National Historical Park in 1973. Open summer 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Request Russian Bishop’s House tours in winter.
A free self-guiding trail leads through the park to the fort site. The National Park Service conducts guided walks in summer. The park’s totem pole collection includes original pieces collected in 1901–03, and copies made of the originals that were lost to time and the elements. There are modern carved poles erected to honor various people and events, including the Park’s Centennial in 2010. The park grounds and trails are open daily, 6 a.m.–10 p.m. in summer; 6 a.m.–8 p.m. in winter. Walking through the rainforest in this park is considered to be one of the most memorable experiences of a visit to Sitka.
The park’s Visitor Center houses an exhibit of Tlingit artifacts, and an artist in residence program where visitors can interact with native artists and watch them as they work. The building is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily in summer. Phone 907-747-0110.
Fortress of the Bear
Fortress of the Bear, at Mile 5.6 Sawmill Creek Road in the Sawmill Cove Industrial Park, is a non-profit education and rescue center for orphaned brown and black bear cubs. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily May through September; call for information October through April (when bears are hibernating). Admission fee $15/adults, $5/children ages 8–18, free for age 7 and under; phone 907-747-3032; http://fortressofthebear.org.
Sawmill Creek Road
Drive Sawmill Creek Road. From its junction at the traffic circle at Lake and Erler streets, Sawmill Creek Road leads 0.4 mile on to Sitka National Cemetery and 0.6 mile to Indian River. At Mile 0.8, Raptor Way provides access to the Alaska Raptor Center. At Mile 0.9 is the parking lot for Sitka National Historical Park trails and for the Visitor Center. At Mile 3.5 is parking for the 1.8-mile Thimbleberry Lake–Heart Lake trail. Whale Park Wayside at Mile 3.8 has covered picnic tables and viewing platform overlooking Silver Bay. Paved road ends just past the Fortress of the Bear at Mile 5.6. Gravel road continues to Herring Cove Trailhead at Mile 7.3.
Sitka holds an annual salmon derby Memorial Day weekend and the weekend following. Contact the Sitka Sportsman’s Assoc.; phone 907-747-6790. Saltwater fishing charters available locally. Good fly-fishing at Baranof Island lakes and rivers. Try Sawmill Creek and Starrigavan River on the road system; Katlian River, 11 miles northeast of Sitka by boat; or remote waters such as Rezanof Lake, 40 air miles southeast of Sitka. USFS public-use cabins are at some lakes. Stop by the Dept. of Fish and Game office at 304 Lake St. for details; phone 907-747-5355.
Lodging & Services
Accommodations at hotels/motels, including the Longliner Lodge and Suites, Westmark Sitka Hotel, Totem Square Hotel & Marina, Sitka Hotel, Aspen Suites Hotel Sitka and Super 8. Also inns, lodges and many bed-and-breakfasts. For more on accommodations go to www.visitsitka.org.
Dining choices range from fast-food (Subway and McDonald’s) to make-a-reservation-worthy Mediterranean fare (at Ludvig’s Bistro & Wine Bar). A favorite coffee shop is The Highliner Coffee Cafe, also offering Wi-Fi. You can find organic fare at Fish Eye Organic Café and Beak Restaurant. Deck dining is open in summer at the Westmark Hotel.
Sitka International Hostel, at 109 Jeff Davis St. a short walk from downtown, is open year-round. Phone 907-747-8661 or email [email protected].
Services in Sitka’s downtown area include restaurants, drugstore, clothing and grocery stores, and gift shops. Laundry may be done at the Super 8 as they allow the public to use their facilities. There are 2 additional laundromats within 1.5 miles from downtown. Shopping and services are also available along Sawmill Creek and Halibut Point roads.
The Sitka Library is conveniently located near Harrigan Centennial Hall at the waterfront. Tables with plug-ins for electronics, nice views, restrooms, Wi-Fi and helpful staff make this a good stop for visitors.
RV camping in the Sitka area at the Sitka Sportsmans RV Park, located a block from the ferry terminal on Halibut Point Road. It is open year-round with 16 full-service oceanfront sites; phone 907-623-7740 or visit www.rvsitka.com. The municipal Sealing Cove RV Park, adjacent to Sealing Cove Boat Harbor on Japonski Island, is open April 1– Sept. 30; first-come, first-served. Limited spaces are available at Sea Mountain Golf Course at 301 Granite Creek Road; phone 907-747-5663. A dump station is located at the city’s Waste-water Treatment Plant on Japonski Island.
The U.S. Forest Service’s Starrigavan Recreation Area is at Milepost 7.1 Halibut Point Road Road. This recreation facility is gated at night; access varies depending on daylight hours. If you are arriving late evening or early morning, contact the Sitka Ranger District during business hours for gate schedule; phone 907-747-6671. For Starrigavan campsite reservations phone 1-877-444-6777 or go to www.recreation.gov.
Air: Year-round scheduled jet service on Alaska Airlines. Delta offers seasonal service. Regional service via Alaska Seaplanes. Charter service also available. The airport is on Japonski Island, across O’Connell Bridge, 1.7 miles from downtown. Van and taxi service available to downtown accommodations.
Ferry: Sitka is served by the Alaska Marine Highway. Ferry terminal is located at Milepost 6.5 Halibut Point Road; phone 907-747-8737. Reservations phone 1-800-642-0066; www.ferryalaska.com. Ferry shuttle service in summer for daytime arrivals, phone 907-747-5800 (phone ahead if arriving after 10 p.m.).
Bus: The Ride (http://ridesitka.com) offers weekday service from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in town. Purchase tickets on the bus or at Sitka Tribal Enterprises (456 Katlian St.), Old Harbor Books (201 Lincoln St.) or Sea Mart Grocery (1867 Halibut Point Rd.); phone The Ride Hotline at 907-747-7103.
Car Rental: Avis Rent-a-Car and Sitka Car Rental are located at the airport.
Taxi: Baranof Taxi, 738-Taxi, Martin’s Taxi and Toad’s Taxi.
Highways: The 7.1-mile-long Halibut Point Road provides access to many businesses, the Alaska Marine Highway ferry terminal and Starrigavan Recreation Area. Sawmill Creek Road leads 5.5 miles south from Lake Street to Sawmill Cove Industrial Park.
Cruise Ships: Cruise ships either anchor in Sitka Sound, and passengers are lightered to shore to the Crescent Harbor visitors’ dock and O’Connell Bridge visitors’ dock, or they anchor at the Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal, 5 miles from downtown.
Private Boats: Transient moorage available at Eliason and ANB Harbors. Contact Harbormaster; phone 907-747-3439 or Channel 16 VHS.