With a population of nearly 9,000 year-round residents, Sitka is the Last Frontier’s fourth biggest town. There are fewer people cruising to Sitka than other Inside Passage port cities, so some travelers believe it provides a more authentic Alaska experience. Sitka is the only port city in the Alexander Archipelago chain that offers a view of the open ocean and was also Alaska’s first capital. It was established by Russian fur traders in 1799, and you can still see remnants of Russian culture in various parts of town.
The dock used by most cruise ships is located five miles outside of Sitka proper, but shuttles into town are readily available from the dock, so don’t let the distance stop you from exploring. Following are just a few of Sitka’s many highlights.
Cruising to Sitka: The Highlights
St. Michael’s Orthodox Cathedral
Built by the Russians shortly after they became a significant presence in Alaska, St. Michael’s Orthodox Cathedral still retains the double onion domes common to Russian architecture of the time. Even though the Russians and the indigenous tribes had a rocky relationship, at best, the church is now inclusive to the extent that Sunday services are now held in English, Tlingit, and Old Church Slavonic. Those cruising to Sitka should check it out!
Situated within the Sitka National Historic Park, Totem Trail winds through a natural rain forest landscape under towering totem poles and the cedar trees from which they’re carved along with lots of Sitka spruce, giant ferns, and forest berries. It’s a short, easy hike, and if you visit Sitka during July through the end of September, you’ll be able to see salmon spawning in Indian Creek while on your hike. The Visitor’s Center in the park has information about wildlife viewing.
Sheldon Jackson Museum
Founded in 1897 by missionary Reverend Sheldon Jackson, the Sheldon Jackson Museum contains art and artifacts from each of Alaska’s indigenous people’s groups. The museum hosts a different Native artist-in-residence every summer and features both traveling and stationary exhibits.
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Fortress of the Bear
Fortress of the Bears is a facility dedicated to the preservation of brown bears that have become urbanized to the extent that they would pose a danger to humans if they were allowed to remain in the wild. The facility also raises orphaned cubs. Because it’s located five miles outside of Sitka, Fortress of the Bear offers shuttles on a regular basis.
There are a variety of aquatic tour companies offering sea kayaking and whale watching adventures in Sitka Sound and its surrounding waters. You can also take a half-day salmon and halibut fishing charter — don’t worry about not being able to take your catch back to the ship with you. Fish processing facilities in Sitka can package, freeze, and ship your fish directly to your home.
Lunch By Silver Bay
Sightseeing in Sitka works up quite an appetite, and you can find everything from roadside stands offering reindeer sausage to full-service establishments with regional and international fare on the menu. Savoring lunch by Silver Bay involves a view of water so calm you can see the reflections of eagles and ravens as they soar overhead in search of fish and an abundance of sea otters as they splash and play in their aquatic home. Silver Bay also provides year-round habitat to a small group of humpback whales that prefers to stick around Alaska instead of migrating south for the winter. Visit Bayside Pub for well-crafted, unpretentious pub fare with a mesmerizing view.
Remember when cruising to Sitka – it’s very walkable, so be sure to bring sturdy footwear as well as separates for layering to keep up with the demands of the area’s constantly changing weather.