15 Best Things to Do in Sitka (Alaska)

Written by Abigail Miller
Updated on
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Sitka sits on the outer coast of Alaska’s Inside Passage and central to the sprawling Tongass National Forest. The blend of Russian and Tlingit past gives the city a unique feel, steeped in history it is also the place where the transfer ceremony took place after the US purchased Alaska from the Russians.

Accessible only by air or sea, Sitka has plenty to offer its visitors. On arrival you will be stunned by the incredible landscapes the dark green of the forest against the jagged glacier mountain backdrop.

It is a great place to enjoy the outdoors with fishing, hiking and observing wildlife being some of the most popular things to do.

But there’s plenty of notable places to visit to. Twenty-two of Sitka’s buildings are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. That alone is remarkable. Then add that to the stunning objects found in museums and of course the beautiful totems found here.

I’m an Alaska local and have visited Sitka several times. I found there is plenty to do in this Alaskan sea side town, here are my top 15 things to do in Sitka.

1. Sitka National Historical Park

Sitka National Historical ParkSource: Gary Gilardi / shutterstock
Standing in front of the totems

Mixing history with nature this park is an interesting place to visit for everyone. You can see native totem poles from all over Alaska and historic influences from both the native Tlingit people and the Russian fur hunters. See the totems up close, standing right next to them to admire the intricate artwork.

Then at the visitor center you will learn about the meanings behind the totems and the history surrounding them.

There are also plenty of hiking trails you can take in varying levels of difficulty. You may even catch a glimpse of the salmon leaping up steam in the rivers, which is an amazing sight.

2. Fortress of the Bear

Fortress of the Bear, SitkaSource: Alla Khananashvili / shutterstock
Fortress Of The Bear, Sitka

A rescue center providing protection and care to orphaned and rescued bears the fortress of the bear hopes to educate its visitors about these amazing creatures. The three-quarter acre habitat next to Tongass National Forest, gives visitors the chance to observe the bears living here from only 25 feet away.

Your guide will tell you all about each bear and their personalities, so you will feel you have a better connection with the animals residing here. The center tries to keep the setting as natural as possible, so opening times vary depending on the season and there are no set feeding times to prevent the bears sticking to a routine. This is definitely a great place to visit if you want to safely observe bears in a learning environment. Last time I visited the tour lasted about 30 minutes.

3. Alaska Raptor Center

Alaska Raptor CenterSource: dwolfgra / Flickr
Alaska Raptor Center

A Bald Eagle rescue center and hospital which rehabilitates, and releases injured birds and looks after those that cannot be released.

Every year the center gives medical treatment to up to two hundred injured bald eagles and other local birds. The Alaska Raptor Center shows how the rescue and release effort works in Alaska.

You’ll get close encounters with the beautiful birds and learn a great deal about them from the knowledgeable and professional staff. The handlers will introduce you to different birds such as owls, raven, eagles and the protected bald eagles. Behind the center you will find a small nature trail which gives you a chance to enjoy the area following your visit.

4. St Michaels Cathedral

St Michaels Cathedral, SitkaSource: Supapai / shutterstock
St Michaels Cathedral

A Russian Orthodox Church found at Lincoln and Matsoutoff Streets in Sitka city is renowned for being the earliest Orthodox cathedral in the New World. The original building was lost to fire in 1966, however has been rebuilt in the exact style, with a few structural updates.

Inside the cathedral however, you will still find artifacts, paintings and icons that were saved from the fire. These are displayed within the church and are of great importance from a heritage point of view. Not only does a visit give you plenty of interesting things to see, but it gives you an insight into the town’s Russian past.

5. Sheldon Jackson Museum

Sheldon Jackson Museum, SitkaSource: facebook.com
Sheldon Jackson Museum, Sitka

This small museum in the old college buildings found on college drive showcases a range of stunning historical artifacts from Alaska, including totems, masks, baskets, and traditional clothing.

Most of the collection was donated by Rev. Dr. Sheldon Jackson who was a Presbyterian missionary who made annual trips to Alaska in the 1890s. During this time here, he collected more than 5,000 items and many of these can be seen in the museum today.

Highlights include a Tlingit dugout canoe and the black argillite carvings which are part of the collection of material from the Northwest Coast Indians of Alaska.

Read also15 Best Small Towns to Visit in Alaska

6. Russian Bishops House

Russian Bishop's House, SitkaSource: roger4336 / Flickr
Russian Bishop’s House, Sitka

Many visitors are surprised at how much of an influence the Russian past has had on Sitka and Alaska today. At Russian Bishops house you will learn a great deal about the fascinating history of the city and Alaska as a whole. The house is found within the Sitka National Park and if you want to make the most of our visit, a guided tour is great way to do so.

On the ground floor you’ll find exhibits dating from Russian America which include sea otter pelts, teapots, and a replica of a Russian possession plaque which was found in Old Sitka.

The second floor gives you a chance to see what the original house might have looked like. Here you can see the Chapel of the Annunciations, guest rooms, a dining room and a formal reception room.

7. Sitka Sound Science Center

Sitka Sound Science CentreSource: sitkascience.org
Sitka Sound Science Center

Alaska has a diverse natural environment and one that is ever changing. At the Sitka Sound Science center, the work is dedicated to the education and research of the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems of Alaska.

Found in the Sage Memorial Building on Lincoln street, the center has an aquarium, hatchery and library for visitors to explore.

Learn about how salmon are produced in the hatchery and the relationship between commercial fishing and hatcheries today.

Then the aquarium lets you get hands on with the touch tanks, view the deep-water sea life in the 60 feet deep tank and other exhibits of aquatic habitats from across Alaska.

If you are interested in the native sea life and want to learn more about research I think this may be the place for you.

8. Go Whale Watching

I went whale watchingSource: Edmund Lowe Photography / shutterstock
I went whale watching

Sitka, nestled on the rugged coastline of Alaska’s Inside Passage, offers an unforgettable whale watching experience. As you embark on a thrilling maritime adventure, the pristine waters become a stage for awe-inspiring encounters with majestic giants.

Sitka’s rich biodiversity attracts humpback whales, orcas, and other marine creatures, providing an unrivaled opportunity to witness their breathtaking acrobatics and hear their haunting songs.

Further reading15 Best Things to Do in Alaska

9. Baranof Castle State Historical Site

Baranof Castle State Historical SiteSource: Forest Service Alaska Region, USDA / Flickr
Baranof Castle State Historical Site

This historic place is where the first raising of the American flag took place in Alaska as the Russian flag was lowered in 1867.

The area is more of a hill top park than a castle, however the location is a landmark for Alaska and today flies the flags of both the United states and Alaska state.

Walking to the top is also an excellent way to get panoramic views across the Sitka, a great place for photographs.

10. Herring Cove Trail

Find your way to Beaver Lake through the woods from Sitka on a well-marked trail. It is an easy start from Sitka road but does get steeper and more difficult as you go along.

It took me around 2 hours to complete the trail and I really took my time. It is a great way to get out into the wilderness straight from the city.

There is the potential to run into wildlife here including bears, so you should go prepared, but loud groups usually deter them from getting too close.

11. Wildlife Boat Tour

Sitka WhaleSource: Edmund Lowe Photography / shutterstock
Sitka Whale

Alaska has a wealth of wildlife and the region surrounding Sitka is no exception. You can choose from a range of tours on offer here and most have a very ethical view of how to view wildlife and educate visitors at the same time.

Whale watching is a popular tour where you will see amazing sea life in their natural habitat, as well as local birds too. If you are a keen wildlife photographer, you will be very happy with the sights you get to see here.

Many visitors like to combine their boat tour with visits to the centers as mentioned above to make a whole day excursion.

12. Island Artists Gallery

Island Artists Gallery, SitkaSource: www.islandartistsgallery.com
Island Artists Gallery, Sitka

Owned by a collaboration of twenty-five local artists, the island artist gallery shows some great examples of locally produced art for viewing and for sale.

There are a range of different items on display, including scenic photographs, handmade jewelry, light catchers and wooden and clay sculpted masks.

If you are looking for an authentic souvenir of your travels to Sitka, then this is a good place to start. You will find the art gallery and store on Lincoln Street in Sitka.

13. Kayaking and Canoeing

Kayaking in the Alaskan WildernessSource: Edmund Lowe Photography / shutterstock
Kayaking in the Alaskan Wilderness

You can really get as close to nature as can be whilst taking a canoe or kayak out on the rivers, lakes or shores near to Sitka.

Either take a tour or hire a boat and head out on an adventure. If you do decide to go it alone, make sure you listen to all the advice and that you know exactly where you are going and your route back again.

With a tour guide or group, you are safer and less likely to get lost but however you decide to explore, you are sure to see some amazing sights.

Read also28 Amazing Hidden Gems in Alaska

14. Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall

Alaska Native Brotherhood HallSource: jimmywayne / Flickr
Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall

Native Americans tell the stories of their culture through dance and gesture as well as talking candidly to guests about their traditions.

You can view traditional dances which are performed by all generations of Tlingit families with both informative and funny speeches.

The stories offer an alternative history from the point of view of the Native Alaskans who lived in this land prior to the Europeans, Russians and Americans staking claim. These presentations, whilst comical and adorable will give you a good message as to what actually happened here in the past.

15. Starrigavan Recreation Area

Starrigavan Recreation AreaSource: USDAgov / Flickr
Starrigavan Recreation Area

Get out into the wilderness and hike one of the two hiking trails found here, Ben Grussendorf Trail and Mosquito Cove Trail.

This area offers incredible views of what Sitka is known best for, lush rainforest, beautiful seascape and natural wildlife.

It is also a great place for camping if you wish to spend more time outdoors in the warmer months. Whilst on your hike you will have the opportunity to spot bears, wild salmon and eagles soaring overhead.

If you want to get out of town for a couple of days, a camping trip in Starrigavan Recreation Area is a good choice to explore the great outdoors in Sitka.

15 Best Things to Do in Sitka (Alaska):

  • Sitka National Historical Park
  • Fortress of the Bear
  • Alaska Raptor Center
  • St Michaels Cathedral
  • Sheldon Jackson Museum
  • Russian Bishops House
  • Sitka Sound Science Center
  • Go Whale Watching
  • Baranof Castle State Historical Site
  • Herring Cove Trail
  • Wildlife Boat Tour
  • Island Artists Gallery
  • Kayaking and Canoeing
  • Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall
  • Starrigavan Recreation Area